Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him… and the Pharisees grumbled. -Luke 15:1-2
We’ve all heard the parable of the lost sheep from Luke 15. It’s one of those stories in the Bible that is simple, yet stretches us as Americans reading it. Seeing a guy with a bunch of sheep in a field isn’t an everyday experience for most of us. So there’s this shepherd and he loses one of his 100 sheep, then leaves the 99 to go grab the lost one. The lost sheep is a lost person who is saved. Pretty straight forward. What we may not stick around to notice is how Jesus wraps up the story…
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous [or self-righteous] persons who need no repentance. -Luke 15:7
There were two groups who were listening to Jesus tell the story, those who knew they were unrighteous and those who felt good about their own goodness. Those who knew they needed a change eagerly pressed in to listen. They may have even marveled at Jesus’ sweetness as he told the story. The Pharisees on the other hand heard the story, started out grumpy and stayed that way.
The Pharisees had a lot going on… They didn’t like the fact Jesus had such a following that was questioning the Pharisees’ authority and making people listen to him instead of them. In addition, they were doers. They were the religious workers and speakers. They showed up for every meeting, wore the right clothes made the right sacrifices, and ate the right food. But were they happy? Did they truly enjoy God? Could they say they were filled up with joy in serving and worshiping God? I would say they simply had great, high profile jobs in the community. Some may have been earnest in their desire to serve the Lord, but their attitudes show anger, fear, and vindictiveness.
So what’s this thing about these 99 snotty “righteous” Pharisees not needing repentance? (Luke 15:7)
There is joy in Heaven over each person who comes to faith in Christ. Every self-proclaimed sinner. Each unsaved person content in his own self righteousness goes to Hell.
There is no joy in Heaven over 99 people who do good for all the wrong reasons. This is true of Believers and non-Believers.
Unfortunately the longer a person has been a Christian the easier it is to adopt a Pharisee lifestyle. It is easy to pull away from being contaminated by the world because the world feels so unsavory. Often we have good reasons for our list of “We don’t do thats” but that’s the subtlety of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is something we have great difficulty spotting in ourselves but quite easily see (and perhaps cringe at) in others.
Could it be that there is not joy in Heaven over your righteousness, because your “righteousness” is snotty and full of self?
Here’s a quick test: Are you sitting in the back grumpy or do you find yourself leaning in to hear from Christ? When someone shares about something God has done, are you automatically skeptical (Gotta check Snopes.com!) or do you give God glory easily?
Maybe you’re like me and some of this is hitting a little too close to home. I’m currently working on figuring out how to escape the Christian Bubble and love messy people. I have written about this journey here , here and here. That’s easiest to do when you see yourself as a redeemed mess who is in progress. Self-righteousness likes to take the seat of the “expert.”
The expert is critical, while Jesus is merciful. The expert is self-important, while Jesus is humble. The expert overworks at good works to maintain a facade of perfection. For the expert Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
If you see that you are doing all the good spiritual things you know you ought to do but your heart is not in it, it may be that you are struggling with the habitual sin of self-righteousness. Do you see self-righteousness in yourself and want to overcome it? Here is an excellent free course I’ve been enjoying called Self-Righteousness and How to Overcome It.
I’d love to hear from you. If you have a comment, be sure to share it below.