"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." - Jesus, talking to the pharisees concerning a woman caught in adultery. (John 8:7)
I was recently talking to Heather and others about some struggles I had been having with another person. It was someone I had known for a long time, and, to be honest, was annoyed that I was having to deal with another selfish interaction from this person. I finally said out loud, "Why can't they just get their freaking act together!"
The words barely escaped my mouth before I realized the implications of that statement.
It implies that I have my act together
It implies that I am NOT selfish
It implies that I am my own savior
As I started to process this more, I realized the graveness of my current belief. If I truly believe that I am better than people because I have done something to earn even an iota of my standing with God, John 1 says I am a liar and do not practice the truth (vs. 6, 8, 10). It means I'm deceived in how much I truly owed God. Matthew 18:21-35 speaks directly to this:
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[g] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[h] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[i] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,[j] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
This passage is convicting because it is an illustration of my outburst. The Gospel says I've been forgiven an insurmountable debt because Jesus died on my behalf. I am a wicked, desperate, rebellious sinner who was saved not on any merit of my own, but on the merit of Jesus' blood. And here, someone annoys me for the umpteenth time, and I have the nerve to say "Get your act together?!" How can I say that if the very thing Jesus said to me was, "you don't need to get your act together to be saved, you just need to follow me?"
This is why self-righteousness kills love
Gospel love is, in it's very nature, sacrificial love. It's rooted in a God who entered the muck and mire of human sinfulness, brokenness, and mortality to rescue a people that, quite honestly, weren't all that interested in Him. Gospel love is patient (I Cor. 13), as God loved us even when we didn't show anything in return. And Gospel love demands a response, but not a prerequisite.
Self-righteousness destroys this, because it demands change as a prerequisite. It demands change at your expected pace. It demands tailored results... tailored to our timetables, our wants, our selfishness, our agendas.
The Gospel does have an agenda, but it's one rooted in confidence that while we are transformed from one degree of glory to the next, God's acceptance is not found in having your act together, but in trusting that He'll re-make us in ways that we never thought possible.
So how do we lay down our self-righteousness?
By asking God to show us the depth and breadth of our own sinfulness
By gazing at the cross over and over again, realizing He died for you
By confidently knowing that in every relationship, you are the predominant cause of tension and frustration... and also confidently knowing that you are still loved and accepted if you trust Christ.
A couple days later, after my outburst, I was talking with a friend about how I was feeling from my earlier irritated attitude. My response? "I can't believe they have to put up with such a self-righteous jerk like me. It's amazing that they would want to still love me." It's such a great picture of the Gospel.
Because of this, my love for them has grown, and more importantly, my love for the Gospel has grown, hoping that this person, and others who don't know Christ, would see the deep love He has for sinners.