Big Idea: The gospel is the answer to religious self-righteousness.
Doing wicked things is dangerous for our hearts. Our consciences get less sensitive, our habits pull us in the wrong direction, and past sins seem to entangle us in future ones. But perhaps there is something even more dangerous: doing the right thing with the wrong heart. When our actions are right, but our attitude is arrogant and self-righteous, we are like someone with no feeling in their legs sitting too close to a fire. The burning is still dangerous, but the warning sign of pain is removed. Someone who sins without external consequences, and maybe even enjoying external praise, can go far on the wrong path before they realize what they have done.
As Paul continues in his letter to the Romans, he adds to his condemnation of the Gentiles a condemnation of the Jews. Although they had the Law and knew God’s Word, their obedience was imperfect. Despite their status as sinners, they believed that righteousness was something they could earn. Paul pointed out the hypocrisy: the ones who thought they were teachers did not teach themselves. “They don’t practice what they preach” is how we would probably put it today. Jesus had made the same criticism (Matthew 23:3). People who are overly impressed with their personal goodness are blind to their own faults and their hypocrisy contaminates everything they do. The gospel leaves no room for those kinds of delusions. If our only hope is the love and grace of a forgiving God, who gave His Son so we could be forgiven, then there is no room for pride. We are all in the same boat, and must all come to God on no basis but mercy. The antidote to hypocrisy is honest self-awareness.
While we try to obey God and follow Him more closely, we have to be careful to not allow ourselves to fall into the sin of self-righteousness. Our obedience is because of our relationship with God, our relationship with God is not because of our obedience. When we get that confused and start to think that our actions somehow earn God’s love, our own good deeds from a proud motive keep us from experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness. When a good thing comes between us and the Best One, then it is evil.
Discussion Idea: The gospel puts us all on equal footing, whether we seem to be good or bad to other people. How does this motivate us to do the right thing, with the right motive? Doesn’t saying God loves us unconditionally give us an excuse to sin?
Prayer Focus: Pray that God would help you to see that your value in His eyes does not come from anything you do or do not do, but that His love is unconditional.