Being a father provides you a front row seat peering into the manifestation of self-righteousness. When something goes wrong, and one of my children are confronted about it, sure enough, it was not their fault. From their point of view, it was clearly the other person’s fault—even if there were no others around. But before I cast judgment on them, as if to be myself self-righteous, this behavior and blindness to self-righteousness has been present in humanity since the fall of Adam and Eve.
God, approaching Adam and Eve in their hiding, asks them, “Who told you that you were naked?” From the readers account, it is a fairly simple and straightforward question; yet, they turned it into a complex answer, one that passed the buck to the next. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and the serpent does not say anything. No one took responsibility, and the fear and embarrassment they were individually feeling came as a result of someone else’s doing, not their own. This is the birth of self-righteousness.
Since then, self-righteousness can be found virtually anywhere two or more are gathered. It can be lurking in families, organizations, and churches. In addition, self-righteousness can be manifested both by the individual or the corporate body or entity. Defining self-righteousness is more a state, a condition, and/or a way of life. It refers to those who are holier-than-thou, pharisaic, or sanctimonious. It is a subtle, yet clearly manifested antagonistic pious posture people or groups have towards others. It is an “us vs. them” posture.
Here are some identifiers of self-righteousness.
1) Self-righteousness makes one Better than, not Better together. Self-righteous groups or people walk around snubbing their nose in a pious manner as if they are spiritually, morally, physically, and intellectually superior than all other groups or people. Self-righteousness turns groups and people into constant critics parading through life looking down at those they consider outside their sphere. In short, they consider themselves “better than” those not like them. As a result, the self-righteous forfeit ever experiencing the joy and power of “better together” because they live on their own little island of “better than.”
The self-righteous forfeit ever experiencing the joy and power of ‘better together’ because they live on their own little island of ‘better than’.
2) Self-righteousness makes one more Selfish, not Selfless. Those with snubbed pointing noses do not live life in order to serve others. Rather everything they do, or want done to them, serves their self-righteous interests. Remember, self-righteous groups and people are interested in keeping a good clean public image, devoid of any blemishes. They will protect themselves, even if it costs lying, distorting, or mischaracterizing someone or something else. Self-righteous groups and people are the center of their world; everyone, including God, rests outside the center. However, if you listen carefully you will find that self-righteous people use God as ammunition to fuel their self-righteousness. They will use language, “I am only doing it for God.” Or, “God told me to…” or “God is pleased with me.” In other words, they use God as the prop in the play of their life.
The self-righteous use God as the prop in the play of their life.
3) Self-righteousness makes one Repulsive, not Attractive. No one wants to be around groups or people that are self-righteous. Being around the self-righteous does not build up, but only tears down. They are very quick to point out how you are not like them, and how you fail to meet their standards. They highlight the planks in everyone else’s eyes but themselves. Thus, there is nothing attractive about being around the self-righteous. There resides no love, no grace, no mercy, and no compassion. They are all law, no grace. They may appear attractive on the outside—looking as if they have it all together—but their internal condition releases a hideous odor that drives people away. As Jesus stated about the Pharisees, they are like white-washed tombs.
Self-righteous people may appear attractive on the outside—looking as if they have it all together—but their internal condition releases a hideous odor that drives people away.
4) Self-righteousness makes one Forceful, not Faithful. When I think of someone being forceful, I think about the Crusaders. Crusaders engage in a holy war, seeking to turn people over to their side in a coercive, insidious, and vicious way. They live with the mentality if you are not for me, or for our group, then you are against me or our group. This characterization manifests itself in ugly divorces, church feuds, political groups, or activists groups, etc. On the other hand, one who is faithful seeks to win people by the standard of the one who sent them. For believers, we are not Crusaders forcing people to live according to our standards; rather, we have been commissioned by the King to be sent out to faithfully preach and demonstrate the good-news—the good-redemptive news, the good-grace-filled news of Jesus. Self-righteous people whop people over the heads in order for them to believe in their way; Jesus followers attempt to win people’s hearts in order to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Self-righteous people whop people over the heads in order for them to believe in their way; Jesus followers attempt to win people’s hearts in order to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
5) Self-righteousness makes one an Exclusive Purists, not an Inclusive Person. Self-righteous zealots are very protective who they associate with, or who they allow in their group. Only those similar and like-minded are invited into the gates of the self-righteous. In addition, if it is a self-righteous individual, be sure that unless you side with them, agreeing with them in everything, or do it their way, you will be kicked-to the curb. You will be viewed as a traitor, a sinner, an evil doer, a non-conformer, a person who has “not seen the light.” For, they will not let competing ideas, thoughts, sides, or people enter into their self-righteous world. They must keep it clean.
6) Self-righteousness makes one Haughty, not Humble. The self-righteous need no help. They can achieve everything—including salvation—on their own. Their faith and hope is in their ability, morality, and works. If they looked in a mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the greatest one of all?” They would hear the mirror answer, “You.” Such a haughty posture leads to a rigid life devoid of grace. They don’t believe they need grace—given their stellar ability to perform—therefore they don’t show any grace. Haughtiness, therefore, hardens one’s heart preventing them from seeing their true need for God and seeing the true needs of others.
In this blog, I have tried to identify at least six manifestations of self-righteousness. The reality is, we must all take off the blinders of self-righteousness. For within our still damaged, distorted, and sinful bodies there is the dormant disease of self-righteousness that potentially can awake at a moments notice.
In closing, what kind of life counteracts that of self-righteousness? Micah 6:8 gives a great answer. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (or steadfast love) and to walk humbly with your God.” Justly looking out for the interests of others, having a lovingly disposition towards all, and walking humbly with God as we seek to live for His glory and renown, counteracts any self-righteous impulse that may arise in our life.