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Monday, 12 January 2015

An Ugly Self-righteousness

I have been thinking the past few days about myself in the past. I believe that there is a difference between being brought up in Church and coming into the Church in the future with a bit of a history. It's not wrong, or unequal, it just creates differences in how your life has shaped out I think. 

Today I discovered my old photo album (and a letter Mum wrote to me when I was five about who I am: it was spot on) and I was looking through it. I've always been a super positive people person from the start. But that meant that I had idyllic, naive tendencies that God had to reshape. Sure I knew that not everyone had a life like me, but for some reason I tended to live as if I didn't know it. I believed that surely the people I would become closest to would have to be the most pure, perfect Christian people ever etc.

But of course that didn't turn out like that. But God has shown me that there is a beauty in people being flawed and not fitting any of my past ideals. He has shown me what true beauty is: people's hearts and souls shaped by His hands. He is teaching me to look beyond the natural and see the spiritual, which is something I wish more people could do. I saw a couple of comments today on Facebook that were completely the opposite in how self-righteous they were about judging if a Christian should 'dress like that' or if someone should act like that. It's not the fact that they were questions of course, but it's the heart attitude that shone through.

You see, here's something God has pointed out to me: self-righteousness is just as unattractive as self-destructiveness. By which I mean that to stand there and judge other people is just as ugly as someone falling into a cycle of self-destruction. It's easy to judge someone like Miley Cyrus for her drug habits and raunchiness - from turning from innocence towards that - but it's also just as unattractive and unhelpful to stand there and judge in a sense.

And why is that? Because to judge in a self-righteous way is to say that you are perfect by your actions. It's to fall into the trap of making actions and ways of doing things, the most important thing in life. Which is the same attitude that leads to corrective surgery for say obesity, when the real issue of overeating or poor diet may not be corrected. As is clearly pointed out in 1 Samuel 16:7 'But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."'

In Titus 3:5 the Bible also states that "he (God) saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit," Ephesians 2:8-9 continues this idea: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast."

It is quite clear from what the Bible says that salvation comes through faith and faith alone in God's mercy, not because of what we do. It is interesting to note therefore what James says also in the Bible with what appears to be an apparent contradiction: 

James 2:20-21 "20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?"

However I think the most important part in connection to James talking about 'works' is at the end of James 2 in verse 26: "26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." As I have said before, faith that has no action is empty faith. Much as the Christian life, lived without grace, mercy, love or 'Christian virtues' is not really a Christian life. It's just a life that claims to be Christian. My favourite metaphor to use is a car that just sits in a garage. Unless it can actually run as I say it can it is just a piece of decorative metal. Something that cannot deliver on its promise is just decorative: or even less than that, it's empty.

So yes, there is a challenge of contradiction: working out the difference between letting actions be actions of faith or actions of self-effort. Self-righteousness is clearly not an action of faith however. It is an action of judgement where you take the position of God and judge other people as less than yourself when you should be looking first to yourself to realise that you are as low a sinner as anyone.

So if people ever ask me how I can hang out with a particular person, how I can love particular people, how I can just be me? The answer is easy. I recognise that I am no better than anyone else firstly. And secondly because Christ came to be a friend to sinners - not to be a sinner but to befriend them and not stand to one side pointing out all their sin. The world doesn't need more people standing and pointing out all the flaws in people's lives. People are already aware of their flaws, what they are looking for is something that can save them! And the answer is not me, but I hope to show through my actions of faith that there is a deeper source that is the answer. And that source is Christ alone and faith in Him!