The year is 1943.
FTD (Florists’ Transworld Delivery) arrives at your door.
You watch the FTD man walk down the drive with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.
He ascends the steps and knocks on the door.
You open the door.
He hands you a bouquet of flowers with a small envelope.
You sign for them and close the door.
The FTD man goes his way and you sit at a kitchen bar stool to admire the fresh flowers and to open the little envelope.
You read the card inside and your mouth drops.
It says, “Love, Adolf Hitler.”
The story is obviously fictional, but it does cause one to ponder.
The thought about receiving flowers from Hitler was a throwaway comment that Todd Friel made in his CD series with R. W. Glenn called Drive By Theology. It struck a chord with me and I wanted to do some reflection on the comment, hence this article.
What would you think if you received flowers from Adolf Hitler? What would you think if you received flowers from Charles Manson? How about if you fill in the blank: what would you think if you received flowers from the worst person you knew?
I suspect you would reject the flowers because the person who sent them would be a vile person. You would not accept flowers from a person so wicked, so undeserving, and so bad. Why would you? The answer is self-evident. It would be weird and unnatural to accept them.
Suppose you put them on your mantel. As your friends come to see you in your home and observe your beautiful flowers, they ask, “Wow! Nice! Who are the flowers from?” You say, “They are from Adolf Hitler.”
They would be aghast and mortified. Surely one of your friends would say, “Are you kidding me? Why would you accept flowers from such an awful person? No one in their right mind would accept flowers from such a menace. Have you lost your mind?”
That would be a reasonable response. You only accept flowers from people who are worthy to love you. He is not worthy of your love. Isn’t that so true? I mean, if you receive a card, a flower, or a note from someone, you accept it because you respect the sender. They are worthy of your respect.
The unworthy flower-sender
How about if I reframe this discussion for you. I can do that by making two small changes. The you in the story would be changed to Jesus Christ. And Hitler or Manson would be changed to you. What I mean is, what if you sent Jesus flowers? If you are reading this through the lens of Scripture it would read exactly the same as Hitler sending flowers to you.
Jesus Christ would receive your flowers and open the note from you and reject them. The way you reacted, responded, or thought about receiving flowers from Hitler could be analogous to how it would be for Christ to receive something from your hands.
Hitler was trying to give you something good, but you rejected it because he was not worthy to give you anything. He was the vilest of the vile. Though it will grain against a self-righteous soul, it is also true that when we try to give Jesus Christ something, based on our own works, we are rejected too.Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill thy Law’s demands: Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for Sin could not atone: Thou must save, and Thou alone!
What am I not saying
I am not talking about a Christian honoring the Savior through humble, Spirit-empowered, grace-motivated, God-centered work. That is not the point. We’re all commanded to work hard for the Savior. That’s a given.
I am talking about self-righteousness–an attitude that actually thinks, “I am somebody based on who I am or what I have done or my pedigree or any other measuring stick that I want to use.” Apart from the alien righteousness of Christ I am no different from Adolf Hitler.
The works I give to the Savior are just as repulsive if I am doing it for the wrong reasons or with the wrong motive. How can a vile sinner give the supreme, perfect Lamb of God anything? Just like Hitler not being worthy of my affection, I am not worthy of the Savior’s affection.
In order for Hitler to be in good standing with me, he will need to change. In order for me to be in good standing with the Savior, I will need to change too. We both have the same problem. But it is worse than that: neither one of us can change on our own. We need outside intervention.
Am I better than you?
I am a white, middle class, American male. I have been to college. I have an amazing wife and three adorable children. I live in a middle class subdivision with a nice pool. I’m also in Christian ministry. Am I better than you?
No! This makes me no better than any other human on the planet. What is your list? Are you tempted to compare your list to my list and draw a conclusion that one of us is better than the other? If either one of us does this then we have grossly misunderstood the Gospel.Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to thy Cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly : Wash me, Saviour, or I die!
