Self-righteousness has been one of the toughest things I have ever had to overcome. My definition of self-righteousness is thinking you are above someone else, for whatever reason, and you have the RIGHT to look down on them. I am still on the journey to overcoming and it has been a long, hard road.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines it as believing that you are better and more moral than other people, often expressed in an annoying or offensive way.
Yep, that sounds like me. I have thought I was more moral than other people. Ridiculous, really, since I have been forgiven of so much sin. As the Lord began to show me this particular sin in my life, I asked Him to cleanse me. That is a prayer He will answer…guaranteed. I would like to share what I have learned along the way.
Luke 18:9-14 9Also He (Jesus) spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In verse 9, the word “righteous” comes from the Greek word dikaios which, for this subject, means:
Righteous, observing divine laws
- of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined
- in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them
Verse 9 is describing someone who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” AND “despised others.” The Pharisees (also known as Separatists) were the religious leaders of that time. They were pious because they kept the law enough but better than others. They believed they were righteous because they did everything right and, therefore, thought they were justified in looking down on others who did not do everything right.
Despise, in Greek, is exoutheneo which means to make of no account; to despise utterly. When we consider someone else not worth our time, energy or money…well, you see where I am going.
To say that someone is righteous and they despise others is directly against the Word of God. Their righteousness is their own, not the righteousness of God.
1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Verse 11 of Luke 18 shows us just how self-righteous this Pharisee is. It says the Pharisee stood and prayed thus “with himself”. In this passage, “with” means to the advantage of; at, near, by; to, towards, with regard to. This guy was praying to his own advantage…to or towards himself…with regard to himself…at himself. Nothing righteous about that.
Symptoms of Self-Righteousness
This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms but it makes the point.
- We trust in ourselves and disregard/despise others (Luke 18:9)
- We stand ostentatiously and pray/worship so others can see and hear us (Luke 18:11)
- We follow all the religious rules but neglect justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23)
- We clean up our outward appearance, making it appear beautiful and holy but inside:
- we are full of extortion and self-indulgence (lack self-control) (Matthew 23:25)
- we are without life or power and full of all uncleanness (impure motives) (Matthew 23:27)
- we are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:28)
- we are full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39)
- We are pure in our own eyes, but have not been washed from filthiness (Proverbs 30:12)
- We say that we have no sin so we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)
- We commend ourselves instead of the Lord commending us (2 Corinthians 10:18)
- As it happens, we are rearing our children to be just like us. (Matthew 23:30-32)
In Philippians 3:4-11, Paul is talking to the church at Philippi about self-righteousness. He begins to name all the reasons he could feel very good about himself:
- Circumcised on the eighth day
- Of the stock of Israel
- Of the tribe of Benjamin
- A Hebrew of the Hebrews
- As touching the law, a Pharisee
He said in verse 6, “Touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” As far as doing everything right, he certainly did it. But, when he met Jesus, his thoughts about his own works changed. The very things he was so proud of, he now considered to be rubbish. “…that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Results of Self-Righteousness
If we continue in self-righteousness, not having asked the Lord to forgive us and cleanse us, we will reap a terrible harvest. Consider the story of Saul’s disobedience in 1 Samuel 15:13-23:
13 Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” 15 And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak on.” 17 So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? 18 Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?” 20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
22 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.”
Saul was so proud of his accomplishment. He said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” He did part of the Lord’s commandment but decided to take the spoils of the people he had conquered. To excuse his disobedience, He said, “the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” How very full of himself!
The Lord made it known to Saul that while he was little in his own eyes, he was able to lead Israel. Obviously, as king, his ego became inflated and caused him to do what he wanted to do instead of what God had commanded. This passage ends with Saul losing his kingship.
I do not believe Saul lost his kingdom just simply because of disobedience. I believe he lost it because of what he said in verse 20.
“But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.”
He refused to admit he messed up. He did not humble himself or cry out to God because he was pleased with himself…he was self-righteous.
Jesus addressed this same issue with the Pharisees in John 9:39-41. 39 And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” 40 Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.
How God Sees Self-Righteousness
“Do you think this is right?
Do you say, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s’? ~Job 35:2
When we act as if our righteousness is better than God’s righteousness, it must be pretty disgusting in God’s sight.
Luke 16:15-you are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Jeremiah 2:34-35-34 Also on your skirts is found The blood of the lives of the poor innocents. I have not found it by secret search, But plainly on all these things. 35 Yet you say, ‘Because I am innocent, Surely His anger shall turn from me.’ Behold, I will plead My case against you, Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’
1 John 1:10-If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
Having our own righteousness, trusting in ourselves, shows that we are not submitted to God, we are not fully relying on Him.
Romans 10:3-For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
If we humble ourselves before God, we can be righteous in God. The way has already been made.
2 Corinthians 5:21-For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
John 15:5-“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
We cannot do anything without God. But, if we rely fully on Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Humbling ourselves before God has many advantages:
- We will be exalted (Luke 18:14)
- Our prayers will be heard and we will be rescued (Daniel 10:12)
- We can resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7)
- We are given grace (1 Peter 5:5)
- God will prepare our hearts and will cause His ear to hear (Psalm 10:17)
- We will be saved (Psalm 18:27)
- He guides us in justice and teaches us His way (Psalm 25:9)
- He beautifies us with salvation (Psalm 149:4)
Overcoming self-righteousness is hard but completely worth it. When we are self-righteous we have to stay busy being better than everyone else. When we humble ourselves before God, we find rest.
1 Peter 5:6-Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.