We are in the fourth week of our series called Selfie. It’s been a lot of fun seeing all the selfies from a lot of our partners here at Connect in the logo and the videos in this series.
The selfie has proliferated our culture. It’s everywhere. And it’s everywhere thanks to the proliferation of cameras. Everyone’s phone is now also a camera, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Seriously, go back just a few years and think about telling someone, “I want a picture of this. Let me grab me phone.” They would think you lost your mind! But now, thanks to the smartphone, everyone has a camera in their pocket everywhere they go.
And that’s probably why every two minutes, we take as many photos as all of humanity took during the entire 1800s. Did you catch that? Let me say it again. Every two minutes, we take as many pictures as all of humanity took in the 1800s. Isn’t that crazy?
Here’s a statistic that blew my mind even more than that. 10% of all photos ever taken in history were taken in the last 12 months. Now, I don’t know how many of them are selfies, but I bet a lot of them are.
But the selfie isn’t a completely new thing. The word “selfie” is fairly new, but the selfie itself isn’t. In fact, try this one on for size. Did you realize that the first picture ever taken was probably a selfie?
The year was 1839. A chemist named Robert Cornelius set his camera up at the back of the family store in Philadelphia. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back of the picture, he wrote, “The first light picture ever taken. 1839.”
We can’t be positive this is the first picture ever taken, but many experts believe that it is. So it’s very possible that the first picture ever taken was a selfie. So if you really hate the selfie craze today, blame this dude. He’s the one that started it.
So that was 1839. And the selfie continued on from there. This one was taken sometime during the 1920s. Those boys don’t seem to have arms that are long enough. They could have really used a selfie stick.
And then, a few decades later, the selfie took another leap. A giant leap, for all selfie-kind.
In 1966, Buzz Aldrin took the first space selfie. I guess this is the first spelfie. And it also just so happens to be the coolest selfie ever taken, EVER. I’m sorry, but the selfie of you posing in your bathroom mirror just isn’t ever going to be this cool. It’s just not!
The thing is, all of these selfies were taken before smartphones were even invented. Before everyone had an iPhone, you had to work pretty hard to take a selfie…but people did.
Because we’ve always been enamored with self. That predates the smartphone. It even predates the camera. It goes all the way back to creation. We have always been enamored with self.
That’s why we decided to do this series. Throughout the month of March, we are looking at some Biblical “selfies.” We are opening up the Word of God to see what God has to say about self. And He actually has a whole lot to say about it.
So far in this series, we’ve explored what God has said about selfishness, and self-control, and self-denial.
Today in the fourth week of this series, we’re going to listen to what the Lord has to say about self-righteousness. And it’s going to get all kinds of tense in here today. And that’s a good thing. Because when there is tension, it means that we’re really wrestling with something. And this is something that we need to wrestle with. We need to explore this. We need to hear this.
So let me pray for us, and then we’ll dive in.
If you’re here today because someone invited you, but you’re not sure that you really buy into all this church stuff, that’s awesome. We’re just thrilled that you’re here. And we understand that you probably have some issues with Christianity.
If that’s you, then this might surprise you. If you’ve got a problem with Christians, it’s very possible that I have the same problem with them as you do. But my problem isn’t just with them. My problem is also with me, because I’m one of them.
One of the biggest hang-ups that people have with Christianity has nothing to do with Christ. It has everything to do with Christians. It has nothing to do with a righteous Christ. It has everything to do with self-righteous Christians.
If that is your problem with Christianity, then I agree. That’s my problem with it, too. The only difference is that, at times, I’m actually part of the problem.
Self-righteousness hangs like a dark cloud over the church today. We’ll never know how many people have walked away from Christ because of self-righteous Christians. Today, it’s time for us to rip off the mask of this problem and see it for what it really is, and how there really is hope for us to overcome it.
So here’s how we’re going to attack this today. We’re going to go at this in two parts. First, I’m going to teach a little bit. Then, I’m going to preach a little bit.
We’re going to start with some theological teaching, because we have to know what we’re talking about. But I promise that we’ll explain everything. But the reason we’re going so deep today is because we have to understand the depth of the issue.
And once we understand the depth of the issue, then we can see why this matters so much in our lives today.
So let’s go. Let me teach, so I can eventually preach.
VIDEO BEGINS HERE
Everything we’re going to talk about today revolves around what the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2.
In verse 16, Paul wrote, “[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, NIV)
It’s not hard to see what Paul is talking about here, because he uses the word three times in just one verse.
Three times, Paul uses the word “justified.” Any time you see something repeated in Scripture, stop. Just camp out right there, because anytime something is repeated in the Bible, it’s something that God really wants to make sure that we don’t miss.
And if something is repeated three times, then He really, REALLY wants to make sure that we don’t miss it.
Three times in one verse, we read the word “justified.” So let’s camp out there. In this context, what does the word “justified” mean?
To be justified means to be pronounced legally innocent by God. It means that the guilt of our sin has been completely removed. God looks at us and declares us, “Not guilty!”
So when I am justified, it is “just as if I’d” never sinned. Make sense?
Ok, now on to the bigger question that Paul is tackling in this verse. How does that happen? How are we justified? How does justification take place?
Paul gives two options: self or Savior. Either we justify ourselves, or we need someone else, a Savior, to justify us.
Paul talks about justifying ourselves by the works of the law. And again, he repeats it three times.
In this context, the law that Paul is referring to might mean the Law of Moses from the Old Testament, but more likely, Paul is talking about any law.
In other words, it’s the belief that we are justified by our ability to follow some law or code or religious rules. Just be religious enough. Follow the rules closely enough. Do good things, and more importantly, avoid bad things. Be a good person, and you will earn justification. God will justify you. He will approve of you. He will even admire you.
What’s the problem there? The problem is that it all centers on me. Who I am. What I do. What I don’t do. The center of it all is me. It is all about self. It is self-justification, which leads to self-righteousness.
But the problem is that I can’t actually do that. That’s Paul’s point. None of us can actually do that. That’s why he said, “by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Because none of us can keep the rules perfectly. None of us can follow any religious law to the letter. We all have a sin problem that we simply can’t handle on our own. And when our hope is centered on self, we’re doomed.
But the great news is that we have another option. Instead of looking to self, we can look to a Savior.
And that’s why Paul points us to Jesus. And guess how many times he points us to Jesus in this one verse? Three times. Are we seeing a pattern developing here?
Paul said that we “put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ.”
Instead of putting faith in self, we can put our faith in a Savior. Putting faith in a Savior is an admission that I can never do it on my own. I am not enough. I can never be good enough. I can never do it on my own. And neither can you.
But Jesus did what we could never do. He lived a sinless, perfect life. He was tempted, but He never sinned. And His perfect life allowed Him to be the perfect sacrifice, to pay the entire price for our sin. And that payment happened when Jesus died on the cross.
Something incredible happened when Jesus was on the cross. Something crazy. Something amazing.
Paul tells us what happened in 2 Corinthians 5. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
Who was the one who had no sin? Jesus. And Paul tells us that God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us.
When He was on the cross, Jesus became our sin. I don’t know how. I can’t explain it. But somehow, Jesus became our sin. So when we see Jesus on the cross, we need to see it for what it really is. When He was on the cross, Jesus was no longer perfect. He was no longer sinless.
Instead, when you look at Jesus on the cross, you are looking at every sin ever committed in the history of the world. Can you imagine the agony of carrying every sin that has ever been committed by all mankind? Every murder. Every rape. Every abuse. Every addiction. Every moment of gossip. Every instance of hatred. Every harsh word spoken in anger. Every lustful thought. Every lie. Every moment of arrogance and pride. Can you imagine one person carrying it all on their shoulders? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did.
On the cross, Jesus carried our sin. In fact, He became our sin.
And in return, we become the righteousness of God. Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
Jesus became our sin. We become the righteousness of God. And it’s all because of what Jesus did on the cross. It’s not based on anything we have done or anything we could ever do.
That’s why self-righteousness is such a problem. Self-righteousness is no righteousness at all.
And here’s why.
In Romans 3, Paul said, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23, NIV)
All have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glory. Meaning that we all fall short of the standard. We all miss the mark. We all fail. We all fall. We all sin.
And even when we try to become righteous on our own, we fail.
