/ Pride / Bryan Schneider

Escaping the Trap of Self-Righteousness

We live in an increasingly polarized society where moral relativism dominates. In response, Christians and the general conservative movement often speak definitively on moral issues. There is nobility and necessity in clear moral discourse. But, there is also a danger.

The Twist of Self-Righteousness

Our adversary loves to twist good things for his own ends. C.S. Lewis captured this well in "The Screwtape Letters." The uncle demon Screwtape told his protégé Wormwood that it is very bad that his patient has become humble. He advises:

"Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By Jove! I’m being humble,’ and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear."

The Danger of Pride

So where is the twist from the adversary? An imminent danger for the Christian today is taking pride in the ways of the LORD. Notice the key word pride. There lies the dangerous twist: our pride may not actually be in the LORD and His law. All too often we find our joy in our keeping of the law and not in the Law Giver. This is the adversary smuggling into our hearts the old trap of self-righteousness.

The Trap of Self-Righteousness

It is easy to fall back into the trap of self-righteousness. When Christians attempt to walk the path of righteousness, the pit of self-righteousness has already be dug. The root of the problem is not the righteous ness but in the self.

We must to be honest about ourselves. We were the problem. We were the unrighteous. We were the sinners for whom Christ had to die. Any righteousness we have is not our own; it is an alien righteousness, Christ's righteousness imputed to us.

Forgetfulness: The Root Cause

But why?! "Why do we fall into the trap of self-righteousness?" One word: forgetfulness. We forget who we once were without Christ. Yes, Christians are commanded to be like Paul, "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead." However, in that phrase, "forgetting those things which are behind," we are not commanded to act as if our past does not exist. In context, Paul was forgetting all of his self-righteousness and counted it loss for the sake of Christ.

Remembrance and Transformation

Christians were repeatedly reminded of their past to emphasize their transformation through grace. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, God lists various sins and reminds them:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

Similarly, in Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul recounts how Christians were once "dead in trespasses and sins" but were made alive through Christ:

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)..."

We must be reminded of who we once were so we don't forget God's grace saving us.

Avoiding Comparative Ethics

So what does this have to do with Christian living? We as American Christians are tempted to engage in comparative ethics, I'm not as bad as them. It is natural as we engage in the culture and politics of our day. But, it is a breeding ground for self-righteousness. We must remember the heart cry of Christianity, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." We must walk carefully. Let our boast be in what Jesus has done for us.


May we humbly pray for our enemies and bless those who persecute us for righteousness' sake. As we seek to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, let us remain vigilant against the enemy laying the old trap of self-righteousness.

Bryan Schneider

Bryan Schneider

Husband to Olivia. Father of Nathan, Deborah, Daniel, & Ellie. Blessed to serve Sharon RP Church (sharonrpc.org). Loving Rural life.

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