The Terrifying Sin of Feeling Morally Superior

* * *

By Grantley Morris


* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

    James 2:1-4, 9-11 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Can you grasp what James is saying? Under divine inspiration he declares that anyone offering a better seat to someone because he is rich makes one as guilty before God as a murderer!

We are breaking the same Ten Commandments – the same divine set of laws – when we covet as when we murder.

There is no moral difference between someone who in a flash of anger wishes someone were dead, and someone who has a loaded gun in his hand at that critical moment. Someone who through fear of getting caught does not commit a crime is no more moral than someone who is braver and commits the crime. The wages of sin is death. Once you are dead, you cannot get any deader, whether it be through a “respectable” sin such as abusing our God-given body through overwork, or a sin society thinks is despicable.

    Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Instead of “you who pass judgment,” the New King James Version says, “O man, whoever you are who judge” (the older version is similar). This more accurately reflects the Greek by emphasizing that this truth applies to every person.

This Scripture sends us reeling in shock. How can it be that whatever sin we accuse someone of committing, we ourselves are guilty of? We suppose there are many sins we have not committed, and yet our presumption of innocence merely highlights what deluded hypocrites we are. To wish someone dead is to murder.

    1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

    1 John 4:20  . . . anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

To dress in the hope of sexually arousing someone who might not want those feelings is to rape. To keep back part of your tithe is to steal from God (Malachi 3:8). King Saul let his soldiers hold on to some of the livestock God told them to destroy. Though they claimed this was for the noble reason of sacrificing the animals to God, the Lord declared it rebellion against God and therefore the equivalent of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). To be greedy is to worship an idol (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5).

My longing – and God’s – is to not condemn you, but to bring you to the point of surrender so that you can cease the endless struggle to justify yourself, or feel inferior or superior to others, and simply accept divine forgiveness in all its wonder and endless scope. This is one of life’s most liberating and exhilarating experiences.

What makes gossip and being judgmental so delicious? Everyone on this planet is loved of God so why would anyone who claims to love God delight in putting down someone God loves? Or, as James puts it:

    James 3:9-11 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. . . . My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Why does finding someone we can somehow convince ourselves is worse than us make us feel better? Surely this can only happen if, despite our lip-service to Christian doctrine, we secretly worry that God’s approval depends on what we do or don’t do, rather than what Christ has already done. Some of us act as if we fear that God’s love and salvation is so limited that we have to compete with others for it. Others are so nagged by guilt that they try to turn the spotlight off their own conscience by seeking to focus it on someone else, like Adam accusing Eve, and Eve pointing the finger at Satan. This could only happen if we doubt the glorious truth that our divine Judge fully cleanses us from all sin simply by us trusting Jesus to do it.

We are in a tiny boat, furiously baling out water in a desperate, ultimately futile, attempt to stay afloat. Towering above us is God’s luxury liner, offering security, dignity, rest and refreshment. The sooner we admit to ourselves that our attempt to save ourselves is both hopeless and foolish, the quicker we can enjoy God’s liner.

Studying biblical revelation about sin will remain a bewildering and apparently contradictory topic until we understand that a nation’s legal system – even divinely ordained legislation – is, of necessity, markedly different from the standards by which we will be judged after death.

The law that came through Moses was given to a nation. It was not spiritual. It was not designed to change the human heart. Nor was it designed to reveal – much less execute – divine morality. It was solely a practical way of restraining fallen people from anarchy – a disincentive to unregenerate people who might otherwise rape, pillage and kill each other to the total destruction of society. To fulfill this function it was impossible, for example, to have the same penalty for committing murder in one’s heart (of which perhaps all of us are guilty) as for those who take someone’s life, even though, as explained later, from a purely moral perspective there might be no difference between the two acts. Sins can differ hugely as to how much they threaten society but all are identical as to how much they appall God and – outside of Christ’s forgiveness – threaten our eternity.

Whereas Moses’ mission was to reveal laws for a nation, Christ’s mission was to reveal God’s holy standards. It was not that they were contradicting each other; it was that they were addressing quite different issues. Moses was called to focus on external, obvious matters – sins that grossly affect those sinned against and rip the fabric of society. It was so external that without two or three witnesses there could be no conviction. And it was so consequence-based that we read such things as:

    Exodus 21:20-21 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two . . .

Christ, however, dealt with hidden matters of the heart and spirit that might have no direct impact on other people but nevertheless greatly affect the sinner and the God whose eyes pierce the heart.

Relative to each other, some of us seem fairly innocent and some seem very guilty. But this is by our sinful standards. We are like serial killers feeling morally superior to pedophiles, and pedophiles feeling superior to murderers; or million dollar embezzlers considering themselves better than armed robbers, and muggers believing the paltry sums they steal make them less culpable than embezzlers.

We could speak of heterosexuals who briefly fall into adultery looking down on homosexuals, and homosexuals who are faithful to their partner for life seeing themselves as more righteous than adulterers. On and on we could go. Hypocrisy has a million mutations and it is only the ones that others fall for that look hideous; our own looks saintly. Finding our own brand of hypocrisy highly seductive, we are lured into labeling some sins as less grave or more excusable, and where we draw the arbitrary line just happens to put our offenses in the lesser category. We find ourselves easily convinced by the cleverness of our own arguments but, despite the infinity of his love for us, our Holy Judge cannot be partner to such hypocrisy.

Whether we like it or not, our Judge is divine. He does not judge by human standards. As the stars tower high above the earth, so are his standards, and the sooner we start thinking like he does, the better.

