Surviving Self – Part 1

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Israel’s Pharisees developed the most elaborate works-based system imaginable. With over 600 laws requiring strict observance, they had finely tuned the machinery of self-righteousness for looking right on the outside while being wrong on the inside. As always, self-righteousness first blinded them to their own error, sin, and hypocrisy. While being pleased with their outward achievements of religious format and displays of piety, they were completely uninterested in heart sins and how their sin negatively impacted others.

Surviving Self – Part 1Self-righteousness always self-vindicates, quickly justifying sin with blind determination. The ‘self’ person energetically pushes ahead to promote the virtues of ‘self,’ with the words ‘I, me, my, mine, and myself’ being the common giveaways in its speech. Whenever self comes first it blinds the mind and heart to its ‘self’ pursuit of establishing ‘self’ in a parallel position with God. This form of idolatry is happy to acknowledge God by focusing on detail which gives the appearance of devotion to God, but in so doing, the heart fortifies itself as an idolatrous sanctuary of self.

The Pharisee’s self-control was used for the appearance of obeying rules and regulations. The importance of right appearances driven by pride consumed them. In their lust for recognition, they moved their religious acts into public places to “do all their deeds to be seen by others…” (Matthew 23:5). The more they chased after religious law, the more blinded they became to God’s righteousness which was to be lived by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Pharisees provide us with many lessons on the ways in which ‘self’ hides the inner nightmare of sin, going to great lengths in appearing to be good, happy, and God focused. Religious formality often ranks high in the priorities of ‘self,’ giving much attention to observing the details required by religious format and liturgy.

Matthew 23 records Jesus’ final blistering condemnation of Israel’s false spiritual leaders, who had a strict set of rules for the people to obey, but for themselves, “they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:3). Self-righteousness will always exempt you from submissive obedience to Jesus as Lord, always providing an excuse for disobedience. The Pharisees were not only happy living this lie themselves, but they actively deceived others into living the same lie.

Among the many corrections given by Jesus in this sermon, were 7 damning woes, which we shall briefly consider over the next few weeks.
Woe 1 – Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
The scribes and Pharisees boasted a fancy and unique way for people to earn entrance into God’s kingdom. But the ugly reality was that they were shutting themselves out of God’s kingdom by their self-righteous works. They effectively removed the truth of Old Testament scriptures from people so that they could not identify any other way to live for God. By design, the deception would increasingly take people further from seeking truth to seeking self-righteousness as the only way of earning entrance into God’s kingdom.

In Colossians 3:1-3, Paul calls us to guard against, and proactively do the opposite of such self-righteousness, “if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The life of faith begins with Jesus Christ as Lord, not self, and not religious format, but Christ alone.

To be continued…

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