That’s why the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6a, NIV)
The phrase “filthy rags” actually falls short of the real meaning of the words. In the original Hebrew language, Isaiah actually used the word for a woman’s menstrual cloth. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. That’s the point. Think about what Isaiah is saying here. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags, like a menstrual cloth.
Even when we try to get it right, we still get it so wrong. Even when we try to purify ourselves, we are still so filthy. Even our absolute best efforts are just filthy rags compared to God.
God is the standard. God is holy. God is pure. God is perfectly righteous in every possible way. And compared to Him, our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags.
Here’s what self-righteous people believe. They believe that God grades on a curve. They believe that, if they are better than other people, they’ll be ok. That’s why self-righteous people are jerks. That’s why they point fingers and look down their noses at other people. That’s why they judge and condemn. It’s why they’re jerks. Because they believe that God grades on a curve. And if they can find faults in your life that they don’t have in their life, then they’re good to go.
But here’s the thing…God doesn’t grade on a curve. He just doesn’t. And think about this…even if God did grade on a curve, Jesus ruined it. Jesus lived a completely perfect, sinless life. He’s the only kid in class that got an A+ on his paper. If there was a curve, He ruined it.
But God doesn’t grade on a curve. Instead, He just lets Jesus take the test for us. And Jesus aced it on our behalf.
But if we are left to ourselves…if our works and our “filthy rags” of righteous acts are our hope, then we have no hope. But the gospel is good news. Here’s the good news.
Go back to what Paul wrote in Romans 3, just read a little more this time. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)
We have all sinned. We all fall so short. But we are all justified freely by Jesus. Not by ourselves, but by Jesus. And that releases us from the prison of self-righteousness. It allows us to live in the freedom of God’s grace.
Go back to Galatians 2 again. Paul wrote, “[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
[Now skip on down to verse 20.] I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:16, 20-21 NIV)
There is no justification by works. If there was, then Christ died for nothing. I cannot justify myself. I am not justified by what I do or what I don’t do. Instead, I am justified because of my faith in Christ.
And focus in on what Paul said here. “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This is where all the teaching that we’ve walked through comes to life. And this is where I can finally just preach.
Here’s why all of this matters. Because when I finally quit trying to justify myself, when I finally give up my efforts at self-righteousness, I can finally be free.
I am free because I am loved. Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me…”
There is incredible freedom when you know that you are loved. Especially when you know that love is unconditional.
It sets you free because, all of a sudden, the focus is on you as a person, not on you as a performer. You are not loved because of your performance. You are not loved because of what you do. You are loved because of who you are. You are a child of God. Can you feel the freedom there?
Knowing that I am loved sets me free. I am free from the opinions of other people.
Do you have anybody that has told you that you’ll never measure up? I remember a certain teacher that I had in elementary school. She was from the old school where the teacher fostered a love/hate relationship with students. Kids loved to hate them. That was her.
She was really good at setting impossible standards, so kids felt like they did nothing right. For me, it had to do with neatness. I don’t know many of you have actually seen my handwriting, but let’s just say, it’s not good. Like, really not good.
And this teacher never missed an opportunity to call me to write on the chalkboard so she could comment to the entire class how horrible my handwriting was.
And then there was my desk. This was back in the day when kids kept all their stuff in their desk. She required that desks always had to be neat and tidy and, well, perfect. Mine…wasn’t. And her method of communicating this was to gather the entire class around my desk, and then take everything that was in my desk and throw it on the floor. And then force me to clean it all up while the entire class watched and laughed.
That all happened to me. I didn’t make any of it up. And by the time my 3rd grade year was finished, I felt like dirt. Her criticism and judgment of me was so harsh and so frequent that it crushed me.
And I’m betting that a whole lot of people here today can relate to that. There has been someone in your life, or maybe someone who is still in your life, that crushed you under the weight of their judgment and criticism and condemnation.
But here’s the beautiful truth of the gospel. Because you are loved by God, you are free from that. You don’t have to listen to that. You don’t have to buckle under the weight of that. You can be free from that.
You don’t have to live under the crushing weight of some person’s opinion of you…even if that person is you.
Sometimes the crushing judgment and condemnation is self-inflicted, isn’t it? Sometimes the person who condemns and crushes you…is you.
