This article is part of the Reactivity: Rethinking Social Media with Paul Tripp series.
In today’s episode, Paul Tripp talks about the self-centeredness and self-righteousness that work together to deceive us into believing we’re always right and about the humility that cures this selfishness and radically changes the way we respond to the sin, weakness, and failure of others.
One of the cultural things that you see on social media, and then I think it bleeds into our everyday relationships and this culture of toxicity, is this self-centeredness. It’s me at the center. And what that creates is this inability to be disagreed with and this thought that my opinions are always right. I see this all the time when someone is rightfully trying to engage a person in reflection about something they’ve posted or said, and the immediate response is anger. Now, that means that person is incapable of self-reflection. They’re incapable of saying, Maybe I didn’t get it right, because they’re in the center of their world, they’re what’s important, their opinion is what’s important, their opinion is always right. That’s a self-righteous aspect of that, and you just can’t have conversations that way.
If there’s any cure for this selfishness—this me in the center of my world—it’s the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second Corinthians 5:15 actually says that Jesus came—listen to these words—so that those who live would no longer live for themselves. So, God is after this in me—to rescue me from me—and the cure is this grace of humility, that I would not think of myself more highly than I ought to think.
Think of the fact that I still have sin inside of me. Sin blinds. And guess who it blinds first? Me. I have no trouble seeing the sin of others. And so I’m not even able to say no one knows me better than I know myself, because there will be inaccuracies in my view of myself because of the deceitfulness of sin. I also can’t say that every opinion I have is going to be right and everything I post is going to be the best and the greatest, because everything in my life is somehow tainted by this indwelling thing that’s still inside of me. So, I need correction, I need confrontation, I need rebuke. And it’s only when God, by his grace, is enabling you to admit who you are and what you need that you can receive these things with thankfulness.
The problem with social media is that the angrier you are, the more confident you are, and the more reactive you are, then the more likes you get, the more hits you get, and the more attention you get. It’s the exact opposite of what should happen. I should not be rewarded for being self-centered. I should not be rewarded for being angry. I should not be rewarded to act like I know everything, and I mock your attempt to correct me. That’s behavior that needs to be lovingly confronted and, by grace, corrected. But it tends to get rewarded on social media.
Here’s what self-righteousness does: it is always more concerned about the sin, weakness, and failure of other people than it is your own. The coupling of selfishness (self-centeredness) with self-righteousness creates this particular danger that I think I’m a law-keeper and I think that I’m morally right. And because I think that I’m always morally right and you haven’t risen to that moral standard, it seems okay to judge you for that, rather than saying, I deeply need God’s grace. And because I understand I deeply need God’s grace, you and I are alike. You need God’s grace too. And so I want to give the same grace to you that God has given to me. That’s only the result of humility. Self-righteousness won’t take you there.
The gospel meets us in this struggle with self-centeredness and self-righteousness that we’re talking about. First of all, it reminds us that everything that we do is either motivated by self-glory or the glory of God. The person who’s on center stage in all of the biblical narrative is God. Everything is from him. Everything is through him. Everything is to him. God is alerting us to the danger of living for self-glory.
And then the Bible also reminds us, when it comes to self-righteousness, that we have no independent righteousness of our own. The righteousness that Paul Tripp has is a righteousness that was earned by my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and is now credited to my account. I am not independently righteous, and I’m never in the center. I need to be reminded of that. And those themes just travel throughout the gospel—the danger of self-glory and the danger of self-righteous, the destructive nature of self-glory and the destructive nature of self-righteousness—and the beauty of a Christ who meets us in our selfishness, who meets us in our self-righteousness, not with condemnation, but with forgiveness and empowering help.
Humility means when I’m in a controversy with you, I’m not there to advance me, to advance my perfect opinion, and therefore my power and my authority. I’m there to have a conversation with you that hopefully would be helpful for you, but the back and forth would be helpful for me as well. In Ephesians, when it talks about conversation with another, we’re called to never speak in a way that doesn’t give grace, that isn’t helpful to the hearer. Humility removes me from the center and says, We need one another, and this conversation is intended by God to be a tool of his work of transformation in our lives.
So I want to ask you to reflect on your relationships. Do you put yourself in the center? Do you make things all about you? I want you to reflect on this issue of self-righteousness. Are there places in your life where you’re way more concerned about the sin, weakness, and failure of others than you are your own?
As you reflect, let me pray for you.
Lord, thank you that you are with us and for us and in us, as we prayed before, and that you have come in patience and grace to rescue us from ourselves, to rescue us from instincts that are harmful and destructive, and to enable us to live out our true potential as your children. Thank you that you are with us, and that gives us hope. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
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