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By what standard do you measure yourself?

April 30, 2013 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Discipleship

“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12)

As I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on Sundays at NewLife, one of the repeating themes has been how the Pharisees interpreted the law in such a way that they found themselves on the “righteous” side of the bar. “Do not murder” meant don’t kill anyone, “Do not commit adultery” meant don’t have sex with someone who is not your spouse, and their laws on divorce came to mean “As long as you give your wife a certificate of divorce, it’s okay to divorce her.” In each case, the Pharisees looked at the law and felt righteous. But one of the things Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is to explain the spirit and truth behind each of those laws, and in the process raises the bar to such a height that no one – not even the Pharisees – can end up on the righteous side of the bar on their own merits. Do not murder becomes “do not be angry with your brother,” do not commit adultery becomes “do not lust after a woman in your heart,” and the law about divorce becomes “do not get divorced; it is only permitted in the case of sexual unfaithfulness.”

I believe that when it comes to God’s law, we can often have Pharisaic tendencies, setting the bar at a height where we end up on the righteous side of the bar, allowing us to feel good about ourselves and sometimes simultaneously giving us permission to look down on others. For example:

“I can’t stand how she talks about everyone else behind their back.”
“At least I did not have sex before I was married.”
“I don’t get angry like he does.”
“I tithe. I can’t believe so many people don’t.”
“How do they think it’s okay to watch THAT movie?”
“I haven’t looked at pornography in three months.”
“Gays are just rebelling against God.”
“Those anti-gay people don’t understand the love and grace of God.”
“I’m not divorced – I worked hard to keep my marriage together.”
“At least I don’t steal things from work like they do.”
“I can’t believe they would send their kids to a public school.”
“Yes, I like to buy things for myself, but I’m certainly not greedy.”

Jesus’ standard, however, is perfection – “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Comparing ourselves to others, or to our own arbitrary standards of righteousness, may help us feel better about ourselves, but in the end is a practice that misses out on the amazing grace and love of God poured out on sinners like us. Joy and freedom come from seeing how high God’s standard truly is and falling on our knees before Him, crying out “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and experiencing the freely given forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in that parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14, it is the tax collector who recognized his sinfulness who went home justified, not the Pharisee with his arbitrary lines by which he could declare himself righteous.

Recognizing God’s perfect standard frees us from the need to constantly compare ourselves in order to feel good about ourselves. If you find yourself criticizing others often for how they live, you may be guilty of finding too much of your self-worth in your performance and how you measure up to the arbitrary bars of righteousness you have set for yourself. When we look at God’s perfect standard instead, we see clearly that we are no better than anyone else, that we have no moral high ground on which to stand, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

Repent of your arbitrary bars of righteousness and your Pharisaic self-justification and judgment of others. Fall down as a sinner before the holy law of God, and rise in the grace and freedom found in Jesus’ forgiveness of your sins to love God and to love your neighbor as He has loved you.

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