Some of the most ‘self-righteous’ people I’ve ever met never stepped foot in a church.   I know, that goes against the stereotype we’ve believed most of our lives, doesn’t it? – the angry, judgmental church member who puts down those who ‘cuss, drink, smoke, chew or run with those who do’?  Self-righteousness is not a malady reserved exclusively for the church congregant, but rather is a condition that afflicts all mankind.   What is self-righteousness anyway if not the relying upon our self or our own goodness to achieve a state of ‘rightness’ with the universe?  We base this on an internal set of values  – and if we measure up to things we think are important, then we’re good, right?  So if that’s the case, how is the agnostic who sits in a bar comparing himself to the hypocrites in the church less ‘self-righteous’ than those he is judging? Now this is not to say that some in the church world haven’t done their share of the same, but we can’t exclude the unchurched when applying the ‘self-righteous’ label, especially using the above criteria.
However, my big suggestion is that we forego labels at all. Placing people into categories is neat & tidy, but let’s face it, LIFE is neither neat nor tidy, a fact Jesus knew well when he walked this earth.  As he looked upon the woman caught in adultery, did he affix a label of ‘slut’ or ‘adulterer’ to her and then go on his merry way? No. He saw past her actions to the core of her being, which was crying out for love and mercy, and that’s what he gave.  You see, in her situation there were complexities which do not show themselves on the surface of the scripture, such as – exactly how did her accusers catch her in the very act of adultery? Was this the first time? And where was the man with whom she committed this act? Hebrew law required that he be brought to justice as well.  But Jesus, the very God of the universe in human form, knew there was more to the story.
The Bible is clear, James 2:13 states that ‘mercy triumphs over judgment’.  Jesus died so that all might live - his blood forever satisfying the Father’s righteous requirements and bridging the gap between broken humanity and a perfect God. Because, as Romans states,  ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ and ‘there is none righteous, no not one’, none of us has the right to claim moral superiority because of our right actions. We have all missed the mark – and whether a little or a lot – a miss is still a miss.
The bottom line is that whether you are more comfortable in a pew or on a bar stool, there is no good work that can bring you up to God’s standard of perfection – ONLY trusting in His Son and believing that Christ died and rose from the dead for you.   “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”(Eph 2:8-9). If this is all true, then a smug sense of self-righteousness is at best a distraction and at worst a deception.
I leave you with these questions: to the non-church-goer – Are you going to allow someone else’s bad behavior or your perception of other people’s judgment to keep you from finding out more about an amazing God who loves you? And to the church attendee:  Will you allow fear and religious tradition to keep you from showing love to those whose lives seem full of sin and dysfunction? I hope the answer to both is no.

Laurie Andrews is a pastor at Life Church of Augusta.