The Sin of the Self-Righteous
“Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. Luke 15:27-28
Self-righteousness is one of those attributes that’s easy to see in others. In my own addiction, I was acutely sensitive to those whom I felt looked down on me. I knew everyone struggled with something and I was annoyed by those who were prideful about the fact that they’d never struggled with addiction. You’re not better than me. You’re just an arrogant jerk and you can’t see it!
Self-righteousness is one of those attitudes that is easy to adopt without seeing it in ourselves. As soon as I began to recover, it was natural to begin looking down on those who were still engaged in some struggle. What’s wrong with you? I dealt with my mess. Why don’t you?
Self-righteousness was the sin of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. In the parable, Jesus described how the younger brother returned home after running off and living recklessly. The loving father – who just wanted his son back – embraced the prodigal son, showered him with grace, and celebrated his return.
The older brother was bitter. Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him (Luke 15:29-30)!
The older son refused to celebrate. He was right in believing that his little brother had sinned greatly. Where he went wrong though, was in believing himself to be better and more deserving of his father’s love. The story leaves us with the older brother remaining outside of the celebration and outside of his father’s grace. Believing himself to be good enough on his own, he couldn’t stand the grace of his father and so, he chose to live in exile from it. In the end, one of the brothers was healed by grace and one chose the misery of self-righteousness.
None of us are good enough to earn God’s love. We receive it only when we acknowledge our need and humbly turn to him. If we desire to live by grace, we must accept that we all struggle and that we all need the father.