A common complaint I have heard from non-Christian friends and acquaintances centres on the so-called self-righteousness of Christians. The claim is that we are legalistic and judgmental. The accusation is to some degree a misnomer: for self-righteous people don’t really get a sense of righteousness from simple self-referral, they get it from comparing themselves with others. Truth be told our friends and acquaintances are often right. The self-righteous person compares themselves to others and judges themselves better at keeping whatever rules mean most to them. The church can be a hotbed of self-righteousness because, hey, we do have a few rules; and these are not self-derived fickle rules, but ones given by God. For someone who tends to compare themselves with others, knowing one follows His rules better than someone else naturally leads to the conclusion that “God is happy with me because I do things better than you.”
What does the Lord think of self-righteousness? Consider the little parable to by Jesus and recorded in Luke 18:
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
The bible records that Jesus, “told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9)”
This Sunday we will be continuing our series “Draw Near” by considering chapters 21 and 22 in Leviticus. Herein we see instructions to the priesthood regarding holiness and the making of acceptable offerings. A key phrase is repeated six times in the passage and provides us with an important interpretive framework: “I am the Lord who sanctifies.” We will see a picture of God’s demand for holiness, and his provision of the same for his people. The priests are warned of various things that lead to uncleanness and unacceptable offerings. What was God teaching the ancient priesthood by laying out commands regarding outward defilement? Was it the way to make one holy before the Lord? No, this is the mistake of the Pharisee in the parable, the thinking that avoiding defilement by one’s own works makes one holy. This is why God says six times: “I am the LORD who sanctifies.” Who makes the priests holy? God says He does. It was God who set apart and sanctified His priests, it was God who set apart and sanctified Israel, and it is God who today sets apart and sanctifies his people through the perfect priest and perfect sacrifice Jesus Christ.
The priests were commanded to avoid prohibited things because these things would make them unclean, not because avoiding them would make them clean. I trust you can see the important difference between avoiding something to keep yourself from defilement and avoiding something to make yourself holy. Likewise, we keep God’s laws as Christians not to make ourselves holy, and certainly not to make ourselves feel better in comparison with others, but as an act of grateful worship empowered by the Spirit of God and in keeping with our new nature in Christ.
As we gather for Sunday worship, we want you to meet with God and be transformed by the Word. Prepare your heart by reading the passage and listening to the songs for Sunday.