Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
—Matthew 7:3-5, NIV
If we seek sins in others, we implicitly exculpate ourselves.
I don’t know anyone who started out crusading against sin who did not immediately develop the idea that he is innately pure and innocent, and would still be so, if he were not damaged by external forces. From there we fall into the idea that we are helpless victims struggling against overpowering evil, we deny that Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, and we see Jesus’ work on the cross not as transforming us from our sins, but as airlifting us out of the world. Then we enter into a mirror theology, where Satan is no longer defeated on the cross, but active, powerful, and dominant over the world; where the saints no longer reign victoriously, but flee in panic, like kitchen roaches when the lights go on. We no longer confess our sins, not even in worship, because we see ourselves as embattled good guys rather than as bad guys in the midst of being hosed down. We think that Jesus is rescuing us as one would airlift cornered soldiers from a battlefield predicament. We do not realize in humility that He is adopting us as unworthy street urchins from the slums of our sins, and we happen to have gone before some of our fellows. Then we see our former companions as enemy soldiers, whom we must defeat, rather than as the lost lambs whom we must rescue.
When you walk out of a well-lit house on a bright sunny day and look back into the house, the inside of the house looks dark. In fact it is no darker than it was before, it just looks that way, because you are standing in the light. When you stand in the Light of the One True God and look again at your companions, you see them as creatures of the dark. They did not enlist in some army of Satan, which in fact does not exist, nor is your transformation into a creature of Light complete, it was only your vision that has changed. What you should do is look at yourself and see that you are just as dark as they are. Instead of seeing how evil they are, you should realize that God is merciful to evil people like yourself. In fact, you may find that God has begun His rescue with the more difficult cases, and that you are a greater sinner and a worse reprobate than the people you disparage—as in the passage above, you may find yourself criticizing a speck of sawdust in a sinner’s eye, while you have a plank in yours.
I think this paranoid sort of spirituality is Satan’s ploy. He puffs himself up to make himself look powerful, when in fact he is powerless. He tempts us to pray the Pharisee’s prayer, “Thank you God, that I am not sinful like that corrupt politician over there,” instead of praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” He convinces us that our judgmentalism is the gift of discernment, and encourages us to externalize our insecurities and harangue other people. In this way, he tricks us into vilifying the very sinners whom we were sent to save! Falling into his trap, we pass up the wounded traveler so that we do not muss up our spirituality, we deny food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, solace to the lonely, help to the sick—all because we have ‘discerned’ that they deserve their predicament. We claim to be Jesus’ servants, but we disobey every one of His commands!
Satan’s work is perfected in us as we become puffed up in our own estimation. We, who are unworthy, have received God’s mercy, yet we deny our mercy to people who are unworthy. We, who are sinners, have fellowship with God, yet we refuse even to converse with people who are sinners. We pridefully justify this sin by calling it discernment or moral standards, but our discernment is blind, and our moral standards are bankrupt.
Many people have ventured right up to the brink of salvation, only to succumb to this temptation before they entered in.
Jesus, speaking not to outsiders, but to His own disciples, said this:
Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all he had be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and they told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
—Matthew 18:23-35, NIV
So I think it is best to tend to the beams in our own eyes rather than the splinters in other people’s eyes. Spiritual pride is the worst sin, because pride cannot confess or repent or condescend to be rescued.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
—Matthew 7:1, NIV