“When I feel self-righteous, it means I’m afraid. It’s a way to puff up and protect myself when I’m afraid of being wrong, making someone angry, or getting blamed.”Brené Brown in Daring Greatly
Fear is a strong motivator. Unfortunately, it often motivates us to behavior that is either wrong or unhelpful.
As I listened to this quote in an audio recording, it really struck me about how much this applies to the church. I have seen self-righteousness in action in myself and in others. I have been hurt by it and have hurt others by it. It is never a good thing, so it should never be OK.
There are churches where self-righteousness in endemic in the system. Some display it to the point where the church is almost a caricature; I’m thinking of some of the “King James Only” type churches that rail against anyone who would use any other English translation of the Bible.
But in all of us, and therefore in all of our churches, we have an amazing propensity for responding in fear and therefore in self-righteous condemnation. I like that Dr. Brown linked fear and self-righteousness because this link seems to explain why we have a tendency to go there.
The Apostle John tells us,
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”1 John 4:18, ESV
So, I want to explore the idea that the antidote to self-righteousness is a better understanding of how much we are loved by God. We can experience perfect love which should, if we allow it to do so, cast out all our fear.
If I am fully convinced of how much God loves me, I won’t have to fear being wrong, making someone angry, or getting blamed. I can face those things without feeling devalued as a person.
In the context of church, if we are loved and loving perfectly, we won’t have to fear being wrong on some finer point of theology and have useless debates over non-essential issues. If we are loved and loving perfectly, we don’t have to fear being misunderstood or incurring the anger of the society around us. If we are loved and loving perfectly, we don’t have to worry about being blamed whether or not the accusation is true or false.
If we are wrong, we can repent, seek forgiveness, and move on to try to bring healing to the relationship. Self-righteousness, on the other hand, doubles down on the offence rather than seeking restoration.
If you are in any doubt about how Jesus represented God’s love for us, I suggest that you turn to the stories in Luke 15 where Jesus, to the chagrin of the Pharisees, represented God as a father, running to embrace his lost son.
The father cared nothing about his self-respect as compared to the desire to have his son back. The bare legs and undignified running of the father were more than outweighed by the opportunity to hug the son.
That desire to restore the lost relationship is what took Jesus to the cross.
“ . . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”Hebrews 12:2, ESV