Comparing yourself to other people can be a huge blessing when you do it the right way. Of course, that is the key—the correct way. The implication is that you must not choose outward behaviors as the only way for assessing people. If you do, you will rank people according to those behaviors, whether good or bad.
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God, I thank you that I am not like other men (Luke 18:11).
Being blind to your blindness is the worst kind of blindness. In the Luke text, you have two blind men. One blind man knows he’s blind, but the other one does not. The Pharisee is blinded by his blindness. They both have the same problem, but only one of them has enough self-awareness to discern it.
The difference between the two men is that one thinks he is something because of who he is and what he has done (or not done). And the self-aware, justified man does not bring up his deeds to the Lord because he knows mercy does not come through personal reputation or societal standing.
This problem is a common misunderstanding about how we relate to the Lord and with each other. The temptation is to think about sins from a “consequential perspective” only. If your perspective about your sins is on the “comparative consequential spectrum” only, you will categorize your misdeeds solely on that spectrum. This miscalculation will tempt you to elevate yourself above others.
Violent or sexually perverted sins will receive greater condemnation than the more subtle sins, as they should. They don’t rank consequentially on the same level, like how you use your tongue or the thoughts that captivate your mind. My point is not to minimize the consequentially damaging sins. But there is a “comparison trap” if the external examination is the only way you think about people.
The Clean and Unclean?
For example, take the believer reared in a Christian family. She comes to faith early in life and thinks her lack of passion is because she has a short sin list. She’s a second or third-generation Christian who enjoyed protection from a heinous lifestyle.
She looks across the auditorium on Sunday morning and sees the passionate former pagan who lived in raw, unashamed sins for decades. Then the Lord regenerated him later in life. She is envious, and may even think if she had sinned more, she would be more passionate for Jesus.
She fortifies this false belief system by saying, “He whom God saved from much is grateful for much” (Luke 7:47). Ironically, the passionate former pagan may think similarly. When asked about why he is so intense for Jesus, he reveals a jaw-dropping sin list that would make any self-righteous church member blush.
Both of them are wrong. The humble church lady with a small list of external sins is blinded by her blindness. The passionate former pagan is blind too. Both of them are legalists in the sense that their primary way of relating to others is from external lists.
The church exacerbates this problem when they bring the passionate former pagan up front on Sunday morning to share his testimony about how God rescued him from so much. Everyone rejoices over what God did, but those who have not sinned as much externally feel spiritually disabled. The life-long Christian does not have a sensational story. They assume that they will never know the former pagan’s passion.
Every saved person has a sensational story because every saved person was equally depraved, lost, hopeless, broken, miserable, and blind. The “state of being” of every person is the same before and after meeting Jesus. You may have acted out your depravity in less cruel behavioral ways than others, but you were no less heinous before God.
People may rank you more favorably in society because your sins are more acceptable, but God’s categories are only two: lost and found. There are no gradations of lost-ness or found-ness. For by grace, people are saved.
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).
Call to Action
- Do you rank people based on the “consequential sin spectrum” or the “lost or found spectrum?”
- What subtle ways do you look down on others? (You will find the answer to this question in who you criticize, think negatively about, or distance yourself.)
- Do you feel inferior to certain people? Perhaps your pastor, the rich person, the more gifted, or the successful person intimidate you because you can’t be what they are.
Unbiblical thinking people rank others according to an arbitrary external status system, but God does not. You may not have the talents or opportunities of some people, but that does not kick you to the curb from God’s perspective.
If you rank yourself by any other system than God’s “lost or found system,” you must change your theology. If you allow others to rank you based on another system, guard your heart against believing their assessment. The only opinion that should control you is God’s opinion of you, and if you’re His child, there is no higher ranking.
The blessing of comparing yourself with others is when you’re standing at the foot of the cross, realizing that the ground is profoundly level. The only sadness in your life is for those who have not come to that epic place where Jesus died.
Also published on Medium.