I’ve never really thought of myself as a self-righteous person. It wasn’t until I found myself at the receiving end of grace other people’s grace that I realized just how much my personal sense of righteousness came from my behavior and my reputation.
It wasn’t until my true behavior was exposed and my reputation was lost that I finally began to understand God’s amazing grace.
I grew up attending church and, by all reasonable measures, I was a very well-behaved church kid. Even through high school, my rebellious phase was relatively minor. Eventually, I felt called to ministry, graduated from Bible college, and joined the staff of a church.
In all of this, my theology on sin, grace, and salvation was rock solid, but there was a sense in which I was naïve to the depths of my own depravity and the heights of God’s grace.
From 2008 until June of 2016, I was the youth pastor and backup preacher at my church. For eight years, day in, and day out, I spent my time trying to help others understand and embrace the grace offered by Jesus Christ.
But, as the years passed, and the stresses of life grew, I chose to turn to alcohol to cope with the burdens I bore. What started as an unwise coping mechanism quickly grew into a full addiction with all of the lies and deceptions that often come with being an alcoholic. After several years of being a full blown alcoholic in secret, in June of 2016, I finally confessed my sins and struggles to the elders of my church and I resigned.
My rebellious phase wasn’t when I was a teenager, or a college student, or a single adult. No, it came when I was a married father, and the associate pastor at a church. My sin had caused heartache, frustration, and consequences for almost everyone touched by my ministry.
What happened next was incredibly difficult to for me personally to receive…they offered grace.
Grace & Self-Righteousness
In my failure and in my exposure, I kept waiting for someone to really let me have it. I kept waiting for someone to start treating me differently. I kept waiting for my actions to cost me relationships and friendships. But, it never came. People and the church just loved and supported my family.
I deserved people’s anger.
But that’s not what grace would give.
Grace means I get what I don’t deserve.
Their gracious response was like a gigantic mirror revealing something about how I viewed myself.
Suddenly, in my failure, a gigantic light shone on my self-righteousness. When I thought about how people would treat me, or my worth to the kingdom, it was all based how I acted and how people saw me.
When dealing with others, I knew how to offer them grace instead of judgment.
When dealing with others, I knew how to explain the forgiveness offered by grace through faith in Christ.
But when I needed grace, I expected judgment.
When I needed forgiveness, I expected condemnation.
For the first time, Romans 8:1 resonated with me in a very unique way.
1 Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
For some, this verse is incredibly powerful but, for me, it was just another theological truth. I’d never felt uniquely worthy of condemnation, therefore I hadn’t contemplated how it affected me personally.
In the wake of moral failure and public shame, Paul’s words to the Romans suddenly became piercingly relevant and personal.
Therefore is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus!