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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Oxymoron: Self-Righteous Gospel

This post originally would be a comment to a previous post. However, I realized it would be way too long, and that there is probably more clarification that needs to be made.

Oxymoron: Self-Righteous Gospel

I know it's poor-form to use the word in the definition, but let's breakdown the phrase "self-righteous" one more time. Self-righteous literally means a "righteousness generated from self." It is a belief that you, of your own merit, have acheived a proper moral standing before God. The "self" element indicates you are pursing this apart from Christ, or even possibly "in cooperation with Christ."

However, the gopel is very clear that salvation comes apart from any element of self. The gospel message is void of all elements of self. It cannot even be that I cooperate with grace. No grace, purely defined, is that i have receieved unmerited favor. Even the faith that I place in the work of Christ is a gracious gift from God. Left to myself, I never would have even thought to look to him (Romans 3:10-11).

Therefore, for a believer who has truly submitted to the gospel, it should be IMPOSSIBLE for him/her to preach the gospel accuately with a self-righteous attitude. (Matthew 7:22 paints a terrifying picture of some who may preach the gospel, and are doing it with self-righteousness, but only because they never truly knew God and believe their works...including preaching the gospel...will attain righteousness for them.) But how can it be self-righteous to declare I am not righteous?

A couple objections to consider:

1.) Self-righteousness is not the same thing as confidence. I John 5:13 reminds us that it is possible to know that you are saved. It is not self-righteous to tell someone you know the truth, especially when that truth is that you are not righteous on your own!

2.) Love must be mingled with preaching, however, I do not have to have a long standing relationship with someone to prove it. Scripture is peppered with people sharing the gospel with strangers. I am not saying that we don't show love, but I am saying that developing a long standing relationship with a person is hardly necessary in every situation. In fact, I could probably make a Biblical argument that it is more loving and Scripturally accurate to present the gospel very early in a relationship, and then follow that with love, regardless of their response.

3.) Speaking the truth in love does not mean it all has to be pleasant. If that is difficult for you to swallow, review the preaching you see in the book of Acts. Today, our society sacrifices so much on the altar of "self esteem." We are bombarded with the message that we are good enough and we deserve favor. It may need to be very harsh and direct to show a person they are not good enough, but it must be done, and it must be loving.

4.) A proper understanding of the doctrines of grace prevents self-righteousness. Consider even just the doctrine of "total depravity." If I truly believe the Scriptures which say I am not even capable of turning to God apart from a special action of grace on His part, then I do not view my conversion as something that happened because I was smart or more holy and therefore understood the message. No, I know that my salvation only came because God removed the veil from my eyes. Therefore, when I share the gospel with someone, I do not view their resistance to the message as evidence that they are stupid or extraodinarily unholy. I understand that they are dead (just like I was) and that God must work in their heart for the message to even make sense. Preaching the gospel should always remind me of my own depravity.

5.) The person's response is not the gauge of whether I am self-righteous. The message will offend some. This does not mean I need to be abrasive in my presentation. But it does mean that there will be times that a person will be offended by the gospel message, regardless of the humiltiy expressed in the presentation. Also, much of the church misuses the term "self-righteous" so we have to assume the world will misuse it too. Therfore, if someone makes the accusation, we really need to be diligent to see if their claim has any truth. Just because you are being accused of being self-righteous doesn't mean you are. But if you don't examine to see if their claim is true, that may be a sign that you are being self-righteous.

Again, if I have trusted my life to Christ and the righteousness He imputes upon me, and I am acurately preaching that message, there is no way for me to do it in a self-righteous way. If I am accused of being self righteousness, I must either conclude that the person is wrong, or that I am not a believer and am depending on my self-righteousness, or that my presentation was not accurate.


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