If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
I am of the conviction that one of the qualities essential to true discipleship is humility. In this, I am not referring simply to a self-effected posture of lowliness, or the outward appearance of timidity and self-deprecation. Rather, I am talking about a genuine suspicion of our own sinful nature, and a realization that no matter how good and right we think we are, we are subject to the same temptations that face all human beings.
I remember the days not long ago when the most common stereotype of religious people, and the accusation made against them, is that they are too judgmental or “holier than thou.” I used to joke that the only Bible verse that every atheist had memorized was Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This used to be the go-to verse, used against Christians by those who did not want to have to be called to account for their actions, or question whether what they were doing was wrong.
But the funny thing is, something I’ve noticed lately is that I don’t hear that phrase as much as I once did. People don’t seem to mind judgmentalism as much as they once did. Those who used to say “don’t judge me” seem to have become fewer in number, perhaps because they are often the ones who are now doing the judging.
It seems like judging and condemnation have become a popular sport in our society, especially online, across the internet. Criticizing the words and actions of others, and meting out punishment to those with whom they disagree, is how one comes to feel superior. Offering moral pronouncements and calling into question the character of those with whom they disagree, has become the preoccupation of many who would never think themselves religious. They have become the very people they used to try to avoid.
I remember a board game we had in our house when I was a child, where the goal was to figure out a person’s identity. The game board had pictures of many different people, each of different occupations and appearances (hair color, clothing, expressions, etc.). By asking only yes or no questions, players would try to determine the character who was “it” by a process of elimination.
I can still picture one character on the game board who was labelled “The Censor” (representing a person who judged and disapproved of everything). The Censor was depicted as an old woman in conservative clothing and severe hairstyle, with a stern scowl on her face. It was the stereotypical image of what might be described as a “church lady” – judgmental and self-righteous.
Ironically, in our day and age, if we were honest, “The Censor” would have to be depicted differently. To match our current culture, the Censor would need to be portrayed more like a young, liberal, college-student or “social justice warrior” angrily typing out condemnations on social media. It would be the sign-carrying activists, who like to think of themselves as revolutionary, but are funded and supported by establishment corporations and mainstream media.
The censors of our day are the kind of people who would never think of themselves as moral prudes, but are ever-willing to attack others for the evil of their perceived “-isms.” In an attempt to signal their own secular virtue, they are people oblivious to their own ideological arrogance. They are the purveyors of Cancel Culture — unable to imagine that they could ever be wrong, or that they are guilty of the very things for which they condemn in others.
Or perhaps, that is exactly why they do it. After all, everyone knows that in the new religion of our secular culture, there is no forgiveness and no mercy. The only way to avoid being accused and condemned is to join in the mob accusing and condemning others, displaying your own moral correctness so as to avoid being targeted by others. In this kind of climate, humility puts one in danger.
This is especially true of the most impressionable among us. Sadly, many young people today live in constant fear of being “called out” by the social media mob, requiring them to enforce a strict self-censorship on all their words and actions, terrified of deviating in the slightest from the norms of popular culture, knowing that the mob may crush them at any moment. This constant fear of judgment creates peer pressure on the highest level. Unfortunately, it is the new normal — one that has taken on a kind of “religious” fanaticism.
Which brings me back to where I started. There is something about being a disciple of Jesus Christ that requires humility. In the midst of a world that offers no forgiveness and no mercy, we must not be tempted to do the same. We must recognize the temptation to attack others before they attack us. We must fight the temptation to hurt and destroy the lives of others by indulging our own self-righteous offense. We must be humble enough to see in others the same vulnerabilities that all of us share, and to treat others with the same compassion that we would want to be treated.
To ask God to “lead us not into temptation” is not just an appeal that God would keep us from falling into stereotypical sin and vices. It is also a prayer in which we ask God to keep us from the ideological arrogance that assumes we can do no wrong. It is a prayer that God would not let us fall into the temptation of being overcome by fear and the intimidation of the secular mob. For we have a God who sees us as we are, and yet is still a God who shows us mercy and grace, and loves us as his own.
In a society where people vie to point the finger at others, perhaps the best we can do is follow the example of the One who was not ashamed to be “counted among the transgressors” – the same One that suffered at the accusation of the mob, yet could not be cancelled.
Like our Lord Jesus, may we have the same bravery and courage to not give in to the righteous forces of judgment and the temptation to justify ourselves, but rather to trust in our merciful God and live in the freedom of his grace.
— Pastor Steven E. King