The Good News about How Bad We Are: Brant Hansen
What if your self-righteousness is cannibalizing your life? National radio host Brant Hansen explains the multifaceted freedom of admitting how bad we are.
About the Guest
- Connect with Brant on Twitter @branthansen or on Facebook @branthansenpage.
- Learn more Brant on his website: branthansen.com
- And grab his book, The Truth About Us: The Very Good News About How Very Bad We Are—or receive it free with your donation.
- How does the concept of self-righteousness influence parenting? Check out our blog post: Does Raising Children with a Concept of Sin Harm Them?
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
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What if your self-righteousness is cannibalizing your life? National radio host Brant Hansen explains the multifaceted freedom of admitting how bad we are.
The Good News about How Bad We Are: Brant Hansen
Brant: Jesus is so genius. Again, it’s for us, so we think, “Well, maybe I’ll forgive this person for their own good.” No, no, no, it’s for you.
“Yes, it’s so hard to forgive.”
I’m like, “It is, but you know what’s harder? Living a life of unforgiveness. That’s a horrible burden to bear, going around [saying] ‘Well, I’m going to prove my point. I’m going to be justified; I’m going to teach everybody lessons.’”
This is a heavy thing to be attached to.
Brian: Right, so Jesus is saying, “Follow My way of living/work with Me/yoke yourself with Me; I’ll give you a lighter load. It’s going to be better.”
Dave: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
It’s known on the internet as the cookie thief story. You’ve ever heard it? True story: A woman’s at an airport. She’s got a little delay. She’s getting ready to sit in this chair, and she has a bag of cookies. She puts them on the seat in between her and this other guy.
She’s taking a cookie out, and this guy reaches in her cookie bag and takes a cookie out. She looks at him like, “What?”
Ann: She’s so offended.
Dave: He does it three or four times. Finally, there’s one cookie left. She hasn’t said anything, but she is so irate. This guy, some stranger, is eating her cookies, and there’s one cookie left. She’s like, “What is he going to do?”
She looks over. He takes the cookie out, breaks it and gives her half, and sort of looks at her. She gets up, and she’s so mad. She walks to the plane. She gets on the plane; she’s like, “This guy is the biggest jerk. I can’t believe he ate my cookies.”
You know what’s going to happen.
Dave: She gets on the plane, she opens her purse and there’s the cookie bag that she never opened. It was his bag of cookies that she was eating! [Laughter] I honestly went online to think, “Is this even true?” It’s a true story.
Ann: Because you’ve used it in your sermon. I remember thinking—when you don’t know where it’s going—I thought, “She ate his cookies and she was so self-righteous; like, ‘What kind of man would put his hand in my cookie bag?’”
Dave: But obviously it illuminates how we are. We see the sin in others; it’s hard for us to see the sin in ourselves. We’ve got Brant Hansen back.
Brant Hansen, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Brant: Thank you. Honored to be back.
Dave: As you know, a lot of that you write about in your book, The Truth about Us, The Very Good News About How Very Bad We Are. I love this book. We spent yesterday talking about that kind of thing where there’s all kinds of biases that we have.
Here’s the question: When we bring that bias into relationships, let’s talk about how it destroys.
Brant: Our first inclination is that “If I’m saying it, it has all this energy behind it/all this weight, because I said it.” [Laughter] You wind up defending the thing that you said to the point where it is just silly. You will go to the mat for that.
Dave: It really is true. When it comes out of your mouth, you’re going to defend it stronger.
Ann: It’s all prideful of us, too.
Brant: It is way worse; which is fascinating because cognitive scientists are saying there’s all these biases. You can go look them up. But they’re very interesting, because once you become aware of them, you make better decisions.
That’s the thing that I’m trying to say in this book. By humbling yourself, what Jesus is saying/his way of life, you’re going to make better decisions because you’re going to factor through for this stuff. We justify anything at the drop of a hat.
I use the example in the book, a pretty benign example, of “I have a budget. I am not buying anything more out of my clothing budget,” and I’m at a mall and this shirt’s on sale. Suddenly what do you do? You start rearranging, “Whatever is next in this—who this—fund for the entertainment is like, but over here maybe….” Next thing, you’ve got a new shirt. [Laughter] It is that fast.
Brant: It’s something—you line up these reasons to justify what you want. It would be great to not be driven that way.
The cool thing is you can start to make this work in your favor. For example, when I say something mean to another driver, I hear myself say it [and] I get angrier: “I’m so justified.”
