As the children of Israel prepared to enter the promised land, Moses warned them not to attribute God’s blessings to their own goodness:
After the Lord your God has driven [the Canaanites] out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.Deuteronomy 9:4-6, NIV
He had previously warned them not to take for granted the blessings they were about to receive. Now, He was warning them not even to assume that they deserved those blessings.
Many years later, Nephi spoke of these events from the point of view of the existing inhabitants, not the Israelites:
The Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people [the Canaanites] had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.1 Nephi 17:35
Moses also emphasized to the Israelites that their ongoing possession of the land was dependent on their obedience to Him. If they persistently turned away from Him like the current inhabitants had done, then they would suffer a similar fate:
And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God.Deuteronomy 8:19-20
Self-righteousness is not only disrespectful, it is also inaccurate. When we begin to believe that we deserve our blessings, we are in danger of losing them.
Alma saw the wealthy Zoramites praying on a tall platform called the Rameumptom. In this prayer, they proclaimed that they had been saved, while others would perish (Alma 31:15-17, 28). Alma later counseled his son Shiblon:
Do not pray as the Zoramites do….
Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.Alma 38:13-14
Today, as I express gratitude for the blessings I have received from God, I will acknowledge that I don’t deserve them. I will avoid the trap of believing that blessings are somehow earned. Instead, I will strive to love and serve Him, and to be grateful for His grace in spite of my weaknesses and shortcomings.