Overcoming Self-Righteousness


Righteous:  upright, moral, justified.
Self-righteous:  confident of being righteous.

Righteous is positive, while self-righteous is negative.  Yet shouldn’t we expect a correlation on average between how righteous someone is and how righteous they think they are?  Sure it is bad to be over-confident in one’s righteousness, but could we be so bad at estimating our righteousness that people who think they are more righteous than average are in fact less righteous than average?  How could this be unless we had almost no ability to evaluate the morality of our actions?  And if we were this morally blind, why bother to consider morality, as our acts would on average be just as moral if we ignored it?


No one can control another person’s attitudes or actions. In fact we have very little control over ourselves, mainly because we do not see ourselves as God sees us. Self- righteousness is an attitude and, believe me, there are others who recognize it in us even if we do not. “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto [some] men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:28 (KJV). Jesus recognized self-righteousness, and so do we in other people. The problem is to learn to recognize it in ourselves.


So, how do we recognize self-righteousness in ourselves? Whenever we feel that we have some benefit or advantage over someone else because we do or refrain from doing something that is self-righteousness. Do you give to charitable endeavors because it may somehow make you a better person? It does not. When someone is hurt by your words or actions, do you try to explain why you did or said that, instead of confessing and asking forgiveness? That is self-righteousness.


God uses our sin to deal with other people. Does that pardon our behavior? NO! We still must repent and ask forgiveness for our own sin, regardless of the provocation, or even the eventual good that may come out of it.

Many Christians have a great zeal for God, “but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” Romans 10:2-5. God gave us the law to show us how impossible it is to live by it. We cannot.


Only Jesus was able to live by the law, because he was born of God and not of Adam. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:24-26. The law shows us our need for help. Jesus is that help. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness: and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. . . . For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-10&13.

Does keeping the law save us? NO! As a result of our being saved the Holy Spirit begins to work in our minds and hearts to instill the law. We begin to keep the law because Jesus is in us and we become able. How then can we take pride in keeping the law when it is not we that do so?

Salvation is instantaneous. It is also a process one that will continue as long as we walk on the earth. At salvation the Holy Spirit pours the blood of Jesus over us. Thereafter, when God looks at us he sees the blood which is perfect. Underneath, the Holy Spirit begins to flake off the sin which floats to the surface for us to see.


 As we see it and confess it as sin the Holy Spirit takes it away. Little by little he cleanses us as we see and cooperate. He never forces us. He waits until we are willing. There are things we see but are unwilling to release. Then we need to ask him to make us willing to be willing. Eventually, if we remain willing to see our own sin, that fence post will be bright and new looking again.


I read where a poor “God fearing” single-mother would not take her sick child to a “free” clinic because only prayer would heal her child and soon after her child died, she was comforted by believing that it was God’s will to not heal her child and therefore her self-righteousness relieved her guilt. She refused to accept what she perceived as charity, because “God will take care of us.” God does take care of us. He says, “Help the poor.” If the poor refuse help, how can we obey? God created doctors to be healers.


God uses his people to help one another and others. There is no shame in receiving help when needed with thankfulness to God for his provision. This is humbling yourself. To refuse help is self-righteous pride. “Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble]: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3. Being poor in worldly possessions can help us recognize our poverty of spirit. When we have an abundance of wealth, for a while we can cover up and hide from ourselves how much we need God’s help and redemption. Being poor is not necessarily a permanent condition. Help can lift us into a position where we are able to offer help to others in need. Besides, everyone has something to give; if not money or possessions, then love, concern, prayer, physical effort, or maybe just being there.


When someone is saved, the church immediately begins to teach him the law. The person begins to try to live by it as best he can, which is, of course, not perfectly. Only as the Holy Spirit writes the law on his heart, and it becomes manifested in his life, does it have any benefit in his relationship with God. Keeping the law or not keeping the law is the same, unless the keeping of it is an outflow of the new life within. This cannot be done by human effort. Therefore, when we look at someone and feel somehow superior or better because we keep some part of the law that we think they are breaking, that is self-righteousness.


 “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified [this does not justify me]: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 4:3-4. All our efforts at self- examination must be done prayerfully–asking the Holy Spirit to point out what he wants changed. Even in this we are not our own masters but must be subject in all things to the Lord. When someone points out a problem, even if you feel strongly that you are not guilty of it, do not reject their counsel, but accept what they say. Then, take it to the Lord in prayer asking him if and in what way you may be guilty. It may be an attitude problem on your part that he is now ready to correct. On the other hand, you may be the mirror the Lord is using to show that person something. In that case it is up to him to correct them, and your part is only to pray for them.


This is a self-portrait. Have you seen your self? If not, maybe you have not asked God to show you what he sees. It is not a pretty sight, but he is compassionate and merciful, and gives us a way out through his cleansing blood. So, how do we overcome? We confess our sin as soon as we see and recognize it. Do not wait until “prayer time". Do not try to whitewash it with words. Do not try to put the blame on someone else. Own your own sin. That is the only way you can be cleansed of it. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost that which is committed to him. (2 Timothy 1:12.) Commit yourself to him one thing at a time until self is overcome and you walk in righteousness and true holiness.


Self-righteousness; is one of the most difficult sin to recognize since it is a matter of attitude rather than action. It is complacency in its worse form because it involves regarding oneself as more virtuous than others despite the reality of a deficient spiritual condition. This lie was introduced first by Satan out of his rebellious attitude. Regarding Satan, Ezekiel writes, "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (Ezekiel 28:17). He became greater and more righteous in his own eyes than his Creator. So also being righteous in our own eyes spiritually exposes our sin to God. This Bible study will analyze this dangerous impediment to overcoming.


Job's three friends cannot convince him of his unrighteousness, not merely because he is righteous in his own evaluation, but also because their arguments have no effect on him. He seems determined to keep his own opinion of himself in spite of all their reasoning. God inspires Isaiah to warn Israel that all their "righteousness’s are like filthy rags," since their sinful attitudes pollute their deeds. The impurity of their motives taint all their prayers, sacrifices, offerings, and praises, thus God deeply detests and abhors them. Job 32:1-2; 33:9; Psalm 19:12-13; Isaiah 46:12; 64:6; Revelation 3:17.


The Pharisee stands and prays—common in and of itself—but this Pharisee apparently wants to be noticed. "With himself" refers to his attitude rather than to his position; he is praying to himself or for himself, rather than by himself. Though his conduct is probably as good as he claims, the problem is not with his actions but with his self-righteous attitude. We can see an indication of this in ourselves when we think others do not live up to "our" standards. Sometimes this manifests itself in correcting, judging and complaining about others. Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16; 7:1-5; John 8:3-9; II Corinthians 10:12.


It is essential to realize that self-righteousness is "the me in me"! Constantly using oneself as an example of how to do something right often reveals self-centeredness, a root of self-righteousness (notice the use of "I," "me," and "my" in Job 29:1-25 and Luke 18:11-12). Also, being described as "holier-than-thou" or "a goody-goody," not for righteousness but for a superior attitude—and maybe for hypocrisy—suggests self-righteousness. Job 29:1-25; Luke 18:9-14; Romans 3:9-12; James 3:13-16.



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