What if I say something kind to somebody? It’s weird, because your feelings will follow that, too.
Ann: Even if you don’t necessarily feel it, you say something kind.
Brant: Right; “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” [Proverbs 15:1] Not just the wrath from the other person. It turns away my wrath. If I hear myself—let’s say things are tense between me and my wife, or whatever. Something just happened, and I say something kind to her, my own heart starts to melt as I’m saying it. Try it.
Dave: That—no one’s ever said that.
Ann: I know. This is kind of mind blowing.
Dave: That is a beautiful understanding of Proverbs 15:1. We love that passage, but we always think it’s going to affect the other person to be more gentle, but you are saying your own heart’s—
Brant: It will because of your own/the way we are wired to believe ourselves. When you serve another person, Jesus is not like, “Wait until you feel it; wait until you feel like serving somebody.” He doesn’t say that. When you are in the process of doing it, it changes your heart.
This is TMI, but you guys are good with this. I don’t like looking at people’s feet, even my own. I have to wash them every day; I don’t want to think about them. [Laughter] That’s just me; it’s just a weird thing. Whenever they would do foot washing ceremonies at a church camp or somebody was going up; like, “Please no.”
I remember being on a trip in Central America, and there was this guy that would come—he was a popsicle guy. Every day would come by at the camp we were at. Later in the week—he would just shuffle off down the street—later in the week they had a “Get in circles everybody.” In a circle and suddenly they were “Okay, we’re going to wash each other’s feet.”
The popsicle guy was there. He was filthy; he was the guy’s feet I had to wash. As I’m doing it, I’m thinking about “What is his family like? What are his hopes and dreams in the world? What does he know about God?”
He was being silent. I don’t speak Spanish very well, so we weren’t talking. But it’s wild, in the process my heart, which was I didn’t think about popsicle guy, but the act of actually serving him, my heart is changing.
I have to watch what I say and do, my attitudes, because they influence me. But it can go the other direction where if you actually do serve/you do something nice for your spouse, when you are frustrated, your own heart will soften, maybe even more than your spouse’s in the moment.
I think it’s a really interesting human thing. Again, everything Jesus is telling us makes our own lives go better. Forgiving people for instance makes your own life go better. You do it whether they want to be forgiven or not.
Dave: And they may not even receive it.
Brant: They may not.
Dave: It doesn’t really matter; it’s going to change you. I know what you just said, I thought of 1 Peter, I think it’s 3:9, where Peter writes “When you are insulted, don’t insult back but give a blessing.” [Paraphrased]
Dave: When I read that in your book, I teared up, Dude. It’s a simple story but you can visually see you doing that, but your heart being changed.
Brant: This is something you can practice to turn your heart towards people. You are like, “Well, I don’t feel like loving my enemy.” It doesn’t matter; do it anyway. You can even do that when you pray for your enemies. It’s weird. It goes both directions. We’re so self-justifying that we could justify our anger/the horrible things we do.
You can justify anything. Humans can justify genocide. They’ve done it. We could justify anything, so the key is “I’m not the judge; God is. But I’m going to, instead, serve/say things that are actually going to bless people and watch my own heart change so I can grow up.”
Ann: This can change the atmosphere of our entire homes, our communities, our schools.
I’m thinking back, as a wife, I’m thinking back when we were struggling the first few years of our marriage. I’m not guarding my thoughts; I’m not guarding my tongue. I’m saying everything that comes into my mind. I’m saying it, and it’s lethal, the things that I’m saying.
You’re saying it’s taking every thought captive. As I got older I thought, “It’s not doing me any good to keep on this route of my thought pattern. It’s destroying my marriage, because inevitably, what I’m thinking about I will eventually say. If I’m thinking about it, it’s destroying my life and Dave’s life and our kids’ lives.
You’re saying by saying, I may not feel it, but by saying it and even thinking it, it can change us.
Brant: It goes the complete—it will get all your intellectual machinery, all your emotional machinery going the other direction.
Ann: That’s remarkable.
Brant: Because you are doing it. It is but this is Jesus is so genius. Again, it’s for us.
Brant: We think, “Well, maybe I’ll forgive this person for their own good.” No, no, no, it’s for you.
I was telling Dave I was on Good Morning America recently. One of the things—I was talking about forgiveness, and one of the things the anchor—one of the anchors—
Dave: Yes, listen to this.
