When we think of the many faces of our rebellion against God it is the obvious sins we recognize most easily. Outward, behavioral sins such as those of the body, speech, or addictions are readily acknowledged. However, it is the subtle sins that betray us the most—those that hide beneath the cloak of our perceived goodness. And the worst of the subtle sins are the religious ones—the ones that actually feed our self-awareness of spirituality. They are the worst because they do not drive us to God in humble dependence upon his grace. Instead, they blind us, fuel self-righteousness, and breed spiritual apathy. We become judgmental of others, think we are superior to them, and dangerously pleased with our own spiritual performance, which ultimately drives us away from God. Religious sins are the most dangerous of all because they produce false confidence in the soul as they steadily feed the pride from which they were born—and the vicious cycle continues. The more we strive in the flesh the more we become enslaved to the law’s conditional approval (and its resulting condemnation), cutting ourselves off from our only source of hope. Therefore, God is gracious to break us so that we return from where we have fallen—from grace. Grace is the fountain from which we must drink deeply and where we bask in the mystery of being loved most by the one who knows us best.
It is intriguing that Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount—a sermon that confronts religious pride so pointedly—with the blessing of brokenness. According to Jesus, it is “the poor in spirit” who receive kingdom riches, not those who already think they possess spiritual wealth due to their confidence in the flesh. It is “those who mourn” who will be comforted, not those who have no grievous sense of the depth of their sinfulness. It is those who starve for righteousness who are fully “satisfied” by righteousness outside of themselves, by righteousness not inherently their own (Matthew 5:3-6). It is only when God strips us of our self-righteousness that we are ready to be clothed in Christ’s. It is only when God brings us to deep brokenness that we will be ready for him to rebuild us (Psalm 51:16-17).