As Christians in the world we live in, it can be challenging to follow the attitude and path of Christ at times. The world continues to become more focused on self-fulfillment and putting our own needs first, instead of worshipping and praising a God who has given us everything, including His own son.
But as His children, we can sometimes fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Sometimes we believe that we aren’t like people around us in their mistakes and bad choices, but we are not humble servants of God to everyone, no matter where they are morally or socially.
So, what is self-righteousness and how can we embrace the opposite in our daily lives, which is more pleasing to God?
The Bible gives great counsel on this subject, as it is one of the main shortcomings that Christians can have. Whether it is actual verses about how to avoid being self-righteous, to stories of those who succumb to this attitude and what they dealt with as a result, let’s learn how to resemble more of Christ in our daily lives and less of what the world dictates.
What Is Self-Righteousness, and Is It a Bad Quality to Have?
To begin, self-righteousness is defined as being “convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others: narrow-mindedly moralistic.” Pride and hypocrisy are others form of self-righteousness that we can all be guilty of displaying at times. These are also discussed in the Bible.
Basically, being self-righteous is an over-confidence of oneself, believing that whatever you excel in, no one else can surpass you. (For some, they believe they excel in everything.) It could be in sports, in politics, in being the model employee or employer, or in being the best parent or child.
It is okay to be confident in your abilities, especially if there are people who can confirm you are the best in whatever you are confident in. However, being self-righteous is an entirely different quality where you believe that you are immune to mistakes and that others aren’t even at the same level as you in achievements, morality, or being the best all around.
For Christians, we could be especially susceptible to this because we know the sins of those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice are forgiven. However, we forget that we were once those in need of a Savior. When Christians look down on people who aren’t saved, or even look down on those who make mistakes, instead of offering grace, our self-righteousness is viewed as sin to God just as the mistakes others make.
Bible Verses about Self-Righteousness
Although self-righteousness is not specifically stated in the Bible, there are verses about pride, hypocrisy, and being a lover of self that express exactly what self-righteousness looks like in people. Here are some verses to consider about self-righteousness:
1 John 4:20 - “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
Mark 7:6 - “He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”’
Romans 10:3 - “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
Galatians 6:3 - “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
Are There Self-Righteous People in the Bible, and What Happened to Them?
Verses aren’t the only way God teaches us about self-righteousness, as the Bible also has several real-life accounts of people who struggle with this. Their struggles (or unawareness) of being self-righteous help us learn the harm that can come from this behavior.
One well-known example of self-righteousness is the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, shared by Jesus in Luke 18:10-14. Though the parable may or may not have been a real-life incident, the Pharisees were known for displaying self-righteous behavior, especially to those they considered lowly in town.
In the story, both men were praying in the temple. The Pharisee boasted to God about all the good he did, and how he was nothing like the tax collector next to him. The tax collector did the opposite, asking God to be merciful to him, a sinner. Jesus went on to share that those who exalt themselves will be humbled while those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Another memorable example of a self-righteous person was Samson from the book of Judges. He boasted of God giving him superior strength over men until he was charmed by a deceptive woman and revealed the way to remove his strength. Samson was humbled by his enemies and asked God to strengthen him to take down the enemies of his people, costing him his life in the process.
The greatest example of self-righteousness in the Bible relates to Satan or Lucifer, and how he went from being the greatest angel of God’s army to being thrown out of heaven for mutiny against God. His pride and desire to be in control of heaven, based on his self-righteous attitude, led to him being rejected by God. As the book of Revelation details, he will eventually be thrown into the Lake of Fire with his armies after the battle of Armageddon.
What Is the Opposite of Self-Righteousness, and How Can We Embrace It Daily?
If we are to avoid being self-righteous, then what is the opposite attitude? That is the attitude or mindset toward humility – being humbled and thankful due to knowing where we were before Jesus saved us and where we are now.
Instead of believing your salvation came through your own works or because you are “better” than someone else, an attitude of humility reminds you that you were once a lost sinner like people around you and that God could have rejected you, but didn’t.
Humility also teaches us not to judge those around us, saved or not, because we still deal with temptations from Satan that can cause us to stumble. And when we do stumble, humility shows us that God is there to pick us back up and set us on the straight path again.
So, embracing humility daily consists of how we should view the day – as a gift from God to not only praise Him in thankfulness for the gifts He has given us, but to show the love of Christ to others through our words, actions, and grace. When we start to feel self-righteousness creep up, all it takes is remembering that Jesus came to the earth in humility and died a horrible death He didn’t deserve for us.
Concluding Prayer for Humility
Living in a world that celebrates putting yourself first can make it hard to not carry a self-righteous attitude around with us. However, as we have learned, self-righteousness never pays and always results in God’s disappointment over our actions.
Humility is what we should seek every day, humbly thanking God for the gifts He has given us that we don’t deserve or have earned, and spreading that love and grace to those around us.
As we conclude, here is a prayer of humility to keep in mind as you go about your day:
We thank You so much for the sacrifice of Your son, Jesus, so we could be freed from the bondage of sin and set on a new path as part of Your wonderful plan. We pray today that we walk with humility in everything that we do and with everyone we interact with, knowing that we are following in the footsteps of our humble Savior. We pray that all self-righteousness we encounter, from either ourselves or from others, will be stopped instantly as we come to You in humility. Let us not forget what You have done for us and the love You give us when we are at our worst, but think we are at our best.
In Jesus’s name, I pray,
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Paul Bradbury
Blair Parke is a freelance writer for BibleStudyTools.com, and previously worked for eight years with Xulon Press. A graduate of Stetson University with a Bachelor's in Communications, Blair previously worked as a writer/editor for several local magazines in the Central Florida area, including Celebration Independent and Lake Magazine in Leesburg, Florida and currently freelances for the Southwest Orlando Bulletin.