Brant: —he’s like, “Yes, but it’s so hard to forgive.”
My response to him was—it was one of those times; like, “Thank you, Lord. I think it was the right thing to say.” Sometimes it’s like, “Why did I say that?” But it’s like, “Yes, it’s so hard to forgive. It is, but you know what’s harder? Living a life of unforgiveness.”
That’s a horrible burden to bear. Going around [saying] “Well, I’m going to prove my point. I’m going to be justified; I’m going to teach everybody lessons.” This is a heavy thing to be attached to.
Brian: Right, so Jesus is saying follow My way of living, work with Me, yoke yourself with Me; I’ll give you a lighter load. It’s going to be better.”
Dave: It’s interesting what we talked about yesterday, which is the first part of your book, is I think one of the reasons we hold on to our bitterness and anger is we think, “I’m better than them.”
Brant: Oh, absolutely.
Dave: “The person that I’m going to forgive, I’m better than them. They shouldn’t hurt me. I’m not going to do this, because they don’t deserve it.”
Ann: And we say, “I’m right and they’re wrong.”
Brant: If you catch your own language when you’re like, “I just need to vent.” What you are doing honestly most of the time is not actually helpful at all. It’s a cheerleading session for your own ego.
Ann: Let’s say your kids come home from school. You have two kids. You guys have been married; you have two kids. They come home from school, and they just need to tell you what happened at school. They’re so mad; it was so wrong. They say, “I just need to vent about this.” Is that a good thing? Is that—you know.
Brant: Communication with parents is a wonderful thing. I think I would want to understand—
Ann: —and hear it all.
Brant: —and hear it all and then offer some insight if I could.
But I’m not going to do that to them because I want them to learn what it’s like to be somebody who wants to bless his enemies.
Ann: So, you’re going to live a different example in front of them.
Brant: Yes, and they will remember that. The other thing—we talked about a little bit—just saying “I’m sorry,” as a dad; like not having to defend or justify all your goodness: “I’m a good guy—I don’t come. Everything I did is right.” No, “I’m sorry.” Your kids will remember that forever.
I’ve got a friend who is a brilliant doctor; very successful; got a bunch of kids. He’s got a very strong personality. He has gotten so good at sitting down with his daughters or his son and going, “I did not treat you well today. What I said was in the wrong tone. I was too harsh, and I want to tell you, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Dude, that’s a master class; that’s how you do it. Your kids will always know that you were genuine. Be like, “That’s not the father I want to be. I want to be more like—I want you to know you are safe with me, so I’m going to do better.”
Dave: When I hear you say that, I think, Brant, it’s also one of the most attractive qualities that anybody can possess. When somebody is humble in admitting wrong, rather than everything we’ve been saying that “I’m better than you; I’m not as bad as you say I am.”
Ann: —defending our position.
Dave: That is repelling. But when somebody is humbly wrong, saying “I’m sorry…. I shouldn’t have said….I shouldn’t have done…,” you are drawn. It’s the best thing you could ever do for a relationship is admit.
Brant: But I think people know that, but it’s so difficult for people to humble themselves to do it.
Again, this is why repentance is such a rare thing, because you’re re-thinking and the re-thinking is “Wait a second. I’m not good. I don’t have to defend my goodness. Only God is good. Now that said, He loves me; I’m incredibly valuable to Him and all that, but my thinking is not His thinking. I have desires for things that will kill me if I indulge them. It will cost me everything, so rather than me trusting myself, why don’t I trust in Him, let Him guide each day, day to day. I can be desperate for Him, because I know I need Him. I know I need Him.”
We’re so full of cognitive biases. It’s one hundred, three hundred different biases they have catalogued in different ways. These are secular cognitive scientists about how deluded humans are. Most of them are self-righteous biases; including like, we are biased towards people’s names. All other things being equal, we will like this person more than that if their first initial starts with the same as our first initial.
Brant: Yes, it’s down to that kind of silliness; it’s ridiculous. Anything that kind of smacks of us/me/my side is better. If we are proven right, we literally get addicted to being right, which is why scrolling through news and stuff that affirms what I already think is so addicting because we actually get a dopamine hit.
That’s what you get addicted to with anything; you are actually addicted to the dopamine hit. But you get the dopamine hit. You get the dopamine/a rush of “I’m right; look at these horrible people—that shows it again—behaving horribly. Once again, I’m right.”
We’d love to have that reinforcement. It’s like a dopamine trip to us. It’s because of this self-righteous streak that we have, which Jesus is trying to smash through.