You might feel less defiled – or more defiled – than other people, but that’s not how God sees it. His standards shatter all distinctions.

    Romans 3:22-23  . . . There is no difference, for all have sinned . . .

For a surgeon about to operate, usual standards of cleanliness are hopelessly inadequate. You might be filthy and someone else walks off the street looking spotless, but by the standards the surgeon must maintain, both of you are equally untouchable. It can make no difference if the person approaching him is the love of his life or the most important or popular or respectable person in the world. Regardless of how special someone is or how clean by normal standards, a surgeon must not lower his standards. So it is with God. We might distinguish between sinners, but God cannot. Perfection is his only standard. We get just one shot at living a perfect life and we have all blown it. We have all missed the mark. Whether we missed it by a millimeter or a kilometer, means nothing. We all missed, and that’s all that counts.

In the penetrating eyes of the Holy Judge, no one can be more lost or guiltier than you. On the other hand, when you receive divine forgiveness through Jesus, no one can be more forgiven than you. Although outside of Christ, we all stand condemned, in Christ, we each stand spotlessly pure before the Holy One.

Simple logic suggests that our spiritual enemy, whom Scripture calls the Deceiver and the Accuser, would muster all his evil cunning to distort this simple truth. If the Evil One wanted to keep people from the wonderful forgiveness that Jesus offers, he would try to convince them that they are not bad enough to need forgiveness. Or failing that, he would try persuading them that they are so bad that they cannot be forgiven. Either way, the result is the same. If he utterly lost that battle, and people became Christians, he would then try to get them to feel less sinful than others – producing bigots, arrogant fools and hypocrites. For those resistant to this attack, he would try the opposite lie, hissing that they are too sinful to be fully blessed by God or be mightily used of God. Either way, it would render them powerless. So it’s obviously to the Deceiver’s advantage to make you feel that total cleansing is impossible for you. Don’t let him get away with such lies.

And what about this?

    Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

If judging involves anything, it involves considering oneself to be morally better than someone else.

    Romans 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Note how this Scripture links judging and looking down on someone.

Let’s look a little deeper at judging:

    1 Corinthians 4:3-5 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. . . .

So without Christ we were all equally dead in our sin and in Christ we are all equally forgiven.

If you ever feel greatly loved of God, then that is one of the rare times when your feelings match spiritual reality. If, however, you ever feel like congratulating yourself over some moral or spiritual achievement, or if you think yourself slightly better or more worthy of divine approval than some degenerate, then you are deluded; you are in the precarious position of having missed a basic spiritual truth.

    Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God.

    1 Corinthians 1:27-29,31 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. . . . Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

    2 Corinthians 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

    Galatians 6:14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .

    Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

We can, without delusion, unashamedly enjoy the rush that boasting brings – but only by boasting of God, delighting in his perfection and in his unfathomable love for hopeless sinners; never in us deserving anything more from God than the fate earned by the greatest reprobate earth has ever seen. Except for boasting in God, all other boasting will see us humiliated on Judgment Day.

If ever you imagine you have earned God’s approval, flee to this Scripture:

    Luke 17:10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ (NKJV)

The same Greek expression applied to the obedient Christians mentioned above is used to describe the unfaithful servant mentioned below:

    Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NKJV)

If measured solely from a practical perspective, even the best of us are unworthy, unprofitable servants for God.

God loves and delights in us so much that he longs to lavish upon us all sorts of “rewards” but this is never because any of us have served him so well that we have earned the slightest reward. The God who gave us life and every good thing we have ever enjoyed deserves total obedience for all eternity from the moment of our birth. None of us have given him that and even when we eventually decide to try, we keep messing up. We are like two-year-olds thinking we are going a great job “helping” Daddy. Our service to God is always God doing us a favor; never the other way around. To serve God is an undeserved privilege.

Over and over Scripture affirms that all ministry to God is a gift from God; not something we have earned but an undeserved manifestation of God’s grace:

    Ephesians 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.

    1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (Other Scriptures)

And from this springs the obvious conclusion:

    1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

All service that is acceptable to the Holy One is God granting us the unmerited joy and satisfaction of engaging in things of eternal significance. It comes at the horrendous cost to our Lord of him having to let us blacken his name by marring his perfection. There is nothing we could ever do in our service to God that he could not have done better had he bypassed us and done it himself.

Coming from another angle, Jesus hits us with this truth in these few words: “. . . apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5). Without God helping us every step of the way, the sum total of all our most noble, determined efforts ends up a big fat zero. When viewed in the clear light of eternity, it will turn out that the only thing of value we have ever achieved is when we let God do it for us. In the immensity of God’s love, he longs for our “help,” as a proud father delights in his three-year-old “helping” him paint the house, even though for the most gifted and saintly of us our only contribution is to spoil what would otherwise have been divine perfection.

Correctly understood, this truth does not rob us of joy. On the contrary, it not only eliminates a false hope that would have eventually sent us crashing down, it frees us from a slave mentality so that we can revel in the ecstasy of real joy. We are loved and valued not for what we do but for who we are. If bedridden or elderly or whatever, we are just as much a delight to God as when ferociously doing things for him. Endless joy is founded not on the illusion that God needs us but on the reality that he wants us.

As usual, the truth that we shrink from ends up being the truth that sets us free.

Elsewhere I have written:

    Nothing stirs divine compassion more than people overwhelmed by their own depravity. As air rushes to fill a vacuum, God rushes to cleanse and exalt such people. Conversely, nothing saddens, disgusts and maddens God more than the arrogant self-righteousness of anyone who thinks himself morally superior to the most despised sinner.


Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2013 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.


* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *