The Dangers of Self Righteousness

Jesus Did Not Come for the Righteous

John the Baptist is an amazing figure in the Bible. He burst upon the scene in the Gospels in dramatic fashion. He dressed in rough clothing, ate strange food, and followed God unflinchingly. Everything about John made him stand out from the crowd. Yet, none of these things are what truly set John apart as extraordinary. It was not even his familial ties as Jesus’ cousin. Rather, what made John the Baptist so significant was His message. God chose John to be the prophet of King’s arrival. The Messiah followed closely on John’s heals. The Jewish people hoped and prayed for this news for so many years, it should have been cause for national celebration. Yet, this was not Israel’s reaction. Jesus was met with skepticism, opposition, and outright hostility. God’s chosen people rejected His Son and in doing so demonstrated what is arguably the most dangerous of all sins – self righteousness. Since they thought were already righteous they saw no need for a Savior. They were so certain of their own goodness, the presence of the King of Kings in their midst and all He did in for Israel only incited murderous anger.


God’s hand was on John the Baptist from his earliest days. John was zealous for the Lord and faithful in his calling. It was an enormous blessing, but one that was not without great sadness. John was privileged to preach continually and clearly the coming of the King. Yet, the content of his messages also revealed a tragic truth. Jesus was here and ready to set up His Kingdom, but the Israelites were too proud to receive Him. This is reflected in John the Baptist’s call to the nation:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.’ ”

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You are likely familiar with these verses, but don’t miss the shocking nature of John’s message. Israel had not heard from a prophet for more than 400 years before John. During that time, the nation faced great hardship. It was conquered by the Greeks and the Romans. The Israelites were bombarded with foreign peoples, cultures, and concepts as a result. Their gentile rulers actively tried to drown out Judaism in a flood of idolatry, excess, oppression, and immorality. The Jewish people bravely resisted these attacks and zealously clung to their identity, distinctive culture, and religious practices. They took pride in the fact that they were the children of Abraham…and no one else was. They were certain they were the only “good” people in the entire world. Given how they resisted changing to be like the rest of the world and their lineage, Israel expected to be only applauded and rewarded when the Messiah came. You can imagine their shock when they heard John the Baptist’s simple message:



Repentance is incompatible with self righteousness. It first involves changing your mind about your own behavior and admitting you are wrong. It is the realization you are headed in the wrong direction. It doesn’t stop there, though. Repentance goes deeper than just understanding you are wrong. It means more than simply feel bad about something you did. It involves your heart changing as well. It is feeling the pain of your own sin and then not wanting to repeat it because it is against God. Repentance is turning your mind and heart away from what is sinful and then embracing what is good. It is a U-Turn of heart, mind, and behavior from sin toward God. This was the start of John’s message to Israel. You can understand why it was so offensive to many Jews who were sure they were already great.

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The Israelites knew they were Gods’ special people who worshipped at God’s Temple in God’s Nation. They were the Chosen People! What sort of real prophet of God would tell them to repent? Their view was so distorted by self righteousness they not only did not prepare, they rejected the King when He arrived. They could not repent of, turn away from, what they pridefully viewed as their own greatness. The word had no application for them. This is the terrible danger of self righteousness. It not only kept the Israelites from seeing their need for a Savior, but also caused them to attack Him when He arrived. Their pride meant more to them than their Savior.


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An Unlikely Hero

Simon the Pharisee took the unusual step of inviting Jesus to his home for a meal. The Pharisees viewed themselves as holier than everyone else around them. Their name meaning “set apart” telegraphed their worldview. Like many legalistic folks, they thought they were the only ones who followed God perfectly, in their own opinion. They walked through Jerusalem clutching their robes to avoid touching anyone unclean in their eyes. They were the stars of the religious show in Israel and that was how they liked it. Their general opinion of Jesus ranged between intense skepticism to outright hostility. Yet, Simon is compelled to host a meal with Jesus. He is clearly not favorably disposed toward Jesus, but there is something going on. Was God working on Simon?

A notable event occurs while they ate. A woman came into their presence. We have no name for her as she is only identified as being a sinner. This was appropriate as it fit Simon’s judgment of the world. There were the Pharisees who mattered and the rest – the nameless, unimportant sinners. Not only that, but Simon immediately recognizes her as a notorious sinner. She is well known on the area for living a life of sin. She may have been a prostitute. What is clear was she was a person unsuitable to be in the presence of one “set apart” like Simon according to him. A Pharisee would have been disgusted by her mere presence. Yet, her actions reveals that something amazing has occurred with this woman before she even arrived. She is the unlikely star of this passage, other than Jesus, of course.

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The sinful woman somehow heard of Jesus and His message and allowed Him to take hold of her life. You probably know that she came and took extremely valuable perfume and anointed Jesus. She further displayed her gratitude through repeatedly kissing Jesus feet and using her hair and tears to wash his feet. But don’t miss what drove her to Jesus feet. It took extraordinary faith and understanding of Jesus to even enter Simon’s house. He was not only the master of that home, he was a respected authority figure in the community. Yet, the woman was not there for Simon. She paid no attention to Simon and went directly to Jesus. She faced scorn, embarrassment, and shame and broke all of the social rules for “people like her” in doing so. She did this all based on faith not only that Jesus would receive her but that His judgment is what mattered. He was the real Master present! Once she was at Jesus’ feet, the woman expressed her heart. She left her life of sin, went to Jesus, was received, and took the lowliest position and role to weep in gratitude and love before Him. She knew the extent of her sin and it showed in behavior. It is an wonderfully humble, honest, and intimate picture of one woman’s worship of the Savior! It is a picture of repentance in action:


Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Luke 7:47-48

A notorious sinner left her life of sin behind, humbled herself, and wept at Jesus feet.

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What is Simon doing while this happened?

The woman’s demonstration of pure adoration and love for Jesus was beautiful. It was exactly as things should be in relation to the Savior. Simon could have witnessed it, been humbled and inspired and joined her worshipping the Savior. After all, you know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus also details the disrespect with which Simon treated Him:

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Luke 7

These were the barest of minimum acts of hospitality and respect every host showed a guest in their home in that culture. Simon’s failure was offensive to any guest, much less the Son of God. Simon’s actions reveal his heart as well. He thinks Jesus unworthy of such esteem. Simon was a sinner like the woman and had an opportunity to repent. Yet, rather than do so, Simon retreated into his stronghold of self righteousness:

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

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Jesus Came for the Humble

Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

Jesus said He did not come to call the righteous. This does not mean Jesus did not come for the good people. Rather, Jesus was making an important point about guys like Simon. The heart of those who are self righteous is certain of one truth – they don’t need help. They are right, morally and factually, and everyone else is wrong…including God. You can tell them they need a Savior until you are blue in the face, but they won’t hear you. They are sure they are already healthy so they don’t need a doctor.

Simon the Pharisee was confronted with Jesus’ great love and mercy poured out on a poor sinner. He saw the Savior at work right in his own home. He likely knew John the Baptist’s call to the nation to repent. Jesus is showing him great mercy. Yet, self righteous Simon spat that mercy in Jesus’ face and used it to condemn Jesus rather than as a door to new life. Self righteousness leads you to despise the works of the Lord and entirely miss Jesus even when He is standing right in front of you.

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