Change is not found in defending our righteousness, but in admitting our weakness and crying for help.
I wish I could say that this is not my struggle. I wish I could say that I’ve fully accepted the reality of my spiritual battle. I wish I could say that I am always thankful for the help God provides. I wish I could say that I am always open and approachable. I wish I could say all of these things, but sadly, I can’t. When I’m approached about a wrong I’ve committed, I don’t tend to say to the other person: “Thank you so much for confronting me. I know that I suffer from spiritual blindness and don’t see myself accurately. Please keep rebuking me; I know it’s a visible sign of God’s love.” No, there are two things that tend to be more natural for me as I feel my ears redden and my chest tighten. I first activate my internal defense system and mount arguments in my mind against the charge. Perhaps I was misunderstood. Maybe this is an invalid judgment of my motives. Perhaps what this person thought I did, I just didn’t do. Then I work to erect arguments for my righteousness. I list all of the good, but maybe unnoticed, things I am doing. I work to convince myself and the person confronting me that I am righteous. In these two actions, not only am I negating empirical evidence of the sin that still resides in my heart, but I am also defending righteousness that doesn’t exist.
Here’s the sad part: in doing both of these things, I’m devaluing the grace that is my only hope in life and death. To whatever extent I am able to convince myself that my sin isn’t really sin—that is, that my little wrongs do not really rise to the level of what Jesus died for—I am not really that excited about grace. Why? Because I have convinced myself that I don’t really need the rescue and forgiveness that grace offers. And to the degree that I am able to work myself into believing that I am righteous, I have less esteem for the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is the only righteousness with which I can stand before God.
So I may have a crisp and clear theology of grace and I may be able to point to passages in God’s Word that clearly preach that grace, but where the rubber meets the road in everyday life, self-righteousness stands in the way of that grace having functional and transformative value in my life. My defensiveness in the face of the confrontation of the body of Christ and the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit stands as a practical denial of what I say I believe. It keeps me supporting what I should flee from and stops me from running to the place where help is only ever found.
What about you? Have you really abandoned your righteousness? Does that make you run toward the grace of Jesus? Or will you defend today what Jesus died to destroy? Perhaps before you start confessing your sin you should first confess your righteousness.
For further study and encouragement: Luke 18:9–14
Taken from New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul Tripp, © 2014, pp. 132-162. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
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Paul David Tripp is a pastor, author and conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.