You compare yourself to other people, and then tell yourself, “I’ll never be good enough. I’ll never measure up. I’ll never be like them. I’m such a loser. I’m such a waste. I’m so worthless.”
Now, let me give you a truth that can set you free from that. Jesus’ opinion matters more than your opinion. It’s true. Jesus’ opinion matters more than your opinion. And that means that Jesus’ opinion of you matters more than your opinion of you.
And what does Jesus think about you? He loves you.
There is incredible freedom there. I am loved by the only One that matters. It doesn’t matter what other people say about me. It doesn’t even matter what I say about me. What matters is what Jesus says about me, and Jesus said that I am loved.
Go back to what Paul wrote in Galatians 2. He said, “…I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20b, NIV)
I am loved by the Son of God. I am free because I am loved. But Jesus didn’t just love me in theory. He loved me in action when He died for me. “…I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
That sets me free to live in humility.
Realizing that someone had to die for me is the most humbling thought that could possibly exist.
Right after I graduated from high school, my family went to Washington DC. And one of our stops in DC was Arlington National Cemetery. If you’ve ever been there, you know what this place does to you.
There was a silent awe in this place. Especially when we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I was fresh out of high school when I was there, but I’ve never forgotten it. I was humbled beyond words.
Looking around this place, seeing all the crosses, knowing that many of these soldiers had died fighting for me was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
You simply can’t be arrogant in the presence of someone who died for you. Which begs a question…how can there be so much arrogance in the church today? It’s because far too many Christians have become self-righteous, believing that they are saved by their own goodness instead of God’s grace. Forgetting that they only reason they can have any hope at all is because Jesus had to die for them.
Honestly, when you meet a self-righteous Christian, you truly have to question whether they are a Christian at all. It’s such a complete contradiction.
Self-righteousness breeds arrogance and pride and judgment and condemnation. And that stands in stark contrast to what Jesus offers us: love, forgiveness, acceptance, and grace. So when someone is self-righteous, you really have to wonder if they even know Jesus at all. The contradiction is that severe. It runs that deep.
But we don’t have to live in the prison of self-righteousness. We are free to live in the humility that comes from God’s grace.
And that’s the kind of church that we’re building here at Connect. One thing that I hear all the time from people who are new to Connect is, “I never felt like I belonged in a church until I found Connect. I was never accepted in a church until I found Connect.” I hear different versions of that statement all the time. And I love it.
The reason I love it is because it’s evidence that our partners here at Connect get it. They really do. They get it. They understand that we are ALL sinners who have no hope of saving ourselves. God’s grace is our only hope. And when you really understand that, you’ll welcome all comers. It doesn’t matter how messed up or jacked up or screwed up a person is. They are exactly what you are and exactly what I am: asinner who needs a Savior.
So if you’re checking things out today and you have never felt like you could ever be accepted in a church, then welcome home. Welcome to a church that is filled with people who understand that it’s not about how good we are, it’s about how good God is. And He is so good to us that He gave up His own Son for us.
Do you see why there is no room for self-righteousness in the church? It’s a total, complete, absolute contradiction of the gospel of grace.
That’s why self-righteous people will have such a hard time here at Connect. Because we are grace addicts, and we’ll never apologize for it. There are a lot of times when I feel like I’m the most screwed up person in this room, and I’m the pastor! But I’m a pastor who is absolutely addicted to God’s grace. It’s the only hope I have, which means it’s always the message I preach.
So if you’re a Christian who is ready to repent of your self-righteousness, bring it on. We’re ready for you. We’ve got people who would love to pray with you and talk with you and serve you as you give up this poison, this prison, of self-righteousness.
If you’re someone who has really been turned off by self-righteous Christians and you’re wondering if this church is truly the real deal, we’d love to meet you, too. We’d love the chance to prove to you that this isn’t just a sermon that gets preached on stage. This is the heartbeat of our church.
And if you’re ready to surrender your life to Jesus, if you’ve never made Him your Savior and Lord, if you’ve never been baptized into Christ where God washes away the old life and gives you a brand new life, then we’re ready for you. We’ve got people who ready to talk and pray with you today.
It’s not about what we could ever do for Jesus. It’s all about what Jesus has done for us.