Ann: I’m thinking, as you say that, I’m thinking of the leaders, the spiritual leaders that I have known of what’s drawn me to certain leaders. The first one that came to my mind was Bill Bright, the president of Campus Crusade or Cru. I remember thinking/I remember being in this auditorium of staff—it’s filled—Moby Gym in Colorado.
Dave: —several thousand.
Ann: He started the ministry. I remember “Man, look what he’s done for God.” He stood up at that podium and he said, “I am the chief of sinners; I am the bondservant of Jesus. I am nothing apart from him.”
I’m like, “What? What in the world? He—look at the power; look at the….” I remember thinking, “That’s what I want. That piece of him that’s like, ‘I can do nothing apart from Him.’” There was such a humbleness.
I’m thinking of Mother Teresa. Think about this tiny, little woman, and she’d impacted so many by her humble dependence on the Savior.
Dave: Then she’s married to this guy sitting right beside her thinking, “I’m better than both those people.” [Laughter] I’m kidding, but there’s a part in us that is self-deluded.
Dave: We have that righteousness—you know when you said about the social scientist studying all these biases. I’m like, “Isn’t it interesting when social science confirms everything Jesus said.
Dave: He said the same thing, and now there’s proof to go, “He’s right.”
Brant: No one has ever commented on the human condition as insightfully as Jesus. Nobody. He’s so brilliant. The fact that they are confirming and affirming all of this stuff that He was saying about the human condition; like, we were like, “Don’t tell me we’re wrong; don’t tell me there’s such a thing as sin.” Yes, there’s look how deluded we are; look at it.
The other—that’s something I do talk about in the book, too, this idea that we are pretty basically pretty good. We can’t stay together even. The Beatles sang about “All you need it love,” and “Give peace a chance.” [Laughter] They couldn’t make it for nine years.
Dave: They didn’t even make it a decade.
Brant: The first cave drawings that we have are of humans killing each other—
Brant: —fighting each other. It predates nation states, capitalism, communism, whatever, all the other debates of the day. Humans have a problem.
Ann: I remember talking to my dad—I didn’t grow up in a Christian home—and so when I gave my life to Jesus, I’m like, “I need to tell my whole family.” So I remember talking to my dad. I love him. He’s an amazing man/self-made man. I remember saying to him, sharing the gospel, and he said, “Ann, I really don’t need it.”
I said, “Dad, we all need Jesus because we’re all sinners.”
He goes, “But I’m not.”
I’m like, “Dad!” My mind is blown. Dave was with me. Like, “Dad, you’re saying that you’re perfect.”
He said, “I’m pretty darn close.”
I’m like, “What is happening? Mom, come in here.” [Laughter]
Brant: Right, isn’t that something. It’s funny, too, because everybody actually does believe in sin. Everybody knows the world is messed up.
Ann: But they are better.
Brant: But they—"But not me; but you guys.” But what I learned from a Bible Project video, which I thought was so helpful, in the Hebrew the word is khata, so k-h-a-t-a, for sin. It means a failure to love God and people made in His image in a way that honors His image.
If you’re thinking “I’ve never done this, this other thing or that.” No; when have you failed to love God properly? When have you failed to love other people in a way that honors the fact that they’re made in His image? You never failed in that? I fail every day at that. It’s not a matter of keeping score. We don’t have to; that’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s not even about me. The final analysis, it’s not even about my moral score anymore.
Brant: That’s what’s so beautiful about it.
Ann: —so beautiful. It’ takes off the burden.
Brant: Now let me enjoy this way of life where I’m actually blessing my enemies, praying for the guy that just cut me off. That’s difficult thing to do.
Dave: It’s interesting Brant, I’ve done this a couple of times in 30 years of preaching. I bet I’ve done this, and I’ve mentioned it here before, so I’ll say it real quick, but I’ve bet I’ve done this ten times in different churches, often every three or four years in my own church. I’d say, “Let’s do an experiment. I’m going to be talking about sin or something that day. I said, “I want to do an experiment. Everybody stand up.”
The whole congregation/a thousand people, they stand up. “Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to read the Ten Commandments out of Exodus 20. When I read a commandment that you’ve broken, sit down. Let’s just see how this goes and who’s left. First commandment: ‘[You] will have no other gods before me.’” [Exodus 20:3]
I know everybody in the room should be down right now.
