Many of us have friends or family members who have been turned off to Christianity and the church for various reasons. I think it’s safe to say that many who fit into this category of people who are now called “de-churched” have turned away because of the self-righteous and “holier than thou” crowd. Hey, that rhymes! The possibility of being judged or attacked by other Christians isn’t a great selling point. It doesn’t mean that the “de-churched” have given up on God necessarily, but they have given up on the “holy huddle” and especially the “holier than thou”.
Again, I can’t say that I have never behaved in a self-righteous manner or been “holier than thou”, to do so would be, well, “holier than thou”. None of us are above it because we have “all sinned” (Romans 3:23) and elevated ourselves above others in one way or another. Self-centeredness is one of the root causes of all sin. Getting self out of the way and replacing it with God and holiness is one of the greatest challenges that we face in life. That’s why Jesus emphasized the importance of self or the lack thereof in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But, self-importance always manages to find its way back to the surface, so self-denial is a constant battle for all of us. That’s why the Apostle Paul reminds us to “not think more highly of ourselves than we should or ought”. This takes us back to the beginning of this series and Romans 12.
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3 NIV
Let’s focus on the final section of this verse: “In accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” “In accordance” is another way of saying “in agreement”. We are agreeing or confirming that faith, which includes forgiveness and reconciliation, has been distributed, delivered, and offered to us by God the Father through Jesus Christ. Without this distribution of “faith”, God’s saving grace, or means of salvation; we have no chance of being righteous, good enough, or being reconciled to God. Therefore, it is incorrect or unsuitable for us to “think more highly of ourselves than we ought to”. We “ought” to know better by using sober or “sound” judgment.
“17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NIV
We aren’t transformed (Romans 12:2), reconciled to God, or become “new creations” through our own ability or human effort. God is the one who does it. He’s the one who reconciles us to himself through Christ. We have no righteousness of our own to boast of, so we shouldn’t get the BIG HEAD. The reasons we should keep our ego in check are many but one of the main ones is that our haughty behavior and attitudes stand in the way of God’s ministry of reconciliation. God has “committed to us the message of reconciliation”. In other words, we’re supposed to pass it on to others so they can be reconciled to God too, but we can’t do it if our “holier than thou” thinking or hypocrisy is causing others to stumble and miss it.
12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13 NIV
Verse 12 should hit all of us between the eyes like a 40lb sledgehammer. Sorry, 40lbs just sounds more painful. To “give an account” in this verse means that we have to give a record or “own up” to our own failures. Each of us will stand before God alone and answer for everything we’ve said or done. Therefore, we better stop pointing the finger or judging everyone else for their problems-failures when we have enough of our own to account for. Paul uses the first 11 verses in chapter 14 as jabs to set up for the knockout punch in verses 12&13. He isn’t pulling punches or mincing words. God’s mission is reconciliation, and he doesn’t want anything or anyone getting in the way.
The Greek word for “stumbling block” in verse 13 is σκανδαλον or “skan’-dal-on”. It’s bait for a trap. It’s where we get our word “scandal”. Scandal’s draw attention and distract, like a moth to a flame. How many of us have been distracted by tabloid magazines in grocery stores or gossip? In this case a stumbling block or skan’-dal-on can keep or distract us from the truth and God’s ministry of reconciliation. So, Paul says that we need to have our minds “made up” to not let that happen. We can’t allow our own sin, judgements, or “holier than thou” attitudes to knock others off the path to God’s grace, truth, and salvation.
So does that mean I’m abdicating “spiritual anarchy”, anything goes, the “wild-wild west”?! Absolutely not! The Bible is very clear about what God expects from us. We may not be perfect or holy, but He wants us to “be holy as I (HE) am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16, Deuteronomy 23:14, and various passages from Leviticus). In order to be holy we have to remove sin, those things that God doesn’t want us to engage in because they prevent God’s will or plan from being revealed. So, who can judge? Who is holier than thou”? We know the answer to that question, and it ain’t us. It’s God, not the “holier than thou”. So how does God judge us or “call us out” when we are off track or “living in sin”?
“12For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NIV
Have you ever read the Bible or heard a sermon based on a passage of scripture that convicted you of sin? I know I have plenty of times. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word-The Bible like a sword to cut down deep dividing my soul and spirit, exposing, and judging my thoughts and attitudes that aren’t pleasing to God. This is why constant exposure to God’s word is so essential to our faith. Without it we have nothing to keep us on the right track. Sure, God can use other people in our lives, but they can’t measure up to the word of God because they aren’t “holier” than God or anyone else. Google and the court of public opinion aren’t our “go to” source either. Everything that we read or hear should be measured and evaluated against what God says. God’s word is the standard by which everything else should be judged.
“16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
Next week, I want to go back to Matthew 7:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 from Part 2 and take a second look at the spiritual gift of discernment and how being a “fruit inspector” can be used an excuse or license to be “holier than thou”.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC