Righteousness and Judgment

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  August 16, 2014

            Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life! Apart from the Son of God, Christianity would have no meaning, those of us who hold faith in Christ would have no validity, and our lives would have no purpose. Truly, those of us who believe in, and follow in the ministry of Christ have an inner strength and sacred blessing that makes life worth living, sharing, protecting, and celebrating. It may also be the unwitting seed of our own downfall.
            Jesus warned of this potential seed of self-destruction in Luke 18. In telling a parable of a presumably righteous and upstanding Pharisee, Jesus contrasted this highly respected figure with that of a disgusting sinner and tax collector. The Pharisee stood in his arrogant religious superiority and boasted of his faith while the tax collector mournfully repented of his retched life before God. Jesus concludes the story by proclaiming the superior righteousness of the tax collecting sinner over the arrogance of the Pharisee.
            “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked,” Paul says in Galatians 6. Explaining the statement, Paul says that the believer will reap a harvest according to how we sow. So often, Christianity tends to focus sinful sowing in terms of people’s sinful choices, the degradation of society, the corruption of the pure faith, and the lack of morality in our culture. These realities have merit and deserve very prayerful attention, but within that focus lies a very real danger.
            The psalmist declares in Psalms 14 and 53 that God finds no righteous person. Paul interprets this ancient Psalm in the third chapter of Romans with the solemn reminder that those who think they are somehow superior or better off due to proclaiming Christianity are living a lie. “All fall short,” Paul also says in Romans 2:12, and accordingly all humanity will be judged.
            Jesus Christ also touches on this reality when, in Mark 2:17 in reminding his followers that his was a ministry to those in most need of redemptive hope, not necessarily those who, by their own presumed righteousness or holiness, had no need of Divine help or forgiveness. Throughout his ministry Jesus would be scrutinized for siding with the lowest classes of society, standing in solidarity with sinners, and offering forgiveness to those deemed unworthy by otherwise righteously arrogant people. In one such incident detailed in the seventh chapter of Luke, Simon is righteously critical of Jesus and the seemingly inappropriate attention given to a sinful woman. Much as in his parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Simon Peter receives harsh judgment as the sinful woman receives vindication and forgiveness.
            The seed of self-destruction that lurks in the faith of Christians across the globe is simply the potential for self-righteous arrogance and judgment. When our faith becomes a means to validate our own superiority before God, condescendingly look down on those we piously deem as less than faithful, or arrogantly criticize for holding to a bad theology or corrupt faith, we run the extreme danger of becoming the Pharisee or calling down our own condemnation as Jesus did to Simon Peter.
            This does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to the sin in our midst or simply accept sin as normal and allowable. Ours is a call to righteous living and shining as a beacon of God’s light to the world. Christ empowers us to live in accordance to God’s will. Yet, in authentically living out that sacred call, it is vital we begin as Jesus modeled and proclaimed during his earthly ministry. It is, as Jesus said in another parable recalled in Matthew 7, as people of faith, rather than focusing all our energy on identifying the specks of sin in the eyes of those all around, we need to remove the logs of sin in our own eyes.