SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS LEADS TO DISILLUSIONMENT BECAUSE IT BLURS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
TOO GOOD TO SEE STRAIGHT
1. THE CAUSE OF DISILLUSIONMENT = SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS (3:13-15)
the people were blind to their own sin -- they were too good to see straight
Context: You remember that God's people had been judged for their idolatry earlier with the Babylonian Captivity. They had returned to the land about 100 years ago and had a time of spiritual renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah during the rebuilding of the Temple and the City. Now we see that they have become complacent and self righteous. As aresult they are frustrated with God because they don't see the blessing they expect.
3 Manifestations of that Self-Righteousness:
A. Pride in maintaining their own innocence (:13)
When we are confronted with a problem, our first response tends to be:
"It's not my fault. I didn't do anything wrong. Anything I did do or say was certainly justified given the circumstances."
We are quick to include ourselves in the general confession: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" -- but slow to confess to the specifics.
B. Deception regarding what God requires (:14)
They claimed to have "kept God's charge and walked in mourning" before Him. As we look through the rest of the book we are going to see how false this was. They thought they knew what sin was -- but they concentrated only on the externals -- and even there they were nowhere near as conscientious as the Pharisees of Christ's day. They thought they were mourning for their sin by their regular fasting and wearing of sackcloth and ashes, but God said they didn't have a clue about what true repentance is.
Sure they avoided idolatry and did some fasting and busied themselves with religious activities surrounding the temple and the sacrifices (when it was convenient and it didn't cost them too much), but they neglected the weightier matters of the law = mercy, truth, righteousness. They were satisfied with going through the motions of whatever works they chose to do--they ignored God's true standard of inward righteousness.
That is the essence of self righteousness: perverting God's standards by substituting some type of external legalistic system that gives us satisfaction because we can measure up to it through self effort without depending on the Holy Spirit to accomplish inward righteousness.
The result in Malachi's day was disillusionment--they were bitterly disappointed and charged God with failing to keep His end of the bargain in terms of blessing and prosperity.
C. Bitterness in denying God's justice (:15)
God's harvest principle has always been: You reap what you sow.
In the OT a lot of God's promises centered on the material prosperity of the nation of Israel. God's promises to His people today focus more on our spiritual growth (the fruit of the Holy Spirit) and our future reward. The Israelites looked around and could not see how they were enjoying God's blessing any more that their enemies. So they turned against God and accused Him of being unfair. Sometimes as we look around at others we can think that God has not given us a fair shake. Roots of bitterness can crop up and trip us up. Their conclusion: It is vain to serve God; there is no profit in it for us. word "profit" has mainly a negative sense of gain made by violence or from a selfish motivation.