In Luke 18:9 we read: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”
The “what” part of analysis might define self-righteousness as the feeling that we’re basically good and, therefore, acceptable to God. That’s certainly an important part of preaching Jesus’ parable.
We add theological depth to the sermon by asking why we feel that we’re basically good and, therefore, acceptable to God. During this segment of the sermon we delve into our depravity–how the human heart works.
That alone would be a good reason to move from “what” to “why.” For instance, I’ve met some non-Christians and some Christians who feel they are good because they compare themselves to others. I’ll never forget one person telling me they felt they were okay with God because they were better than Michael Jackson. I didn’t expect this from an elderly gentleman.
But there’s another reason to spend time talking about why we feel self-righteous. When we explore “why,” we create new angles from which to explain the Gospel to Christians. The bad news of the Gospel isn’t that only the “worst” people are condemned. The bad news of the Gospel tells us that “there is none righteous” period.
So, at some point in the sermon I might ask congregants: “How does faith in the Gospel move us from being self-righteous to being “one who humbles himself” (Luke 18:14)? I want them to see a connection between their faith in Christ and their ability to not be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. I want them to see a connection between their faith in Christ and their ability to be like the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Before Sunday, see if your preaching portion highlights sin. If so, along with explaining what the sin is, spend some time exploring why we commit that sin. You can do the same with righteousness too. What kind of attitude or action is being held up for us to emulate? Why do Christians do that? How does the Gospel create that righteousness?
Preach well for God’s glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).