Sin as Self-Righteousness - Gospel in Life

Sin as Self-Righteousness

Tim Keller |  February 25, 1996

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  • Repentance
  • Sin
  • Salvation
Jonah 2:7-3:5;3:10-4:11
RS 66-06


The message of Jonah is about a moral, orthodox, religious man, who in the end is more a slave of sin than the debauched pagans to which he has gone. Unless you understand the essential spirit of sin, and that a very religious or moral person can be more bound by it than an irreligious or skeptical person, it’s going to defeat you.

What does Jonah teach us about sin? First of all, it teaches us God goes to Jonah and shows him two symptoms that reveal there’s something morally disordered, something wrong with his heart. Then he gives him the diagnosis of his sin. And then finally, we’ll see God’s therapy for it.

Jonah 2:7–3:5; 3:10–4:11

The story of Jonah teaches us important lessons about mistakes, saying sorry, and God’s love. It shows us that everyone, even the most devout and moral people, can mess up, like when Jonah didn’t listen to God’s instructions and later got upset by God’s kindness. But there’s hope too. It shows us that God is ready to give second chances and has the power to help us come out of our wrongdoings.

1. Signs of Jonah’s mistake

God shows Jonah that he’s more worried about a plant than about the people of Nineveh who are struggling. This suggests that Jonah, and by extension we, should be more involved in helping others. Jonah’s strange actions, his anger beyond reason, and his despair point to a deeper problem in his heart.

2. Understanding Jonah’s mistake

Jonah’s story focuses on the problem of self-righteousness, a sense of being better than others, which can prevent us from fully following Jesus. It tells us that we need to repent not just for our mistakes, but also for feeling superior. It reminds us that only God’s love can save us. The story encourages us to look within ourselves, admit our flaws, and understand the need to extend grace and kindness to others, as these are vital steps to overcome self-righteousness and grow as followers of Jesus.

3. God’s solution for Jonah’s mistake

Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace alone, which means this has nothing to do with how good we think we are, or how bad someone else is. This unearned grace can sometimes be hard to accept. Our self-righteous tendency to measure ourselves against others, not God’s perfect standard, can cause us to think we are more deserving of God’s favor and love. Jesus, in contrast to Jonah, saw sinful people (i.e. all of us) and loved us to the point of being willing to lay his own life, so that they could experience God’s grace and love.



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