Repenting of Self-Righteousness

Have you ever reached for something on your dresser in the darkness in the middle of the night? I sometimes do that in the bathroom, not wanting to turn on the light. If I am searching for a particular medicine among several, I am careful to find the right one. But I might take something that will keep me awake instead of helping me with my pain to get back to sleep. When we try to fix our problems or make decisions in the dark, we are in great danger of reaching wrong conclusions and sinning against God and others in the process without the light of God’s wisdom. Do you have strong opinions about politics, law enforcement, international relations, community development, the CDC, or a decision with your spouse or for your children? Self-righteousness and judgmentalness are two of the most challenging character faults to overcome because we are often blind to them. We move through our lives blind to our presumptions until we are confronted by others or shaken by natural consequences. But rather than be threatened by the truth, as if blindfolded, we ought to be thankful for opportunities to see our shortcomings.

Sightless to the Truth

Once there was a man blind from birth who met Jesus Christ but didn’t know who him. Christ healed his physical sight and later his spiritual eyes to know Christ, the merciful, compassionate God who forgives. But the proud, sanctimonious Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus remained blind to their self-righteousness and refused to believe that he is the Son of God and promised Messiah, who came to save sinners like them. “[The Pharisees] called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’…And they reviled him…We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him…They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him. Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John 9:24-41)  

Knowing What We Don’t Know

The unbelieving Pharisees wrongly accused Jesus of being a sinner and the formerly blind man of sinning before he was born. They were blind to the truth but thought they were exemplary and knowledgeable when they were as wrong as they could possibly be. The man in this story is impressive in his transparency and humility, admitting that he didn’t know how Jesus healed him or who Jesus even was. Then, with Jesus, he acknowledged that he didn’t know him to be the Son of Man, and therefore didn’t believe in him. He is a model for us even if we know Christ, in that he was an open book with nothing to hide. Let’s agree that we who are no longer blind to sin should ask the Lord to expose our judgmentalness and arrogance for confession and repentance. On the other hand, the Pharisees, whose eyes had probably been in Old Testament God’s Word for decades were blinded by their legalistic superiority and prejudice. They didn’t know what they didn’t know and therefore remained guilty of unbelief, the unforgivable sin. “Each of the parties in this report said both ‘we know’ and ‘we do not know.’ But both the parents and Pharisees said ‘we know’ first and, only after that, acknowledged that there was something they did not know…Both of these groups were most interested in what they did know, and as a result, were either cowardly or else knew nothing. The man born blind began with an admission of his ignorance…in Christianity, we begin with our ignorance, just as we begin with our sin. We acknowledge both our inability in spiritual things and our shortcomings. Thus, we acknowledge that unless God chooses to reveal himself—which he has done in his Word and in Jesus Christ—we can know nothing.” (1) 

Humbly Confessing Our Ignorance

The Pharisees concluded that Jesus was a sinner “from his breaking the sabbath, as they supposed; though they also aspersed his character, and accused him of other things, yet falsely nor could they prove one single instance of sin in him, though they express themselves here with so much assurance.” (2) The man argued that “you cannot reason me out of this; this I am sure of, that once I had no eyes to see with, and now I have, and that by the means of this man you reproach. And so it is with persons enlightened in a spiritual sense…they were once blind…but now they are comfortably assured, they see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the plague of their own hearts, the insufficiency of their righteousness to justify them before God, and the beauty, fulness, suitableness, and ability of Christ as a Savior; and that their salvation is, and must be of free grace; and that they see the truths of the Gospel in another light than they did before, and have some glimpse of eternal glory and happiness, in the hope of which they rejoice.” (3) “I think of Martin Luther. Luther was not always the great victor in debates that we sometimes imagine him to be. He was sometimes pressed into making admissions that he did not intend to make when he first entered the discussion…At times Luther admitted his own lack of knowledge, for, as he said, he was ‘only a man and not God and was liable to make mistakes.’ Nevertheless, the more he was pressed, the more certain Luther became of that which he did know—namely, that salvation was by grace through faith and that the Word of God was powerful and would ultimately prevail.” (4) Our admissions of what we don’t know can also lead us to be more sure of our salvation, sanctification, and future glorification. 

God listens to the Prayers of the Penitent.

When we freely and joyfully confess our wrong judgments and presumptions, the Lord leads us in our repentance. “The Pharisees had argued that Jesus was a sinner, and the blind man had declared himself unable to argue with that proposition. He only knew that Christ had healed him. As he thought about it, however, he found that he could say more…he knew that God does not hear sinners.” (5) “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Psalm 66:18-19) “To ‘cherish iniquity’ is to aim at it; in context, it refers to praying for God’s help in order to be able to commit some form of sin—a practice the truly pious reject…it reminds the faithful to pray for God’s help in order to give him thanks and to serve him better.” (6) “The Pharisees understand that Jesus is speaking of spiritual sight, and take their stand on their knowledge of the Scriptures. Jesus now shows them that their sin lies nevertheless in their possession of the truth without understanding it, whereas ignorance from blindness is teachable.” (7) At another time, when Jesus was teaching his disciples about the world’s hatred of him and his righteousness, he said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22) We have no excuse for our sin. We prove our love for Jesus with our confessions of prideful self-righteousness for repentance–rather than struggle with our sin in the darkness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Related Scripture: Psalm 34:15-16; 145:19; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 42:18-20; Matthew 11:25; 13:13; Mark 4:11-12; John 5:45-47; 12:37; Romans 2:17-21; 1 Timothy 1:12-15; 1 John 1:8-10.

Notes:

  1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 9:18-33, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 9:24, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-9.html
  3. Gill, Ibid, John 9:25.
  4. Boice John, Ibid.
  5. Boice John, Ibid.
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 66:16–20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  7. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, John 9, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.

May 20, 2021            

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