Religious caste system
The self-righteous person is always comparing himself with others. He is measuring what he has or who he is or how he wants to be perceived. Once he makes his assessment, he then determines where he fits in the hierarchy of acceptability. This is a fear-based and frustrating way to live.
This kind of living is akin to the caste system in India–a system of social stratification, which causes personal restriction or affirmation based on who you are. Do you really want to go there? (I’m not talking about going to India, but going there in your heart.)
I used to live in a religious caste system where what I did, who I hung with, and the things I participated in mattered too much. It became a life of list comparing–do you drink alcohol, do you go to movies, do you do this or not do that.
Once the lists were tabulated and processed, the determination was made as to whether people could hang with me. We called it separating from the world. Your list determined your friends.
That kind of religious living was destructive to my soul so I left that group of believers and found another group of believers who talked more about grace. It was refreshing to be in a group who really didn’t care as much about secondary, tertiary, and preferential matters.
However, in time I began to notice old patterns resurfacing. I was no longer in what would be called a legalistic culture, but I was still showing the signs of being a legalist. It manifested in two ways:
- I would talk about my former religious experience in such a way that you got the feeling I was better than they were–like I figured it out and they had not.
- And I also struggled with anger, which had nothing to do with a religious system. It was just my recurring sin pattern.
What I learned was that you can take the boy out of legalism, but you can’t take legalism out of the boy. I underestimated the nature of the problem. I thought I was a legalist because I was in a legalistic environment.
The truth was that I am a legalist because that is my fundamental flaw as a son of Adam. It does not matter where I am or who I am with–I am tempted to be uppity, thinking I am better than you are. Culture, environment, or religion does not make you a legalist or what the Bible calls self-righteousness. We’re born that way.
Whenever a person thinks he is better than another person then he is acknowledging that he has something to boast about, no matter how slyly he hides it. You can be very self-righteous with your hands in your pockets, looking down, and kicking rocks.
Finding worthiness in Another
The key for me was understanding what it really meant to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
What is ironic is that these two verses were some of the first verses I memorized twenty-five years ago. The thing that I did not understand about these verses was the Gospel.
I learned these verses, memorized them, heard numerous messages about them, and quoted them a thousand times when telling others about Christ, but never fully applied them to my life. I did not truly perceive the depths of the Gospel in my functional life.
Every time I become angry, frustrated, disappointed, impatient, harsh, unkind, unapproachable, or a host of other sins, then I have drifted from Gospel. In such cases I am thinking about what I have or don’t have or what somebody else has or doesn’t have. I am being tempted to measure myself or others by manifesting any of the above noted attitudes or behaviors.
This could be depressing to think about–if you are a self-righteous person. Only a person with a high view of himself would stay depressed or discouraged regarding a clear diagnosis of his soul. If you have a clear understanding of your total depravity, then there is nothing to stay discouraged about.
You can quickly move from being discourage about your lack of righteousness to taking on and living in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is what makes Christianity unique. We don’t have to strive or put on airs or look down on others as though we have arrived.
We know that the only reason we have arrived is because of the intervening help of someone who did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Apart from that we have absolutely nothing to brag about. Think about this: we were repulsive to Christ. We were not worthy of His love. Paul said it this way, “You have become worthless.” (Romans 3:12)
Has your status been changed?
Christ knew this and decided to do something about it. He could not accept our gifts, but He could give us something that would make us worthy to offer sweet sacrifices to Him. He changed our status from undeserving, unworthy sinners, to saints who are being progressively sanctified.
My desire for you is that your status has been changed. I also desire that you will understand the subtle temptation to think you’re better because you have figured this out or maybe you’re tempted to look down on someone who has not perceived and applied what you have.
Maybe they are more immature than you. If that is the case, then it’s only because of God’s amazing grace that you have learned something. Because of your understanding of who you were (wretched) outside of Christ’s righteousness, it should be easy to show pity on those who have not arrived.
As an aside–if you have the time I would appreciate it if you would pray for me if only for a few seconds, that I would continue to mature in my understanding and application of the Gospel. There is much I need to learn and apply in this area of being tempted toward a self-righteous attitude.