The Perils of Self Righteousness
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Self-righteousness is something that has dogged men throughout all civilizations and cultures and throughout all time, from the lowest in society to the highest, from the poorest to the richest, to those without education to the most educated.

“Confidence in one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.”
It is a formal conformity to legal (religious) requirements based on one's human nature rather than in the faith of Christ. i.e. the individual ritualistically carries out certain actions to be noticed as being religious but does not have an inward conformity with his actions.

Serious danger. The fact of something being dangerous or harmful.

Lesson Objectives

  • To draw the attention of Christians to a subtle but dangerous device of the devil, which can degrade even true Christians
  • To bring to the notice of Christians the dangers involved in exhibiting this ill attitude.
  • To dissuade Christians from exhibiting a righteousness that is self-centered.

Text Matt. 23:27-30
Text Analysis
The Pharisees as well as other Jewish leaders earned numerous rebukes from Jesus.
In very strong terms, He condemned them for rigidly adhering to their legalistic traditions in order to make themselves look better to others.

Matthew 23:27-28
Over and over again as shown in the Gospels, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees and scribes about their self-righteousness.
At the same time, He spent a great deal of time and energy warning His disciples about the dangers of being self-righteous,

Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told the parable of the prayers by the Pharisee and the tax collector.
Verse 9 - the parable was specifically told by Jesus to “some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt”.

Self-righteousness causes us to think that we are always right and, as a result, everyone else must not be as righteous as we, as smart as we, as dedicated as we, as loving as we, as close to God as we, as knowledgeable as we, and thus is spiritually inferior to us.

Paul’s treatment of self-righteousness was no less fierce.

  • Romans 2:17-24
  • Galatians 1:8-9
  • Romans 10:3

Paul’s conclusion about the Galatians believers was that they had been foolish in their attempt to be perfected by the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3).

The scripture makes an important distinction between a righteous behavior that originates from the flesh resulting in self-righteousness and that which originates from the Spirit resulting in a God honoring righteousness.
So then, self-righteousness is that righteousness that originates from and whose source is one’s self. It is a righteousness that is self-centered, ugly, boastful, arrogant, and repugnant to God. It is the result of sinful pride and carnality, causing one to be puffed up against the other (1 Cor. 4:6).
If the flesh is the source of the righteousness, it produces pride. If the Spirit is the source, it produces humility. For in both cases, the source of the righteousness rightly deserves the glory, for it is solely responsible for what it produces.
Therefore, in the practice of a righteousness that originates from self, man is glorified; in the practice of a righteousness that originates from the Spirit, God is glorified.
In the parable of the praying Pharisee and tax collector, the Pharisee assumed his acceptance with God was based on his own works and therefore merited Gods positive answer to his prayer.
However, in contrast, true righteousness is God-centered, attractive, void of pride and boasting, humble, spiritual, and wholly honoring to God.

Characteristics/Demonstrations of Self Righteousness
The self-righteous often exhibit the following characteristics

    1. Hypocrisy:

    The self-righteous often shows outward conformity with the laws of God to be approved of men despite the reality of a deficient spiritual condition.

    Luke tells us that with this outward conformity, they justify themselves before men and are therefore exalted by men; However, they are an abomination before God (Luke 16: 15).

    Matt 23:2-3

    On account of this, Christ repeatedly called them hypocrites because their lives did not correspond with their teachings.

    2. Arrogance/Self-Superiority:

    Self-righteousness is seen when the guilty one believes he is simply better than others and that others should just naturally and without question submit to his superior intellect, opinions, and plans (even in things that just don't matter).

    The religious leaders of Israel demonstrated this in John 7:46-48.

    They saw themselves as the standard for knowledge, what is right and acceptable and wondered why the soldiers believed in the teachings of Christ.

    We see this amongst ourselves,

    • When we get so wrapped up in our own opinions, we wrongly begin to think no one can give a better opinion.  
    • When a brother, for whatever reason, believes his opinions, ways, and comments is always superior and so sees no need to consider the opinion of others.

    3. An inability to see faults in self but judging and condemning others:

    Self-righteousness may also be demonstrated in those who simply cannot see their own faults - but who can easily see the faults of others.

    • Simon, the Pharisee, who saw only the sinfulness of the woman who had come and washed Jesus’ feet, but who did not see any sin in himself (Luke 7:36-50).
    • The scribes and the Pharisees who brought to Jesus the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).


    4. Boasting and Parading Their Good Works:

    • The Pharisee Jesus described, who boasted even to God, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12).
    • The hypocrites describe in Matthew 6:2, who gave to the needy, but sounded a trumpet “in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.” They wanted others to know without a doubt that they were righteous!

    5. Self-righteous people love the approval and praises of men

    Among the motivations of a self-righteous person is to gain approval from people. He wants to look righteous, so people hold him in high regards. This is exactly what the Pharisees did. They did their alms in front of many people, disfigured their faces when fasting, loved to sit at the best seats in the synagogues, and enjoyed being called with pompous titles.

    6. Self-righteous people reject correction

    If we remain self-righteous, time will come that it will make us callous. We hold on to our self-righteousness and it will harden us. And by the time when we need to be corrected, PRIDE sets in, and we become un-teachable.
    This hardness of heart may spring from the belief that you know almost everything, that you already know what the scripture says, and nothing new can impress you anymore. You think that there’s nothing to learn anymore and you won’t let anybody tell you what to do. We have become too vain in our thinking that we won’t allow anyone to point out where we might have got it wrong.

    True righteous people possess a child-like attitude. That is entirely different to what self-righteous people feel about themselves.

    7. Refusing To Be Questioned:

    The self-righteous proclaim that they are righteous and that everything they say and do is right. There is one thing they cannot bear to hear: others questioning whether their behavior was right.

