Righteousness and Self-Righteousness

This article is written upon request of a comment I received not too long ago. This person would like to know, in a nutshell, how to be righteous without appearing self-righteous. Now, both of these topics have lots of different sub subjects within them, but we will not go in depth with either one of them. The question is this, ‘How do we act righteous without appearing self-righteous?’ This is a topic that almost everyday, Christians go through but many of us do not know how to handle it. Our starting point beings in Matthew 5:20 when Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees actually set an example for us. An example of how not to act.

Before we get into that though we must all be clear on a definition concerning these two words. Self-righteousness or self-righteous is basically “thinking you’re right”, or “I am more righteous than you.” Which we know, and by what Jesus tells us, is wrong in the eyes of the Lord. But righteousness on the other hand, is acting just, right, or virtuous. Perfect righteousness is impossible with man because sin has entered the world and we all have it (Romans 3:23). Yet we still strive for righteousness. How do we ‘be righteous’? We obey and follow the word of God, and not just preach and hear it (James 1:22). Now lets look at the scribes and Pharisees.

Lets start in Matthew 23:25-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” This is a great example of what being self-righteous can do to your soul. The Pharisees in that day were the most popular, the most wealthy in the city. Therefore they had the best and cleanest clothes. The scribes and Pharisees were more concerned with their outward appearance than their souls. Jesus tells them to clean their spirits first, and it makes sense. In the end what does God judge, the flesh or heart? The heart, God judges the heart and the flesh returns to whence it came, dust. God tells his prophet Jeremiah this in Jeremiah 17:10, ‘I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

Another example we see is the character of humility. The parable told by Jesus of the Pharisee and a Tax collector is this in Luke 18:9-14, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” From this parable alone we see how God views humbleness and self-righteousness. The Pharisee thought he was better than everyone else and even thanked God he was not like the sinner standing next to him. But he was deceiving himself in his own sin. Yet the sinner knew what he had done and asked for mercy. What we have here is the fool and a man who thinks he is wise but is not. This is exactly like the proverb spoken by Solomon in Proverbs 26:12, “There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise.” The Pharisee is the one who thinks he is wise and and tax collector is the fool. Because at least the fool realizes he is a fool and can repent. But the one who thinks he is wise doesn’t even know he isn’t and therefore is deeper in sin. Humbleness always outdoes self-righteousness and it is more pleasing to God.

But what about teaching others about God? How do we try to teach others about God and get them out of sin without making us look better than them? This is one of the hardest things about teaching others about Christ that Christians go through. There is one verse that comes to mind when I think of this; The plank in our eye. In Matthew 7:5 Jesus says,”You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” What Jesus is saying here is that we need to repent and be forgiven of our own sins before we help our brother out with his sin. We could go on and on with this verse but that is a general summary of it. Now that we have done what we need to, we can approach that person, and this is the hardest part. This bible gives lots of insight as to how to do this. So let’s look at a few.

Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” Use the scripture when helping someone with sin, or something that they shouldn’t be doing. Leave yourself out of the situation, that way, they won’t have a reason to believe you are better than them, which we know that no one is better than anyone else. If you want to show them an example, look in the bible for examples. The Old Testament is full of stories and things people did that we can learn from. All scripture is used for teaching and that includes both the Old and New.

Teaching others also has to do with the way we present ourselves and God’s Word. Even though God’s Word tells us to use his Word when teaching, there is a certain way we must teach it. Teach it through love and patience. If we teach it through love and patience we will not appear self-righteous. 2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction.” Patience is key when dealing with Gods word. Many people will not listen to you and not want your help, if so, end or leave the conversation and find someone else. Matthew 10:14 talks about if you are not welcome or your words are not heard in a town then leave. Don’t waste your breath on a fool (Proverbs 23:9). Also do not get angry with one that does not obey his Word, remember you’re not perfect either, there was once a time when you didn’t obey his Word either. Anger does not promote righteousness in the eyes of God. James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Love, humbleness, and patience draws people near to God. Not anger, impatience, and self-righteousness.

In conclusion, self righteousness is a sin. Self-righteousness is pride and pride is a sin (Psalm 10:4). So therefore we should stay away from it at all cost. But how do we not appear self-righteous? We simply glorify God for all, and realize all of us are sinners, none worse than another. We need to help and encourage others continually, but remain humble at the same time. Humbleness overtakes self-righteousness – Matthew 23:12.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. Forrest says:

    excellent thoughts

  2. Terry B. says:

    Such a difficult balance. Makes me realize I need to spend more time daily in prayer and in His Word. I especially liked your comment “remember there once was a time when you didn’t obey His word either.” It reminds me there are a lot of times daily I don’t obey His word, whether it be a thought or an action. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this difficult subject.

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