Two of the more common critiques against Christians today is that they are either prideful and arrogant, or that they are rigid and prejudiced against others. It may come as a shock to some of you to hear me say that I believe they are right in saying that, though I don’t believe all Christians fall under either category.
I recently watched a theological debate on the existence of God between one of the “New Atheists” (though boasting the same old themes) and a known Christian scholar/author. The debate is on dvd and is called ‘God on Trial‘ and features Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza hashing it out. Nothing spectacular stood out to me by either party in regards to content which seemed to be the same old stuff on both sides, granted, of course I believe one side is 100% correct. Something that did standout to me was the personalities of both debaters. Hitchens was cynical, comical, witty, and unremarkably rude. D’Souza was impatient, somewhat insensitive, and often appeared arrogant.
I wonder if we as Christians can focus so much on trying to justify our beliefs by way of reason that we neglect to live by our beliefs?
I believe this arrogance and pride are fueled by confidence in one’s beliefs and by being in a position of influence. This doesn’t mean the two have to go hand in hand. We are told to be confident (Prov. 3:26; Eph. 3:11-12), though this confidence is not to be our own confidence such as self-confidence (Phil. 3:3). This confidence is to be in the Lord, in Jesus who is the Christ, in the sufficiency of the Gospel, and the promises of God in Him which we inherit by faith as adopted sons and daughters (Gal. 3:22; Heb. 6:12).
Our confidence by faith as Christians in Jesus and in the promises of God can be turned into a false confidence if they are turned toward ourselves. Self-righteousness is an alluring temptation for the saints because it is easy to use our faith as a type of self-help formula which can make us feel better, and by saying make us feel better I mean that in comparison with others. This leads to being judgemental which I also admit many Christians seem to be.
Many non-believers are quick to quote Matthew 7:1 which is ironic considering they do not believe in Jesus nor do they hold Scripture as authoritative. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It is in the King James translation that I have quoted this verse for reference because it is the favorite of those who quote it. People interpret this verse and spout it off as if it were the 11th commandment. It’s important to look at a verse of Scripture within the context it was written. The context is close to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and near the close of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ Jesus is teaching about the ethics of Kingdom living here.
Now, in this discourse on Kingdom living, Jesus is telling primarily the disciples, but also others who simply will not leave him alone that it is important to not judge others for their moral failures. He is not saying it is wrong to have a high standard for living, but he is saying it is important to not fall into the temptation in viewing oneself better than others because it can give one a “God complex.” Jesus is calling us to humility and tells us to beware of the temptation to be self-righteous. He is saying this after all because he was largely disenchanted with the Scribes and Pharisees who did precisely this, and often used “colorful” language in depicting their error. Scribes and Pharisees are the epitome of self-righteousness in the gospels and Jesus condemns them frequently.
Therefore, Mt. 7:1 is not about not ever making any judgement at all, but it is to prevent people from claiming moral superiority over others. Strangely, again, this is exactly the kind of judgement that people who are non-believers are making as they say, “Wait, Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.'” There is a difference between moral accountability and self-righteousness. One seeks to help others where they are morally struggling while the other seeks to boast in the individual over and against others. It is sinful first and foremost because it replaces God with yourself. Self-righteousness says, “I am morally perfect and superior to others.” If you are God, than this would be true. SInce you are not, it is a lie. You have tried to put yourself in a position where only God can be.
Self-righteousness can lead to “Fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. This is a path to the Dark Side” (Yoda paraphrase). I am not promoting George Lucas and his “Force” here, but self-righteousness can lead to a fear or hatred of things that are not like you. This is problematic because as Christians we are called to live a life of love. Namely, love for God and others. If we hate the sinner, how can we love them? If we fear the sinner, how can we love them? If we condemn the sinner before loving them, what fruit does that reap?
In Romans 5:1-11, Paul argues that Jesus came to save sinners while they were still sinners. God loves us as we are, but calls us to be much more out of love for us. If we do not love people as they are, but result to pride or prejudice as Christians, than we have lost the focus of our faith which should be on Jesus and loving others, and have replaced that with love of the self.
We live in a world today where Christians are turning against Christians because some Christians are self-righteous and hypocritical while others in turn have become great cynics and critics of Christianity. It is important for us not to throw out our faith because a few sinners are stirring the water and we would do well to remember that Christians are not sinless. We believe that we are forgiven by Jesus by grace through faith, but we are still sinners. The Spirit is continually working on us all as Christians, but none of us has “arrived” at any sort of sinless perfection.
It is my prayer that we as Christians do not lose our focus on the cross of Christ and forget our own depravity and replace the One who has saved us with ourselves. Moral superiority can birth great evils as a result of self-righteousness which is an enemy of God. Apart from that, many Christians (Reformed) are quick to go on a sort of Pharisaical-witch-hunt pointing fingers at everyone who is remotely legalistic. You have to question how loving this truly is. Perfect love casts out fear according to John.
May we all seek to love God more, love others more, and love ourselves less.