    8. Judgmental and Lacking Compassion:

    It is seen when we hear of others who have made poor choices and their lives are a mess and think only to ourselves how foolish they are, what poor choices they have made, and how they deserve the life they got.

    There is no compassion for those whose lives are not as easy as ours, for those who have more struggles with sin than we do, or who simply are not as spiritually mature as we are.

    Matt.7:1-2 "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”. (Luk 6:37, Rom 2:1, 14:3-4,10,13; 1Co 4:3,5; Jas 4:11-12)

    Rather lets encourage ourselves to walk through our spiritual challenges, helping those who have fallen to rise again to their feet.

    9. Self-Justification:

    Sometimes no matter what sin we have committed we find ways of defending and justifying ourselves.

    Some people go as far as twisting Bible passages to justify their sins.

    Also when we arbitrarily set standards that we are already meeting, rather than striving for excellence in our faith, we are effectively justifying self. Eg

    • Luke 10:25-29

    Consequences of Self-Righteousness

    1. Contention/Division:

    Because of its self-centered nature, self-righteousness destroys a relationship's unity.

    • It has been the reason why many congregations have divided. Between brethren of similar attitudes, there will be constant conflict because one will not give in to the other and neither will admit wrong.
    • If it is exhibited in a marital home it results in discord, disharmony and has been the cause of many broken homes.

    2. Justifying Error/Sin and Continuing in it:

    A self-righteousness person will not see his own errors or sin and will continue in it as long as he thinks he is right.

    Of course sin leads unto damnation.

    Again, this is what our enemy wants, for as long as he can convince one that what he is doing is not sin, then he has no further work to do with him; he has been won to the enemy already!

    3. The self- righteous is spiritually blind:

    The self-righteous may think they are spiritually superior to others but in reality they are spiritually blind and, in our Lord’s own words from Revelation 3:17, wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

    Those who are truly self-righteous are spiritually blind yet they do not perceive that this is so. Their blindness is deep. These people do not have a true self-knowledge nor do they have a correct knowledge of God.

    4. The self-righteous person cannot grow spiritually
    When you believe you are already perfect it gives no room for improving yourself spiritually. The self-righteous

    5. Self-righteous people repel others

    Self-righteousness REPELS PEOPLE. On the other hand, genuine righteousness DRAWS people toward you. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of a righteous Being. He draws people toward Him and not sends them off.

    6. Hindering others from obeying God:

    Discourages and repulses those who are sincerely seeking God’s ways and who are searching for spiritual truth.

    As Jesus said of the hypocritical religious leaders of the first century, “You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matt. 23:13). By their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, they hindered many from ever coming to God, and caused many to lose all interest in spiritual matters.

    Such will be - and is - the case today when we exhibit self-righteousness.

    7. Missing the Kingdom of heaven.

    Overcoming Self-Righteousness

    Self-righteousness is indeed a fatal sin that we all need to overcome.

      1. Practice Humility

      It should be obvious by now that the Word of God addresses self-righteousness that what is really being examined is a form of pride.

      • I Must Consider the Possibility I Can Be Wrong. Self-righteousness says “I am never wrong”; humility says, “I could be wrong.” As Paul admonished we should constantly “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2nd Cor. 13:5):
      • I Must Value Others More Than Myself. As self-righteousness causes us to think of others as our inferiors, humility causes us to see others as more valuable than ourselves, or at least as valuable. It is for this reason Paul admonishes us to “in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3


      2. Uphold The Correct Spiritual Standard

      When self-righteousness takes hold of us it causes us to set our own standards for righteousness.

      To defeat this attitude, we must ask the following questions concerning any spiritual matter:

      a.What Does The Scripture Say? Paul asked this question regarding the prophecy and meaning of the promises of God (Gal. 4:30). He also reminds us in 2nd Tim. 3:16, 17 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”.

      b.Is it according to the standard of Christ’s words? Since Christ has been given all authority and since it will be by His words we will be judged in the end (John 12:47, 48) - rather than by our words - we would do well to appeal to the words of Jesus Christ, to see what He has said about it.

      3. Make The Right Comparison.

      Self-righteousness is, in effect, often a matter of comparing self to others and finding self to be better or more important than others. The problem lies in the fact we are comparing ourselves to the wrong thing (or person).

      a.Not Self versus the Worldly.

      b.Not Self versus My Brethren.

      We should rather compare ourselves to Christ whom we are commanded to be like. – Phil. 2:5.

      Humility, then, is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.

      The comparison we should make is to ask the question: ‘How Christ-like am I”.  It is when we truly take a look at Christ and then at ourselves that we will be able to think of ourselves in the proper light.

      4. Ascribe the glory to the right object

      We cannot glorify ourselves for our righteousness, but Christ who abides and works in us. We know that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)

      We are all instruments in the hand of God and cannot afford to exalt ourselves above the God who puts us to work. Isaiah 10:15

      Paul in recognition of this said: "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16).

      5. Accept the truth:

      Only truth, if we listen to it and accept it, can set us free. If in our self-righteousness, we have rejected the warning voice of God, then there will be a terrible judgment on those who were "hardened", who did not want to accept God's voice, admonitions and even through other people. Therefore sin will spreads and we will reap evil harvest in eternity. Then it will be too late to repent.


      On the cross, Jesus exchanged our sin for His perfect righteousness. It is by that righteousness we will attain to the eternal home. Let us not allow the devil to stain our white garments with self-righteousness. May we work hard to ensure that our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees as Christ demands of us. Now is the time to put on humility and honesty cause, we know that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.

      Now is the time to make God’s word the standard of righteousness

      Now is the time to acquire the mind that was in Christ Jesus.

      Now is the time to subject ourselves to the righteousness of God. - EtoroAbasi Okon.


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