Dave: It’s so interesting—a little trickle will go down. I don’t say anything. I’m like, “Okay, number two….” Usually when I get to “take the Lord’s name in vain”/number three, most of the room goes down. But I’m not kidding, every time I’ve done it, I’m at five or six and there’s twenty people standing up. I’m like, “Oh, my goodness!”
I remember one time I did it, and a friend of mine, this woman—she’s married to one of my buddies—her mom still standing at eight, the only woman out of a thousand people. [Laughter] She yells at her mom, “Mom, sit down; this is embarrassing. You should have been down at number one.”
She’s like, “What are you talking about?” and they go down. But again, it’s like this delusion that we all have. If we understood what you just said, which is commandment number one, that I would love Him and nobody else and I would love all made in His image,—
Ann: —never put anything else in front of Him.
Dave: —we wouldn’t make it past the first syllable in the first word of commandment one, but we are deluded.
Brant: We are deluded and it’s so—we’re finally freed up to love and we stop deluding ourselves too. That allows you—you can look at—there’s a Twitter account that shows crazy people on TikTok. Well, you can watch each one of those videos—it’s political. There’s a lot of evil stuff going on. It’s people in their own words talking about stuff that’s horrible. You can look at each one and get really angry about it. But I’m like, “That’s a person. I’m saying it’s still evil what they’re doing but what is their background?”
Ann: Yes, what’s the story?
Brant: If I was from that background, would I be so righteous? Or is there a story where they didn’t have some of the things that I was able to have? Or they went through abuse that I didn’t go through.
Instead of getting everybody’s spiritual temperature/instead of testing mine all the time, just give that whole thing up and actually you’re free now to love people and you’re actually free to like them, too, which is we discussed, the only thing that actually changes people’s relationship. That’s it. Not me wagging my finger telling them they’re disgusting; a 19-year-old that’s living this lifestyle or acting out.
Ann: That should change the scope of evangelism right there.
Brant: Right. They’re in this culture. What has this culture done to this person? I feel for this person. I’m sorry for what this culture has done,” Instead of getting antagonized by everybody and look; it’s a shipwreck, it’s a shipwreck,” I’m no better than anybody else. But we have to love people in this. The only thing that changes them is relationship. It’s not me making my awesome arguments. [Laughter]
It really isn’t.
Dave: Yes, and that applies to your marriage.
Dave: Do you want to see change in your spouse and yourself? Love them. Stop pointing the finger and critiquing.
Ann: It starts with me.
Brant: It starts with me being humble and catching myself and my tone and my attitude and my body language and saying, “I’m sorry about that; I didn’t mean that.” Man, my wife loves that. She just loves it.
Ann: We all love it.
Ann: We all love to hear that. I think that would be a great application at the dinner table with a wife, with kids, with whoever you’re with just saying, “I feel like I haven’t led by a great example of just apologizing and telling you guys, ‘I blow it so often, and I’m sorry. I love you guys and I need Jesus.’” I think that would be helpful.
Brant: If you listen to this, too, and you’re thinking “I don’t do that. I feel really bad,” No, no, opportunity.
Ann: Yes, that’s good.
Brant: I’m still changing in our marriage [of] 32 years. It’s getting better. We’re still learning; we’re making some strides even lately. No, it’s not a guilt trip. It’s about opportunity for the tone I can set from here on out. If it is a change in tenor for your home, and you’ve got kids in your house, your kids will remember the time that you repented and be like, “This is real.”
That’s really cool; we all respect that.
Ann: This is going to help us when we’re driving together.
Dave: You just had to end with that. [Laughter]
Ann: No, I meant me; not you.
Dave: Oh, whatever. You meant me and you know it.
Ann: No, I didn’t.
Shelby: Hi, I’m Shelby Abbot and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brant Hansen on FamilyLife Today.
Brant Hansen has written a book called The Truth about Us: The Very Good News About How Very Bad We Are. What a magnificent title. It helps us to know our place and know how great God is at the same time.
His book is our gift to you when you give any amount to FamilyLife. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329.
Now that donation can be a one-time gift, or you can actually make it a recurring monthly gift. Regardless, we’d love to send you the book when you give. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now according to statistics, 92 percent of people are able to do the verbal and posturing gymnastics to say that they are morally better than most other people. I know I do that. Do you do that?
Well, join us tomorrow because Dave and Ann Wilson will be back tomorrow to talk about that among many other things to help us re-think and humble ourselves before God. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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