I venture that of all the subtle sins we will address in this book, the pride of moral superiority may be the most common, second only to the sin of ungodliness. But though it is so prevalent among us, it is difficult to recognize because we all practice it to some degree. In fact, we seem to get a perverse enjoyment out of discussing how awful society around us is becoming. When we engage in this kind of thinking or conversation, we are guilty of the pride of moral superiority.
How, then, can we guard against the sin of self-righteousness? First, by seeking an attitude of humility based on the truth that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Though that statement has become something of a trite expression, it is indeed true for all of us. If we are morally upright, and especially if we are believers who seek to live morally upright lives, it is only because the grace of God has prevailed in us. No one is naturally morally upright. Rather, we all have to say with David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5, NIV). Rather than feeling morally superior to those who practice the flagrant sins we condemn, we ought to feel deeply grateful that God by His grace has kept us from, or perhaps rescued us from, such a lifestyle.
Another means by which we can guard against self-righteous pride is by identifying ourselves before God with the sinful society we live in. After the Babylonian captivity, when many of the Jewish people had returned to the land of Judah, Ezra, a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses went back to teach his people God’s law. The Scripture says of Ezra that he “had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra was obviously a godly man who lived an exemplary life.
Yet on an occasion when he became aware of some of the deep sin among the people, he identified himself with their sin, even though he himself was not guilty. Consider his prayer as recorded in Ezra 9:6: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Note how he included himself in his confession of guilt: “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” As we in our day see the increasing moral degradation of our society, we need to adopt the attitude of Ezra. As we do so, it will tend to keep us from self-righteous pride.
Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2007)
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