We have a vision to be a community of grace where we declare the good news that God loves you and Jesus died for you. We affirm every believer's righteousness in Christ, that you are valued, and you are not alone. We reach out with the same grace to those who are far from God, inviting them in.
As a community of grace, we don't hide that we all sin. But we don't believe anyone overcomes sin by being hated or harassed. Public behavior may change, and maybe that's enough for some, but rejection and self-loathing don't lessen sin's power. Not for the racist or for any sin being highlighted.
Rejection and self-loathing never lessen sin's power.
It's important to acknowledge the reality of sin in our lives, the brokenness and power of it. Yet we overcome sin by God's grace.
If sin gets the upper hand, we double down on the good news that God forgives sin, Christ conquers it, and you are loved and righteous in Christ.
We believe this is how Jesus treated people then and now, and affirming the good news in a community of grace is a strong defense against the power of sin.
It's always the case, but there is no grace outside of Christ. The world is a nasty place right now. There's no grace or tolerance or freedom even to think different let alone express contrary views.
If you sense a mean-spirited pressure to conform, if friends are unfriending friends, people are being canceled for saying the wrong thing, and exacting other dehumanizing judgments—this reflects a new self-righteousness, another form of law, which justifies the adherents and condemns dissenters.
It is ironic because many who do this have rejected God, His moral law and righteousness, yet rather than let others live free, the world now enforces its own rigid laws of morality and righteousness.
People sought to free themselves of God's righteousness, but could not free themselves of the need to be righteous.
The apostle Paul diagnosed the same problem for the people in his day,
Romans 10:3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness [not understanding the free gift of God's righteousness through faith in Christ] and seeking to establish their own [righteousness, i.e., self-righteousness], they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Not knowing that God gives sinners the righteousness of Christ and God's full acceptance, just for believing, people reject God. They cannot pass His test. So they even call Him immoral. But they still cannot escape their own need to be righteous.
Yet, as Paul says, apart from Christ, people are left to justify themselves; they have to establish their own goodness.
And that's really hard. How do we do it?
People seek to establish their own righteousness by comparing themselves to others, and somehow managing to come out on top.
George Carlin is spot on,
"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
We are more like the Pharisee than we care to admit,
Luke 18:11 "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get."
I think this guy does all these good things partly to feel good about himself, to feel superior to others.
Right now, nothing gives someone that feel good, sense of superiority, than what this guy did. What many churches wrongly did. But the world is doing this. It's cherry-picking a few sins and making these so odious that no other sins compare.
In Jesus' day, they they did this same thing to tax-collectors and prostitutes. In the 80s-90s, it shifted to adulterers and homosexuals. It has now shifted to despising homophobes and the sin of racism, truly a sin.
But even if you veer from the narrative on COVID, wearing a mask, trans athletes, the police, the founding fathers, or who you'll vote for in November, you may get a self-righteous ear-full.
Like the puritans of old, the world ignores it's sins to condemn others with self-righteous zeal.
It feels good, feeds the ego, "I'm a good person." The more zealous, the more righteous one feels.
And it's fine, as long as we nobody cares about deplorable sinners. But Jesus does.
While there is a tempting form of power in judging others, the power of God's grace transforms lives.
So, what do we do as a community of grace in Northampton? For one thing, we need to be careful to not be drawn into a reactionary self-righteous hatred.
Whether the sin is adultery or homosexuality or racism or any other, we apply the gospel to it as a community of grace. We take it to Jesus. We affirm His righteousness in the believer, His Spirit, His love. We let Him do the work of forgiveness and renewal in our hearts through faith and repentance.
The devil loves to get us making self-righteous comparisons, labeling, shaming, and condemning sin, because it increases sin's grip on people.
Sin thrives under the law! So hating others will not bring about the change people think it does.
Sin thrives under feelings of worthlessness, and guilt trips. But Jesus came to get us off our guilt trip.
After pointing out how people establish their own righteousness, Paul tells us great news,
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In other words, Christ is the end of the struggle! Trusting Jesus Christ is the end of judging ourselves against others, the end of striving to convince others that we matter, that we're good.
As a community of God's representatives, good news people, do not mimic the world's contempt for those who struggle in ways you don't struggle. We all struggle with different sins, but we all struggle.
Jesus didn't come for the slightly bad, those who barely sin, whose sin nicely. When you a mess in your sins, dead in your sins, the worst of sinners, Christ died for you.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Jesus came to save people, not to judge people.
Some balked, "We're not sinners." That's self-righteousness.
Any righteousness we have other than through faith in Christ is self-righteousness.
While Jesus never condemned a bad or sinful person, He did condemn the self-righteous. Actually, he said they condemned themselves.
John 3:18 He who believes in [Christ] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
When others heard the good news, however, they believed. Jesus affirmed their humility. Jesus celebrated their faith. He told a dying criminal, "Today you'll be with Me in paradise."
After the self-righteous man said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector", the tax collector couldn't look up but prayed, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
Jesus said, "This man went to his house justified [right with God] rather than the other [the self-righteous one]; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself [trusts Jesus] will be exalted."
The resolution to self-righteousness is humility, it is to accept God's righteousness in Christ.
And no, He doesn't make our self-righteousness disappear, but He gives you His righteous standing and His worth and His acceptance with God and invites you to build your life with Him on this.
This is the grace that changes us, and God's offer to a self-righteous world.