What happens when we begin to view ourselves progressing so well in love and good deeds that we slowly lose sight of the need we have of God’s grace? What is the result of a life that begins to be lived not in view of the gospel, but in view of his/her own obedience to God?
Don’t think that I am writing that we should not grow in faith and obedience to Christ. We must and we should. But we must understand that pride awaits us at each point of our spiritual progress. And pride, once it goes unchecked, is prone to give birth to self-righteousness. And self-righteousness, once it takes root in the soul, moves one from the worship of God to the using of God. Just consider the Pharisees for a prime example.
The reason that self-righteousness diminishes worship toward God is because when we become self-righteous, we think we are ok. We don’t see our continually need for Christ. We begin to think that God owes us his favor because we are so good. As a result, singing “Amazing Grace” is not as sweet because we do not see ourselves as wretched, blind, or lost.
It may not be that the grace of God is completely forgotten for the self-righteous, it’s just that they don’t see the need for it as much. “After all”, a self-righteous person may think, “I’m doing pretty well…I haven’t missed a day of praying and reading my Bible in months, I serve my church, and I make sure I tithe each Sunday.”
We must realize the danger of self-righteousness. John Ortberg writes that in Jesus’ day, “the ‘righteous’ were more damaged by their righteousness than the sinners were by their sin.” Why? Because they couldn’t see that they were sick in need of a doctor (Mark 2:17).
Why did the outcasts, sinners, and destitute flock to Jesus? Why did the woman in Luke 7 wash Jesus feet with her tears? It’s because they all knew that without Jesus, they had no hope. It was Jesus in whom their salvation was to be found and therefore, it was Jesus in whom they would worship.
“When our worship has grown cold,” write Matt Papa, “it doesn’t mean we need to change the music up, or that we need new styles — it means we are standing in our own righteousness.”
Therefore, we do well to meditate on Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus and understand that without grace, we are dead. We can’t do anything but trust in what Christ has done for us. Our salvation is a gift of mercy, not a result of our works. Therefore, the only thing we have to boast about is God himself.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).