This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.Romans 3:22-24
Self-righteousness in any part of our life is a lack of perspective. It’s a lack of vision for what is reality. It’s the inability to see from God’s perspective. Regardless of where we think we are in regard to personal sin, all of us are stained by corporate sin. Each of us are participants in sin we can’t even see. We are daily in need of God’s grace and mercy. We’ve all fallen short.
Think of it this way. We all throw away trash every day and yet the plastics in that trash are hurting our planet. We don’t see the piles of trash that gather on the earth. We don’t see the mountains of trash floating in the sea. We don’t think of it as sin because we try to recycle. But we can’t get away from it.
Or the clothes that we wear. Many items of clothes that we own came out of sweatshops in other countries where human rights were ignored and working conditions are terrible. Our purchase of that item helped to perpetuate that situation. We don’t think of it as corporate sin. We aren’t meaning to hurt anyone. But there is a system in place that we can’t avoid.
I ran into this reality when I helped to start a nonprofit that fights human trafficking. We started with the mindset that “those guys” were the bad guys. Then, the more you learn, you realize that it is a tangled web that many of us are involved in. If you’ve ever looked at pornography on the internet, you’ve put money in the pockets of human traffickers. And many trafficking victims come out of the foster care system. Suddenly the problem goes beyond a few bad guys out there and to the reality of a broken system that has stained nearly all of our hands.
Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the weeds growing up together (Matthew 13:24-30). This is the truth of corporate sin in our world. The bad grows up along with the good. Nuclear science has brought us cancer treatments and X-rays that have helped hundreds of thousands of people. It has also brought us the atomic bomb and nuclear power plant leaks. Running a car on a battery hopes to reduce fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. However, mining for the lithium and other minerals it takes to build such a battery rapes the land. And charging the battery often means connecting it to a electrical grid supplied by a coal burning power plant. The wheat and weeds grow up together.
So when it comes to corporate sin, we do the best we can to make change in the world. But self-righteousness has to go. For instance, we can’t get self-righteous about not using a straw in our coffee. Although it may help the environment, the bean that made the coffee often comes from a farm that uses harsh chemicals and has poor working conditions. We can fight abortion, as we should. But we can’t get self-righteous about it because our kids may have gotten protected with a vaccine that used aborted fetal cells for its production. All of our hands are stained with corporate sin. This is what Paul was saying to the Romans when he wrote this:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;Romans 3:10-12
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
This is why any form of self-righeousness is foolishness. We are all contaminated by sin even before we mention any personal sin. So far I’ve only address corporate sin. Imagine what God sees. He sees a world stained by sin in every direction. What is he looking for? He’s looking for people who have humbled themselves. He’s looking for lifestyles of repentance. He’s looking for people who have come to an awareness that they are involved in sin that they don’t even know about. God is looking past our actions and looking at our heart. This is the point that Jesus was trying to drive home in the Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-39
So while we do attempt to live righteously, we do pursue holiness, we do so not from a place of self-righteousness but from a place of complete dependence on the grace and mercy of God. We do so completely aware that we have stained hands and contaminated lives that daily engage in systems of this world that are broken.
Self-righteousness can be found both on the Right and the Left of the political spectrum. Both political parties are rife with it. Humility must be the hallmark of the people of God even while the world around us rages on with arrogance, self-importance, and self-righteous indignation. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. And the systems of the world that we participate in are unapologetically and unavoidably involved in corporate sin. We are all stained by sin, yet, as followers of Jesus, we are also saved by grace. With this reality in mind, let’s keep a humble heart and a continual posture of repentance.