Maybe it’s just a girl thing but, it seems that we’re constantly comparing ourselves to other women. The women in our congregations who we think are better looking, thinner, taller, better mothers, more gifted, more articulate, smarter, know more theologically, have more people round for dinner . . . the list is endless. It’s a pointless and soul destroying task, yet we still give into the temptation repeatedly.
Sadly, this doesn’t just stop at the mundane or superficial, I truly believe that many of us do this with our sinful behaviour as well. We might not say it out loud, but the thought that floats through our minds is: “I might be a sinner, but at least I’m not as sinful as them.” It’s so easy to measure ourselves against some sort of self-created ‘sin yard stick’ that we have in our heads, designating everyone around us as horrifically sinful whilst self-righteously patting ourselves on the back for not being as bad.
How We Ought to Measure
All too often we categorise levels of sin with the obvious self-designated “really bad” sins such as adultery, abuse, and drug addiction ranking high on the sliding scale. And we think of the everyday “lesser” sins such as gossip, jealousy, selfishness, impatience or discontentment being ranked somewhere so low we almost don’t even officially acknowledge them as sinful.
This kind of thinking is so subtle but ultimately harmful. Sproul hits the nail on the head when he says:
“We judge ourselves on a curve, measuring ourselves against others. We never judge ourselves according to the standards of God perfection.”
When we measure ourselves by our own standards and not God’s perfection, we become truly deceived about the real state of our hearts. There’s lots of illustrations that could be used to paint the same picture here. It doesn’t take a genius to realise if a builder uses old school imperial measurements instead of metric they will soon get into difficulties when trying to fit windows, beams, or doors—the new house will fail inspection and won’t be fit for purpose. I know we aren’t houses but, if we aren’t careful, we too won’t be fit for purpose. When “we judge ourselves on a curve, measuring ourselves against others”, several things happen:
We are self-deceived: It can be all too easy to be squiffy, believing deep down that we are generally a good person. One who does the occasional sinful thing but really aren’t all that bad. That is a seriously bad place to be – just remember the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18–23. When he asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments…” he was blind to the real state of his heart. We see this clearly in his answer in verse 21: “All these I have kept since I was a boy”. We all know how it goes from there—challenged to sell all he possessed and follow Christ, the rich young ruler left dejected.
Talking of this passage one writer said: “The saddest thing about that encounter is that Jesus met a man who really thought he was good… The young man had a superficial understanding of goodness and of the law of God.” Here’s the danger: If we don’t recognise and acknowledge our sin, we won’t ask for forgiveness. Why would we when we think we’ve done nothing wrong. Ultimately, in refusing to recognise our true need, we avoid God, his grace and forgiveness. “All sin, no matter how subtle it may seem to us, is malignant. It “wages war against our souls.”
This subtle denial of our sinful heart is “an assault on the majesty and sovereign rule of God. It is indeed cosmic treason. This is catastrophic for us and sadly our sin, no matter how “lesser’ or acceptable we tell ourselves our “little” sin is – sin doesn’t only impact us. Sin doesn’t happen in isolation. We may like to pretend our little sins aren’t really harming anyone in the long run, but it’s a lie. Our “little” sins don’t have some sort of magic protective bubbles around them, isolating them from causing damage. Gossip for instance, a sin often categorised as one of those “little’ sins, impacts not only the gossiper but the listeners and the person being gossiped about. Jerry bridges in his book says this:
“Sin is a spiritual and moral malignancy. Left unchecked, it can spread throughout our entire inner being and contaminate every area of our lives. Even worse, it often will “metastasize” from us into the lives of other believers around us. None of us lives on a spiritual or social island. Our attitudes, words, and actions, and oftentimes even our private unspoken thoughts, tend to have an effect on those around us.”(Jerry Bridges)
Left unchecked—hidden by self-delusion—our sin damages us and those we care about. We need to open our eyes to the truth about ourselves.
We become self-righteous: Have you ever noticed that you might be one of those people who judge people by your own standards? A standard we aren’t keeping ourselves. Self-righteousness is a subtle sin that infects everything we do. I’m going to put my hand up and be honest: this is something I’ve struggled with at times and must keep my heart in check. Every time I challenge one of our girlies in a one-to-one, I’m conscious of this heart trait—even as the words come out of my mouth, my brain is asking the question: “Are you guilty of this sin also?” Those verses from Romans 2:2–4 plague me, brining a terrifying challenge I don’t want to fall short of.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”Romans 2:2–4
This is just another form of self-delusion and a repeat of the serious consequences we have already discussed. This isn’t behaviour that’s exclusive to Christians. We hear regularly on the schemes “I might be bad but I’m not as bad as them!”The them usually means the nonce, the kiddy fiddler, the scum of the earth paedophile. The pariah that, once discovered, is driven out.
For the self-deceived, self-righteous Christian and the non-Christian alike, the true picture of our hearts is covered in the eight words found in Romans 3:10 “There is no one righteous, not even one”. No matter what lies you tell yourself, none of us, not one, is good! We don’t measure up in any way when we are confronted by the only One who truly is good, Jesus.
Until we recognise this then, sadly, we will never truly experience the freedom and joy we receive when we honestly repent of all our sin, confessing the true state of our hearts and rely solely on the redeeming power of Christ. Christian, when you’re tempted to measure your sin against another’s, make sure you use the right benchmark. Anything else has dire consequences.