One of things I struggle against in my Christian experience is pride. Add to that self-righteousness and at times, apathy, and it’s obvious that I have a winning combination going. As the Lord shows me my self-righteous tendencies and continues to change me, I find myself feeling self-righteous toward those who are self-righteous. Tullian Tchividjian wrote a recent blog called The Double Reach of Self-Righteousness on that very topic that is helpful. It’s [HERE] if you want to take a look.
If you take a believer who struggles with pride and self-righteousness (and all of us do if we’re honest about it) and put them in a Christian environment that tells them that one of their primary responsibilities as a Christian is to point out sin in other Christian’s lives, the results can be devastating. I’ve heard it taught that, “The reason you have other believers in your life is to point out your sin.” At one point, I actually bought into that way of thinking and have seen its devastating results first hand. In such a setting, we become the sin police in one another’s lives and any sense of humble, caring community evaporates in favor of self-righteous and prideful policing of each other’s sin, or perceived sin.
There are times when we may need to lovingly confront someone over sin, but that’s vastly different than thinking it is my mission every day to be the sin police in your life and you in mine. I’ve heard others say, “I’m glad we’re in each other’s lives so we can point out each other’s sin.” Thinking about the Christian life in those terms will destroy you by killing your joy and making you hard to be around. Your relationships with others will be strained and eventually your circle of friends will become smaller and smaller until you’re left with only like-minded sin police. Everyone else is going to abandon you over time because of the harshness and ugliness of the self-righteousness that being the sin police will produce in you.
In his book entitled, A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You, Paul Tripp makes a good comment related to this:
Self-righteousness blinds me to the realities of who I am and tends to make me much more aware of the sin of others than my own.
The reality is that being the sin police blinds me to my own sense of self-righteousness and drives me to performance-based Christianity instead of driving me deeper into the gospel. If I am functioning as the sin police in your life, you can’t be yourself around me and I can’t be myself around you because my sin radar is up and so is yours. We end up being phony with each other and guarded in what we say. We can’t be spontaneous and real for fear of saying something wrong that might be perceived as sin. By allowing someone to be the sin police in my life, I give them the power of life and death over my heart and our relationship. In his book, Objects of His Affection, Scotty Smith makes this comment relative to our discussion:
We cannot, we will not, love and serve people as long as we give them the power of life and death over our hearts. As we rest in the love of Jesus, we are freed to love others as he loves us—including our spouses, children, friends, and strangers—and yes, even our enemies.
He also reminds us that giving someone this kind of power over your heart and life is the outworking of the fear of man and is something that is is reserved for God alone,
We fear people when we give them the power to make us feel small, insignificant, or shameful. We also fear them when we give them the power to make us feel full, complete, and invincible. We fear people when we give anyone—spouse, boss, children, hooker, coach, abuser, pastor, stranger, anyone—the power of life and death over our hearts. Such power rightfully belongs only to God.
If you want to be the sin police in my life, you’re going to be busy. Real busy. That’s a job better left to the Holy Spirit. I’d rather we be friends and take on the role of encouragers in each other’s lives in our ongoing struggle with sin. If we are loving one another as Christ loves us, we will be less annoyed by one another’s faults and sins (1 Peter 4:8) and I will have the freedom to be real around you and to be myself. On those rare occasions that call for confrontation, it will be done in a spirit of gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1-2). C.S. Lewis, as only C.S. Lewis can, said,
Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.