what do you mean-
is a spiritual disease as common as the common cold — but seldom
recognized for what it really is. What are its symptoms? How can you
tell if you are afflicted with it?
All diseases have symptoms. Red eyes, runny nose and a hacking cough are all symptoms of the common cold.
Self-righteousness is a spiritual disease, and has its own peculiar symptoms which can be recognized, isolated and worked upon.
and by themselves the symptoms do not explain what self-righteousness
is. They only point out the presence of the malady. But isolating the
symptoms will nevertheless be of help in defeating and wiping out the
Here then are seven symptoms of self-righteousness, and what can be done to curb and stamp it out.
and foremost, a self-righteous person is not teachable. The patriarch
Job, before his total conversion, was a classic example of
self-righteousness. He was not teachable. We read his statement in Job
27:6, "My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go . . . ."
Job was sure in his own mind that he was righteous and was not about to
be taught to the contrary!
Another example of this symptom of
unteachableness can be found in Jeremiah 2:35. Jeremiah wrote what God
said to the ancient nation of Judah: "Yet thou sayest, Because I am
innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me. Behold, I will plead
with you, because thou sayest, I have not sinned."
was self-righteous. The people felt they were innocent; they felt they
had not sinned. This made God's job of teaching them very
difficult. It is virtually impossible to teach a person who
thinks and is convinced he is right. However, whenever that person is
willing to admit he may be wrong, he has begun to open his mind to
And so a clear sign of self-righteousness is
resistance to being teachable. Are you teachable? Are you easy to be
intreated? Or are you stubborn — difficult to instruct?
Pride in Obedience
In Luke 18:11-12, we read about the Pharisee who fasted twice in the week. He was proud of his obedience.
most of us are more sophisticated in the expression of our pride.
Rather than telling people outright when we are fasting, or that we
give tithes of all our increase and generous offerings besides, we go
around dropping hints. But being more sophisticated about it does not
make us any less self-righteous.
Do you glory in telling your
friends you won't be able to accept a dinner invitation because you are
fasting? Are you happy to share with your brethren the fact that you
don't have finer things because you have "given most of your money to
God"? Such hints are symptoms of self-righteousness. They show that in
one form or another we are proud of our obedience to God.
opposite of this attitude is humility. True humility leaves no place
for self-righteousness. When we strive to do our best in fasting,
giving or whatever, but without bragging, recognizing our own
shortcomings at the same time, we won't be expressing
The Self-Oriented Mind
a self-righteous person, the main theme of conversation revolves around
the self. "I," "me" and "my" become the center of conversation, since
it is the focal point of one's thoughts.
In Job 29, we have an
excellent example of the self-oriented mind. In just 25 short verses
Job uses the personal pronouns, "I," "me" and "my" 52 times! Job was
clearly self-oriented. This is epitomized in verse 14: "I put on
righteousness, and it clothed me...."
A truly converted
spirit-led mind is interested in other people. In Philippians 2:4 we
read: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the
things of others." This Godly focus of attention is clearly away from
Have you ever listened to a candid tape recording of your
own conversation? It is a very interesting exercise. You might be
highly embarrassed if you did. It could show how oriented toward self
you may really be.
Think about the topics of your daily
conversations. Do you detect too much self-orientation? The Bible
teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to do this more
every day, for only then will we truly have other people in our hearts
and minds, instead of only the self.
"Doing God a Favor"
fourth symptom of the disease of self-righteousness is that of feeling
we are doing God a service. In Job 35:7 we read that Elihu pointed out
"If you be righteous, what give you him [God]? Or what
receives he of your hand?" Job somehow felt that God was highly honored
and helped by his service. But in reality God does not need us. We
desperately need Him!
The self-righteous person remembers what
he has "given up" to serve God. Rather than thinking about what he has
gained by serving God, he feels he is a tremendous asset to God, and
that God is tremendously benefitted by his servitude.
child were to come to you and tell you he really adds to the family and
that you, the parent, just could not do without him (or her), you would
tend to think that child was rather vain in his thinking. Wouldn't you
much rather see your child come to you with the attitude, "Thanks, mom
and dad, for allowing me to be a part of this family. Thanks for
sharing all that you have with me."
In this analogy, we should
be able to see the difference between the person who thinks he's doing
God a service and the person who is grateful that God has allowed him
to be part of His Church and His Family.
Lack of Compassion
self-righteous person lacks compassion — an empathy and feeling for
other people. (The word "compassion" comes from the Latin meaning "with
feeling.") He is almost invariably critical of others when they sin and
judges them harshly. "Why, I wouldn't do that," he tells himself. Thus
he can't understand one who does. He is so "righteous" in his own sight
it is difficult for him to make allowances for another's weaknesses!
is quick to condemn and point out where he could have done better — but
slow to empathize and admit he might have done the same thing under the
In Isaiah 65:1-5, we read of ancient Judah's
attitude toward people who were sinners. God condemns the people who,
while they themselves were sinners, said to other sinners, "Stand by
your self, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou." This
"holier than thou" attitude is typical of a self-righteous person. Not
being able to see his own faults and sins, he is critical of others'
mistakes and shortcomings.
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke
15:11-32) gives us a good example of a self-righteous person. Three
characters are mentioned in this parable, though we often overlook the
elder brother of the prodigal son.
The elder brother was angry
when the prodigal son received forgiveness. He lacked compassion for
his licentious, wastrel brother, and was not happy to see him rescued
from destitution and at home once again. He was proud of his own
obedience while his brother sinned. Thus he was very self-oriented.
lacking compassion, the elder brother was unable to understand that his
brother had changed and repented. He thought his brother's return
merely meant he — the "faithful" one — was about to lose even more of
his patrimony. He was angry at his father for giving more of it to the
spendthrift son. In his self-righteousness, he felt that he had been
overlooked by his father.
