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Three Kinds of Phony Righteousness

written by Asher Intrater
August 01, 2002

A beautiful revelation of the New Covenant is that we find our identity and our self worth IN Yeshua (Jesus). We also find our freedom of conscience in Him. When we try to establish our own rightness, we find ourselves in the wrong.

Philippians 3:9
And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Of course, this is a spiritual righteousness in Yeshua, but it has effects on our psychological self image as well. Through faith we know that we were destined and created “in the image of God”; therefore, we have a different basis on how to see ourselves. People who do not have a personal relationship with God or have not received the “gift” of righteousness from Yeshua have to find other means to “come to grips” with themselves. Unfortunately, many believers do the same thing, even though they ought to know better.

Here are three examples that many people, both believers and unbelievers, do to compensate for their lack of the true righteousness.

1. Fault Finding
It’s simply a matter of arithmetic. If I have not done well on an exam, I can make myself look better on a comparative basis by lowering the grades of others. I make myself feel more righteous by criticizing others and pointing out their faults. If I can make everyone around me look bad, then I look better by comparison. Many pastors and prophets subconsciously try to establish their spiritual authority by constantly pointing out the faults of other leaders in the body of Messiah. That’s a cheap counterfeit for the genuine kind of leadership that trusts only in Yeshua.

2. Name Dropping
This is a kind of “righteousness by association.” If I have not been producing fruit in my life recently, I can try to “impress” others by letting them know of all the people I have been associating with lately. I was with “so and so”. “Mr. Famous” referred to me the other day. I subconsciously try to create the impression, that if all these wise, famous and talented people “hang out” with me, then I must be on their level of capability. The more people “drop names”, the less they have an understanding that they have “died and their lives are hidden in God with Christ (Colossians 3:3).”

Name-dropping is simply one variety of bragging. Sometimes we tell stories of our achievements, not with the motivations of edifying the hearers, but to build up our esteem in their eyes. Woe to our own hypocrisy, seeking to appear righteous in the eyes of others.

3. Self Pity
Many people “sing the blues” all the time. Whenever you talk to them, they have some “woe is me” story, about how hard it is for them. Again this is true for believers as well as unbelievers, and just as much so for leaders. Those who really have it hard in life usually don’t use those tactics of self-pity to try to manipulate others’ compassion. They have to use all their strength to cope with what they are facing. It’s more a tactic of spoiled, self-centered and lazy people who want to gain attention by making others feel “sorry” for them.

The self-pity tactic comes from a lack of understanding the grace of God. We all suffer much less than we deserve. By grace we understand that God loves us, blesses us and is full of compassion and affection for us. If someone does not know that, he seeks to find a way to draw out compassion from those around him. In the lack of divine compassion, he subconsciously seeks for human sympathy. How can he do that? By telling others how “hard” it is for him.

Years ago I was influenced by a lady I’m sure none of you know. She has eight children, an abusive, alcoholic husband, and lives in a three room apartment. She has to work overtime to make ends meet. I asked her once if she was exhausted from all the effort to work and hold the family together. She told me that her mother had taught her that it is forbidden to think about how tired you are. That would only make you hopeless and despairing. Sometimes when I get stressed from overwork, and start to feel sorry for myself, I think of her.

In the Israeli Army, for training purposes, they often make the young officers work for days with practically no sleep at all. They tell them that in war conditions, they may not get a chance to sleep. One day I called my son Heskel on the cell phone and asked him how his week was going. “Great,” he said, “We’ve had an easy week. We get up a little before six AM, work until a little after ten PM, then we have time to take care of our personal belongings and laundry etc, and then we have the rest of the day free.”

Well, I haven’t reached that level of maturity yet, but those kinds of examples do help to encourage me. By “encourage”, I mean to put “courage” on the inside. Let’s look to Yeshua to find our righteousness in Him, so we can stop finding faults in others. Let us have our primary association as one who has been “with Him (Acts 4:13)”, so that we’ll never have the need to “name drop.” Let us receive all the compassion of God in His grace, so that we’ll never have to manipulate sympathy out of others by telling how hard we have it. That’s part of the walk of “faith”.

Through Yeshua we can be genuine – genuine in our love for others, in our own self-image and in our ability to act courageously in the face of real difficulties.

Asher serves as president of Tikkun Global family of ministries and congregations, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. He is founder of the Revive Israel five-fold ministry team, and oversees both Ahavat Yeshua and Tiferet Yeshua congregations in Israel.

He and his wife Betty share a passion for personal prayer and devotion, local evangelism and discipleship in Hebrew, and unity of the Body of believers worldwide.

Asher was raised in a conservative Jewish home and holds degrees from Harvard University, Baltimore Hebrew College and Messiah Biblical Institute. He has authored numerous books, tracts and articles.

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