Podcast 78: The Insidious Danger of Self-Righteousness (Sean Finnegan)

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No one joined the Pharisees out of desire to practice professional hypocrisy. They were the devout, the separated, the ones who took God and holiness seriously. However, by the time of Jesus, they had confused godliness with self-righteousness and lost compassion in the process. It’s so easy for us to root for Jesus as he calls them on their hypocrisy. Nonetheless, this same attitude–thinking we’re better than others–is not just a Pharisee problem. When we look within our own hearts, we see our own self-righteousness masking itself as moral outrage. What’s the cure? The way to heal a judgmental heart is with the medicine of grace and humility.

Quotes from This Episode

Dale Tuggy:

“God would rather have ten humble Trinitarians that are trying to follow Jesus every day, and act his teachings in their daily lives, he’d rather have ten of those guys than one constantly battling and self-righteous, angry, condemning, doctrine-obsessed unitarian, who’s got the correct theology. So…don’t be that guy. If we’re that guy, the movement’s doomed.”

Frederick Douglass:

“I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation.

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.

I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which everywhere surround me.

We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cow skin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me…

The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, “They bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers…Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess…

Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify.”

Tim Keller:

“There are two basic ways of thinking about your self-image. One is one I’m going to call a moral-performance narrative. A moral-performance narrative says, “I’m ok, I’m a good person, I feel significant and I have worth because I’m achieving something.” So if you are a liberal person and you feel like, “I’m a good person because I am working for the poor and working for human rights and I’m open minded,” you can’t help, in a moral performance narrative, where your self-image is based your performance as a generous liberal activist person…you can’t help but look down your nose at bigots; you can’t but feel superior to bigots.

On the other hand what if you are a traditional, religious person and you go to church and you read your bible or you go to synagogue and read your bible or you go to the mosque and read the Koran. You’re working hard to feel good and serve God, etc. Now in that case, you have to look down your nose at people who don’t believe in your religion. They’re not being as good as you are. Maybe you’re just a secular person and you’re a hardworking decent chap. You can’t help it—if you’re self-image is based on the fact that you’re a hardworking decent chap—you can’t help but look down your nose at people who are lazy.

But the gospel, the gospel is something different. The gospel says, “Jesus Christ comes and saves you.” The gospel says, “You’re a sinner.” The gospel says, “You don’t live up to your own standards.” The gospel says, “There is no way you are going to live up to your own standards.” The gospel says, “You have failed; you’re a moral failure and salvation only belongs to people who admit their they’re moral failures.” Jesus came in weakness and died on the cross. He says that salvation is only for weak people; it is only for people who admit they’re not better than anyone else and they just need mercy. If you have a grace narrative, if you say, “The reason I can look myself in the mirror, the reason I know I have significance is because Jesus died for me. I am a sinner saved by grace.” If you say that, then you can’t feel superior to anybody.

I’ve got a Hindu neighbor in my apartment building and I think he is wrong about…many things but he probably is a better father than me; he could be a much better man, why? “Aren’t you a Christian and he’s a Hindu? Don’t you think you have the truth.” Yeah, but here’s the truth! The truth is I’m a sinner and I’m saved by grace…I’m not saved because I’m a better man. I’m saved because I’m a worse man, really. And so what happens is the grace narrative takes away the kind of superiority and removes that slippery slope that I mentioned in the very beginning, that leads from superiority to separation to caricature and to passive and active oppression. It just takes it away. Now Christians have got to admit in a great degree that we operate out of a moral-performance narrative and we don’t have to because we’ve got the gospel.”


One thought on “Podcast 78: The Insidious Danger of Self-Righteousness (Sean Finnegan)

  • Hi again Sean
    Great topic, thanks for sharing it on the show.

    On the subject of vigilance, and citing various types of person you have met who have appeared hypocritical to you, I would be curious to hear a bit more about the so-called hypocritical atheist who prayed. Obviously I have absolutely no idea about this guy, but then neither does amy other listener, and i for one was a little but puzzled by this.

    Hypocrisy is bad, I totally agree, I want to be an authentic John before others, before God and even the mirror. But if that person was actually praying, albeit suspending their intellectual convictions, perhaps to see experientually or just to follow a deeper vibe, I don’t know if I want to presume anything negative there. Maybe even the opposite.

    Thank you again for your hard work on Restitutio



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