Salvation is a Gift of God
Salvation is an experience of divine favor which God gives to those who humble themselves and repent of their sins. Salvation is not attained through one’s own strength, fortitude or ability; but it is a miraculous work of God. The scripture warns that it is “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). Self-righteousness is the strong belief of one’s own goodness, opinions and actions while believing that other people’s are wrong. There have been many that have committed the sin of self-righteousness. A professing child of God who is self-righteous is one who trusts in his own goodness and works in an attempt to be justified before the Lord. Jesus spent much of His earthly ministry addressing those who had spiritual pride and were self-righteous. “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees,” Christ instructed. That leaven is hypocrisy, self-righteousness and a deluded sense of one’s ability and position.
Holiness is Possible Only Through Christ & the Spirit
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God and are in need of a savior. It is only through Christ that mankind is able to live holy. Hence, all glory and honor goes to the Father and there is no place for pride or spiritual egotism. The Apostle Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Galatians 2:20). All grace and ability to live acceptably before God comes only from the work of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The focus and dependency should be on the power of God, not on the feeble ability of man.
Signs of a Self-Righteous Spirit
The self-righteous are characterized by a number of traits which are identified in the scripture. It behooves the saint of God to be aware of this sin and to be able to recognize it when it crops up. The self-righteous tend to justify themselves (Luke 10:29) when their lives are less than what the Bible teaches. As exemplified by the Pharisees, they often follow some commandments rigidly in outward observances so that they might appear righteous. Jesus said that they appeared beautiful outwardly but were within full of hypocrisy and iniquity (Matthew 23:27-28). They love to be exalted and seen as an icon of spirituality (Matthew 6:1-2).
Establishing One’s Own Righteousness
Paul spoke of those who went about to “establish their own righteousness, [and] have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). The self-righteous allow their opinions and ways to take precedence over the simplicity of God’s Word. They are quick to proclaim their own goodness (Proverbs 20:6) and are pure in their own eyes (Proverbs 30:12). All the while, their spirits are filthy and prideful. They profess and appear holy (Isaiah 65:5) but their works are unacceptable with God.
The self-righteous tend to be judgmental and quick to condemn others (Luke 6:41). “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
Man’s Righteousness is External
The righteousness of God within a person leads him to outward holiness with a spirit of humility and love. The righteousness of man is external (Luke 11:42-44) and is as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). Man has no true righteousness of his own and has no power to change the condition of his heart without the power of God. All of the righteousness of man will profit nothing (Isaiah 57:12). Good works and deeds are beneficial but without the motivating power of God Himself working within, they are of no eternal value.
The Self-Righteous Will Not Enter Heaven
Self-righteousness has a blinding effect and often people are deceived into a false spiritual security. “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The congregation at Laodicea thought themselves sufficient and spiritually rich; but without the fervent love of God, they were poor, naked, and blind in their self-righteousness. They had lost their dependency on God and rested in their ritualistic good works. Self-righteousness is sin and will keep one from going to heaven. Jesus said, “That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
A Form of Godliness
The Pharisees had a form of godliness. They prayed, fasted, tithed, etc. but they trusted in their own merits rather than in the redeeming grace of God. “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ….by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). A man can follow many of the doctrinal teachings of the word and dress ever so modestly. He can give liberally and pray much. He can be faithful in worship service and yet miss heaven because he lacks the spirit of love, humility and dependency upon the righteousness of Jesus alone. While outward standards and precepts are important, true holiness begins in the heart.
Where Is Your Focus?
Self-righteousness focuses on self rather than God. God will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). When God stops getting the glory, the glory stops. The glory is not defined by how loud a group of professing saints can shout or how they can dress up. The glory is the divine anointing of God in the daily life which brings peace, joy, power, love, and humility. “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18). As a child of God brings forth good works in their life, it should be for the purpose of glorifying the Father which is in Heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees. Self-righteousness can pervade an individual or a group of people. “Lord, help us live humbly, trusting not in our works of righteousness but solely in the merits of the blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.” —mws