Self-righteousness is one thing that Paul the Apostle fought against tirelessly and yes, the Pharisees were guilty as charged. Wikipedia gives a lengthy definition of it but let’s see anyway. According to Wikipedia, “self-righteousness also called sanctimoniousness, sententiousness and holier-than-thou attitudes is a feeling of display of moral superiority derived from the sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person”. A self-righteous person in biblical terms is someone who believes he can facilitate his own salvation or that by his efforts, he can be in right standing with God. Also, did you notice that Wikipedia uses the word superiority in its definition of self-righteousness? Self-righteousness could result in feelings of superiority.
This makes last week’s post on superiority complex much more understandable. The Pharisees saw themselves as part-players in their salvation so automatically, they felt better than every other person who wasn’t on their level. A lot of us are guilty of this. We believe we have been so good at keeping the laws just like the Pharisees and we have been so diligent in rendering service and paying tithes just like the pharisees that we have seen ourselves as shareholders in the righteousness we have.
Self-righteousness through Scriptural lens.
However, the scripture makes it clear to us that we are righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21); that is, Jesus qualifies us for that righteousness, not what we have done or not done. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector which I cited last week? The Pharisee came before God with some sort of entitlement because of all the things he had done and not done. He felt responsible for the level of righteousness that he attained while the tax collector confessed all his wrongdoing and came clean before the Lord (I’m sure he had done good at least once in his life but he didn’t bother mentioning that) the tax collector walked home justified. (Luke 18:9-14)
Sometimes as believers, we tend to think that we can prevail by our strength which is quite the contrary. It’s easy so see why the Pharisees were spiteful of Jesus Christ. Jesus had told them that without Him, they could do nothing, since He is the true vine (John 15:5). But they were ignorant of the righteousness of God, they were seeking other ways to establish their own righteousness – like through effort or keeping of the law; they did not submit to God’s righteousness (Romans 10:3 ESV). Paul is one Apostle who wrote continuously about a need to realize that we can’t do anything to make ourselves righteous because he understands this clearly, since he was once a Pharisee. He understood what it meant to feel like you’ve attained righteousness and that you keep the law but he explained that that was not true righteousness originating from God, but a self-righteousness created by man.
Cons of self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness makes you feel superior to others (Luke 18:9) and makes you reject and despise true righteousness (Romans 10:3).
It could also make you a hypocrite. Here’s how. When you’re striving to keep the law to obtain righteousness, you’d do it no matter what. Your heart could be saying “this doesn’t make sense” but you’re keeping the law anyway because “you must be righteous”. Hence, it makes you a hypocrite like the Pharisees who kept the law and professed God’s name but their hearts were far from Him. True righteousness on the other hand is given to us by God in Christ Jesus and we are empowered by God to wish to live righteous as much as we actually live righteous (Philippians 2:13). So here, our hearts are aligned with our actions.
In true righteousness we don’t do good so we can attain righteousness (as in the case of self-righteousness), we do good because we have obtained righteousness. We do not classify ourselves as righteous because we keep the law. Rather, we classify ourselves as righteous hence we keep the law. Read that again.
Pros of self-righteousness.
There are no pros!
Self-righteousness is a false righteousness and it only yields unholy fruit as we saw in the lives of the Pharisees. Every believer would be doing themselves good if they dropped self-righteousness and embraced the reality of being made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. You get to work from a place of rest! (Matthew 11:27-30)