The Diagnosis

August 15, 2022

We know this is true—if you want to effectively treat the illness, you’ve got to get the diagnosis right so the prescription will be correct. We have a rampant illness among us that is repeatedly misdiagnosed.

As I listen to conversations, whether they are about cultural issues or personal issues and challenges—marriage, work, neighborhood, or public personalities like TV commentators and interviews, there’s a common narrative. It doesn’t matter the topic or the problem—they are certain they know what the issue is and who the problem is and it’s not them. They can see clearly, and the fault and blame lie somewhere else.

The diagnosis of the illness affecting us is self-righteousness. Paul Tripp addresses this topic very helpfully: “A self-righteous person is one who is confident in his/her OWN righteousness; a self-righteous person also shows superiority above all others, especially if they have a different opinion than theirs. They are intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.”

If you are familiar with Jesus and the apostle Paul, you will find this to be true. They came down particularly hard on those who attempted to live in self-righteousness. Jesus repeatedly condemned self-righteousness, which is what made the religious leaders hate Him and Paul, who followed Jesus in the scathing intolerance of self-righteousness.

Tripp tells us that every believer is plagued by this attitude and must be on guard against it. “The costly freedom of grace, bought for us by the blood of Jesus with no contribution from us, is difficult for our prideful hearts to understand or appreciate. It is far easier to compare ourselves with one another than it is to recognize that we cannot measure up to the standards of a holy God.” Whew, I feel that don’t you?

Self-righteousness is being more concerned about, and motivated by, the knowledge of the sin of others than your own. Haven’t you noticed that the sin that really bugs you, that makes you feel disgusted, is far too often not your own but what you see in others? It is amazing to me to see the tendency of myself and others to judge people harshly while giving ourselves a pass on our own disobedience.

This self-righteousness, spiritual blindness, and judging of others tears up marriages and families, destroys churches, and ruins our hope of ever impacting the world. It causes so much spiritual and relational damage.

Self-righteousness guarantees that you don’t see yourself or the other person with accuracy. I think he is so wrong and I am so right. I see his or her speck as a log and my log as a speck. I condemn him and excuse myself. He is “sinning,” I “sometimes struggle.” I treat the other person with judgment but respond to myself with patient understanding.

Whether we are a democrat, republican, libertarian, independent, male, female, boss, employee, parent, or child, this bent to self-righteousness is likely our greatest flaw and the biggest hindrance to loving others as Jesus did.

Jesus dealt with this over 2,000 years ago. Matthew 7:1-5 records, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

One of the strongest messages in the Bible, repeated numerous times, is that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Opposes is a strong word. It says that God doesn’t just not help the proud; He OPPOSES them. Maybe one of the reasons we are struggling in an area of life where we really feel the press is this: We don’t have God working with us and for us. He is literally opposing us because of our pride and self-righteousness. God says with great clarity that He will never be a co-sponsor or co-worker with those who do not love and accept others as Jesus does.

Be honest right here, right now. Whose fault, sin, or behavior bothers you and bugs you more? Your own or that of someone near you? Who do you look at with disdain or disgust? Who are you desperate to see change? You or someone else in your life?