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The False Gospel of Self-Righteousness

The false gospel of self-righteousness

If you know me well, you know that I am ultra-competitive. I had to confess to my community group the other day that a small part of me serves because I want to be the “Most Serving One”. Guys, how ugly is that? Lord, pluck it out of my heart! But don’t worry, it gets uglier. Do you know the false gospel that my traitorous heart returns to over and over? I am the Most Righteous One.

When I discipline my children, this false gospel of self-righteousness comes out of my mouth in ways that I would cringe to display before others. I know that Jesus is the only righteous person who ever lived; that I am a sinner saved by grace alone; that breaking one part of the law makes me guilty of breaking the whole law. I would never say differently. But this is not the gospel I preach to my children through my reactions to their sins.

Why did you do that?

Whenever I find myself asking a child this question after they have sinned, I know that my heart is lying to me in that moment. I am forgetting that my children are sinners in need of a Savior, and I’m expecting them to be righteous in their own strength. My old self thinks, “I’ve taught you this before. Can’t you just follow the law that I have laid out for you? Why can’t you be like me?”

When I get angrier about my children’s sins in public than their sins at home

I’m more concerned in this moment about appearing righteous before others than whether my child is sinning against God or not. The false gospel I am sharing with my kids here is that my sin only matters when it is displayed before other people. As long as I appear righteous on the surface, my heart condition doesn’t matter.

When I expect mere rules to change their hearts

I am an expert at making rules that will promote the behavior that I want and giving out rewards and punishments that will encourage my children to follow those rules. Unfortunately, this is expecting the Law to make them righteous, not grace. The Israelites tried this for centuries and failed utterly and completely. We can’t do any better.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

My anger towards my children produces the righteousness of Abbie, not the righteousness of God. A person who is consistently disciplining their children in self-righteous anger is going to get self-righteous children made in their own image, not gospel-believing children made in God’s image.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:24)

I long for the day when every ugly idol has been plucked out of my heart and I am like Christ. Until that day I will fight to understand my sinful heart attitudes and beg God to change my heart. I don’t want to deceive myself or my children with a false gospel!

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13)

The law did not save us and it cannot save our children. Only because of the mercy of God are we saved, and we need to share that mercy with our children.

Does your heart fall for this same false gospel? Here are some action points that the Lord has been teaching me lately:

  • Pray that the Lord will convict your heart that you are the chief of all sinners. Before you discipline a child, you need to be convinced that you are a bigger sinner than that child is. Honestly, the only way I do this is by the grace of God through prayer in the moment of necessity.
  • Model the true gospel by repenting of your sins to your children. “Mommy just yelled at you in anger not because you sinned, but because she has sin in her heart. Will you please forgive me for sinning against you?” Then you can talk about their sin.
  • Expect your children to sin and go to them with the grace of God for sinners. Outside of Jesus, we cannot follow God’s law perfectly and we have all fallen short of his standard.

Praise be to Him who made a way to change sinners into saints, who was the Most Righteous One on my behalf. Lord, please change our hearts, and make us look more like Jesus. Help us to hold the true gospel up before our children’s eyes.