Have you ever been prevented from
having and expressing true Christian love and doing good deeds for
others by similar feelings? Examine yourself to see if you have
compassion for your fellow man — especially for your brothers and
sisters in Christ.
sixth sign or symptom of self-righteousness is self-pity. We read in
Genesis 4:13 that Cain said to God "My punishment is greater than I can
bear." In this sense, Cain was self-righteous. He did not want to
change his attitude; he didn't ask forgiveness for his sin; he just
wanted to wallow in self-pity.
Was God so harsh that Cain could
not have found forgiveness? The point is that Cain didn't feel truly
sorry for his sin. He didn't want to repent. When he was punished, he
only felt sorry for himself!
Self-pity is a cancer of the
spiritual life. It eats away at a person's morale and well-being and
destroys the desire to fight back at one's sins and hurdle one's
Self-pity is a self-defeating attitude, You may
recognize wrong in your life, you may see your mistakes, but self-pity
will cause you to act as if the situation is hopeless. Self-pity is
expressed in the attitude, "Que sera, sera — whatever will be, will
be." Rather than change, fighting to pull yourself out of the rut, you
just accept the way things are. But self-pity will never make you happy
because it is a symptom of self-righteousness!
Justification of Sins
The seventh and last symptom of self-righteousness to be discussed in this article is justification of sin.
truly self-righteous, self-oriented person will justify his own sins.
Being righteous in his own eyes, it is easy for him to think he does
not have any real sins. So when a fault or a problem is pointed out to
him, he justifies and excuses it. This justification makes wrong seem
right in his eyes.
Long before he comes to the point of calling
out and out sin right and good, however, the self-righteous person
hides his eyes from his own sins.
In Revelation 3:17 we see how
this self-righteous attitude works. A great deal of self-righteousness
is imputed to the Laodiceans. They have an "answer for everything,"
including their spiritual slothfulness. In the eyes of God, they are
"lukewarm and neither cold nor hot...." But not so in their own eyes.
They say, "I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing
...." They justify their lukewarm attitude. In their own minds they
make it right.
In Job 32:1-2, we find that Job "justified
himself rather than God." Job was experiencing a physical trial. He was
seemingly being punished by God. So he searched his own heart but could
not find a reason for his plight. Therefore, Job concluded that since
he was not wrong, God had to be at fault. He felt all of his trials
were totally undeserved — that God was unfair and unjust for treating
him in such a manner. He wanted to argue the point with God.
one translation we read that Job wanted an umpire or an unbiased judge
to sit in judgment between him and God (Job 23). This is the height of
God finally answered Job's self-justifying
argument in Job 40:8, "Will you also disannul my judgment? Will you
condemn me, that you may be righteous?" This, in fact, is what had
Then God was able to convince Job that his attitude
was wrong and Job finally saw his own folly. We read his repentant
words in Job 42:3, "Therefore have I uttered that I understood not;
things too wonderful for me, which I knew not." He had come to real
repentance, loathed himself, surrendered to God and now repented in
dust and ashes (Job 42:6).
SELF-Righteousness — or GOD'S Righteousness?
had earlier said, as we read in Job 29:14, "I put on righteousness and
it clothed me...." And he continued to boast of himself. But that
righteousness clearly was not God's righteousness.
Philippians 3:4-9 the Apostle Paul plainly defined the difference
between human self-righteousness and God's righteousness. Paul began by
listing the various things he could be "proud" of. He then went on to
show in verse 8 that he counted all of these past glories as nothing —
as so much dung!
In verse 9 we read why he had given it up,
"[To] be found in him [Christ], not having mine own righteousness,
which is of the law, but that which is [comes] through the faith of
Christ, the righteousness which is OF God by faith."
recognized the difference between self-righteousness and God's
righteousness. Before his conversion, Paul had been self-righteous. But
after his conversion he became filled with God's righteousness as a
result of the faith of Christ in him.
In Romans 10:1-3, Paul
showed the difference between the Israelites' righteousness and God's
righteousness. Lacking the Holy Spirit, the Israelites
establish their own righteousness, which became self-righteousness. In
verse 3 we read, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and
going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted
themselves to the righteousness of God."
Brethren, are any of us still trying to do the same thing?
Seek God's Righteousness
said that of Himself He could do nothing (John 5:19). He knew it. He
admitted it. As a result His righteousness was not self-righteousness;
it was God's righteousness. He did not trust in His own power to be
righteous. He prayed without ceasing and asked God to impart His
righteousness to Him.
And just as Jesus looked to His Father for
that strength, so we are admonished to "seek first the Kingdom of God,
and His righteousness..." (Matt. 6:33).
The fight against
self-righteousness is a constant battle. It involves daily contact with
God through prayer and Bible study — having God and Christ through the
Holy Spirit living in you. As God continues to live in you, His
righteousness will replace self-righteousness.
shows Paul lived with the power of Christ in him. It was his contact
with God that gave him the righteousness that he manifested daily.
Zechariah 4:6 also explains it: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my
Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." It is total trust in God for the
righteousness that can make you truly righteous. We must do our part,
certainly, but the real strength and the help to do it comes from God.
And we must seek His help in prayer every day.
So during this
Passover season, let's each examine himself or herself, searching our
hearts and examining our motives, and begin to root out every trace and
vestige of self-righteousness!
by Stephen Martin January-March 1973 GOOD NEWS