Study Guide: The Self-Righteous Mind

Sunday March 10, 2019 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This past weekend, Greg opened up our new series with 1 Corinthians 16:14 - "Let all that you do be done in love." We discuss how to be Kingdom people in dealing with difficult conversations on controversial topics, all while keeping Jesus at the center.

Extended Summary:

Today we’re beginning a new series called, “The Crux of The Matter” where we’ll be exploring how to be Kingdom people when talking about difficult topics, especially those such as theology and politics.

It’s helpful to know the backstory on how this particular sermon series came about, because it resonates with so many things we’re hearing from Woodland Hills attendees as we navigate Kingdom living in this very tense cultural moment. A couple different podrishoners emailed in and shared how much they are loving the teachings from Woodland. They are coming out of an Evangelical background, and as their picture of God has grown to look like Jesus and they have adopted a mission to live out the ethics of the Kingdom, they realize they have a problem. In their lives, they still interact with friends, family members, fellow church members, pastors, etc. who fear that they are becoming “liberal” because they are talking about Kingdom values: loving the poor, loving enemies, focusing on the Kingdom of God over national. 

So in this series we’re asking the question: How do we dialogue lovingly with folks when we see someone so fundamentally different?

There are three pieces of Scripture that Greg asks us to consider when we’re approaching people we know we’re going to disagree with:

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

1 Corinthians 13:1

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 

1 John 3:16

Here is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. So also we should lay down our lives for one another.


The reality is when we have hard conversations, we can win the debate, but lose the relationships if we’re not vigilant and loving.

 Greg gives this phrase to hold onto through the series:

Love is the all or nothing of the Kingdom.


To know how to engage lovingly and as Kingdom people, we need to understand how the brain works in moments of conflict.  Evolution has affected the brain in that hundreds of thousands of years ago, the brain had one function: to protect the person/rider. Our brains and societies have evolved, so we need to evolve with them, meaning we cannot rely on the rush of adrenaline and chemicals that come into our brain to physically protect us, because we’re in less danger than cave people — yet, whenever we’re in conflict, our brain thinks we’re in the same peril.

To help us understand this, Greg gave us a picture (and if you watch the video, you can see it for yourself.)

The picture shows of an elephant with a rider. Imagine now that the elephant is your brain, and the rider is your higher reasoning function.

The brain is like an elephant­– it has been evolving for several hundred years. The most fundamental job of the brain is to protect the person with the brain. So, you look for the threat or advantages of your environment that will create fight, flight, or accept.  The brain helps the elephant get what it wants/needs to survive.

The “riders” are your reasoning functions and are relatively new to the evolution of the brain.

 The job of reason is to justify what the brain wants to explain why we did something. Also, we want to work with others because that’s crucial to survival.  So the reasoning functions of our brain come in and justify why the elephants should get what they want.

This is what makes talking about certain topics difficult. We’re feeling triggered/in danger so our reasoning function steps in when we can’t physically run from our conflict and justifies us saying or doing hurtful things to the person who posed a “danger” to us.  This cycles creates “self-righteousness”. We get locked into that self-righteousness and it makes it hard for us to have civil, kind conversations with people we disagree with. Vilifying the other is a result of our brains wiring in this way.

But here’s the good news: You can nudge your elephant… it takes great intentionality.

Reason has three jobs:

1.  It helps the elephant get what it wants

2. It justifies why the elephants should get what it wants

 As Kingdom person, we need to assign another job to the Rider:

 3. Examine, should the elephant get what it wants?

 Self-awareness can only influence the elephant if there is something more valuable than the elephant.

Greg points us to 2 Corinthians 5 as a foundation for this ethos:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

The revelation of God in Christ compelled Paul to do something that his natural elephant wouldn’t want to do. And this can be the case for us too, when we engage with people we disagree with, because Scripture reminds us, “If you want to find your life, you have to lose it.”

It’s an intentional practice every single day to choose Christ-likeness over self-righteousness/self-justification.

Reflection Questions:

Here are some practical things you can do: