At our house we are in the process of moving two of our girls into a room together, and I am currently painting this room purple. When it comes to painting a room, my wife and I have a difference of opinion regarding the ceiling. If the ceiling is white, I don’t see the point of painting it white again. This white ceiling in particular looked pretty fresh to me. My wife, on the other hand, always advocates for repainting a white ceiling white, because it “freshens up the room,” and “it needs to be done.” Recalling Proverbs 27:15, I eventually came around to her point of view (please bear in mind that it is me doing the painting, so the weight of my argument is practical while hers is merely aesthetic).
Two trips to the paint store later I am prepared to have a go at the ceiling (first the cutting in all around the edges, then the roller on a long stick, sheesh!) Low and behold, as I apply that first brush stroke of white paint onto the already white ceiling, it appears that the ceiling is off-white! It was not white after all! I then recall how years earlier we had painted the trim in that room a linen white, not pure white, and had done the ceiling to match.
After humbly admitting to my wife her superior aesthetic sensibility, I finish the ceiling and go on to complete the first coat of dark purple on the walls. When she comes in to admire my work, she points out in a loving, yet firm way that the ceiling looks a little, well, streaky. Now I want to point out that I am trying to save our family a little money by doing this work myself. One cannot always expect perfection; I am not a professional, after all. Rather than quoting Matthew 7:3, however, I conclude that the light must have been low when I painted that first coat. Indeed, because of the extremely low light under which I initially must have labored, I admit that a second coat probably wouldn’t hurt.
If white paint on an off-white ceiling stands out, imagine the contrast of white on purple, which I soon discover as I accidentally brush my roller several times into the freshly painted dark wall in my overzealous application of the second coat of white.
With apologies for the length of this illustration, I would like to point out that most of us view our lives as that relatively white ceiling. When we compare ourselves with those around us we look pretty decent. We are relatively white, possibly a little off-white sometimes; surely we’re not purple! When the Holy Spirit reveals to us the brilliant white holiness of God, however, we can immediately see the contrast to our own life. Unbelievers are driven to despair – driven to seek the righteousness that God himself has provided in his Son, Jesus Christ. Christians, meanwhile, can fall into the trap of comparing themselves to other Christians, rather than to Christ. This is a surefire way to stall in your spiritual growth.
The Bible makes clear that our lives are not pure apart from Christ (Isaiah 64:6). The prophet Isaiah exclaimed that he was “ruined” when he saw God sitting on his throne in perfect holiness (Isaiah 6). So what chance do we have? In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we are taught what our attitude should always be towards God. The Pharisee compares himself favorably to those around him. The tax collector, however, compares himself to God. He can only mourn over his sin and cry out “God be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Self-righteousness is a sin for which all of us need to repent. The good news is that God is eager to forgive, and Jesus Christ has all the righteousness we will ever need, which is given as a gift to all who believe in him. Believing this is salvation; remembering it is crucial to every Christian’s daily walk. And thanks be to God, this righteousness will never need a second coat.