Over the past couple of weeks I have been writing on the subject of pursuing the spiritual disciplines in the power of the Holy Spirit. The most recent post discussed how we need to avoid the spiritually dangerous practice of wrongly comparing ourselves with others in a way that makes us slavishly emulate their life and ministry. The following quote from the Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges is a helpful reminder to not compare ourselves with others in terms of relative sin and holiness.
God’s plan of salvation treats all people equally, because all are sinners. This is not to say that God notices no distinction in the seriousness and aggravation of different sins. But…any sin, however small and insignificant it may seem to us, is a violation of God’s holy law and subjects us to the penalty of death.
One person may be a relatively decent sinner and another may be a flagrant sinner, but both are sinners, and God’s law admits no degree of failure. If sixty is the passing grade on a college exam, it does not matter if you scored forty and I scored only twenty. We both failed to get a passing grade. There is no point in your boasting that your failing grade is superior to mine. The only thing that matters is that we both failed the exam.
The first purpose of God’s method of salvation through Christ’s death is to deliver us from guilt, and though all people are not equally guilty, all are guilty. So, as Paul said, “There is no difference.” Or , as a more contemporary expression says it, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
This eliminates any room for comparison of ourselves with others who may appear more sinful – or at least less holy – than we are. So if we are to live by the gospel everyday, all tendency to compare ourselves with other believers, not to mention unbelievers, must be put away. Rather we must measure ourselves against God’s perfect standard and daily confess that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (52-53).
The bottom line is that we should probably not be comparing ourselves with others at all. One way of comparison could lead to an unhealthy tendency toward absolute imitation, the other, to self-righteous pride. Perhaps our only comparison should be with Jesus, who is both perfectly righteous and our perfect righteousness.