Do you know that you can be self-righteous without even knowing it? Thankfully, in this post, you will learn the little-known signs of self-righteousness so you can start overcoming them!
Self-righteousness is the worst disease to ever afflict the human race. Self-righteousness will keep you from grace and lock you out of the kingdom.
For this reason, great preachers like Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon made a habit of preaching against self-righteousness.
But do you know what self-righteousness is? Do you recognize its symptoms?
The word righteous feels like a very weighty term, often used without a very clear meaning. One wordly definition for righteous denotes acting in an upright and moral fashion. How those morals are defined depends on the person being described.
Thus, the definition feels very subjective, dependent on the person and what they believe.
When someone’s beliefs are centered upon just themselves, we have the definition for self-righteousness. Their beliefs are superior to all those around them.
What is self-righteousness?
Self-righteousness is trusting in your own righteousness (Luke 18:9). It is believing there are things you can do to make yourself right with God.
Self-righteousness is sometimes manifested in feelings of superiority towards others. “I am right, you are wrong. My way is better than your way.”
But self-righteousness can also be reflected in a low sense of self-worth (“God can’t possibly love me”), an inflated sense of self-importance (“I need to do more for God”), and outright unbelief (“I am beyond the reach of his grace”).
The defining ingredient of self-righteousness is that you are providing your own standard of righteousness.
When you decide what is good and right, perhaps on the basis of your own moral judgment or the law, you are eating from the wrong tree and usurping God’s role as the Righteous Judge. True righteousness comes from trusting in Jesus, the Righteous One (2 Cor. 5:21).
If you wanted to scan yourself for the symptoms of self-righteousness, here are 17 markers to look for:
1. The self-righteous mindset is sin conscious
The self-righteous man boasts in his sinless state. “You will not find in me any iniquity or sin” (Hos. 12:8). He is convinced that he is without sin (1 John 1:8) or that others are responsible for his mistakes. “It was the woman you gave me” (Gen. 3:12).
In contrast with Jesus, the self-righteous man avoids sinners lest they contaminate him with their sinfulness. “Do not come near me, for I am holier than you!” (Is. 65:5).
He is quick to defend himself – “Can anyone bring charges against me?” (Job 13:19) – but in claiming to be sinless, he is effectively calling God a liar (see Rom. 3:10). By claiming to be good, he is contradicting Jesus who said “There is none good but God” (Mark 10:18).
2 Self-righteous people repel others
Have you ever been around a person who made you feel uncomfortable, unrighteous, and guilty because you can see how he OBVIOUSLY show his righteousness? This person constantly rubs on your face his righteous acts and in the process, unconsciously PUT PEOPLE DOWN. As a result, you don’t like to make friends with this person because he has this aura of making you feel spiritually inferior.
That’s exactly what self-righteousness does. IT 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 fend them off.
3. The self-righteous mindset is legalistic
The self-righteous man boasts about his religious performance – “I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all I get” (Luke 18:12) – and he loves God’s laws. “I have kept the commands of God from my youth” (Luke 18:21). He does not realize that he is an idolater glorifying in himself.
The self-righteous man can never admit weakness and he never says sorry. Because he has zero tolerance for failure (“No excuses!”) he takes few risks.
While he thinks of himself as blameless in terms of the law (Php. 3:6), he is quick to condemn those who break the rules. He thinks sinners must be punished because “the rules need to be protected.”
4. Self-righteous people parade their good works
The Pharisees and scribes are the perfect EPITOMAI of self-righteousness. For that reason, Christ ardently reprimanded them. Read Matthew 23, and you will see how many times Christ said, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees.” Christ stated that we must exceed the righteousness of these people if ever we want to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20).
So what’s wrong with the Pharisees and Scribes? They love to PUBLICLY display their righteousness to people. They were “wearing their righteousness outwardly.” When they fast, they want to appear to people fasting (Matthew 6:16). When they repent, they don’t produce the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8). When they give alms, they sound a trumpet (Matthew 6:2). And the list just goes on and on.
You get the point. Self-righteousness is more of the outward manifestation rather than an inward conversion of the person.
5. The self-righteous mindset feeds on comparisons with others
The self-righteous man justifies himself by comparing his performance with others. “Thank God I’m not like other men” (Luke 18:11). He is proud of his reputation and pedigree and eager to draw attention to his good deeds (Matt. 6:2).
Quick to judge others, the self-righteous man lacks compassion (“I would never do that”), and he derives a perverse pleasure from fault-finding (“Look at what you did”). Putting others down reinforces his own inflated sense of importance.
6. Self-righteous people hate and condemn sinners
Whenever you are in the presence of a thief, adulterer, extortionist, or somebody who have committed a horrible sin, does it make you feel uncomfortable? A self-righteous person hates sinners instead of just hating their sins.
JESUS CHRIST LOVES SINNERS. He even ate with tax collectors and talked to them. He spent more time with the perceived sinful people in His day than the Pharisees who are thought to be “righteous.”
The danger with self-righteousness is it makes you believe that you are in the position of God. You CONDEMN people and pass permanent judgment. You determine who will be part of God’s kingdom and who will not.
True righteousness loves the sinner but hates the sin.
7. The self-righteous mindset is hypocritical
The self-righteous man sees himself as a rule-keeper, but in truth he only obeys those rules which are easy (Matt. 23:23). The hard laws he dismisses. “They was for another time and place.” Thus the self-righteous man is a lawbreaker and a hypocrite (Jas. 2:10). Being lukewarm, he is further from grace than the sinners he despises.
8. The self-righteous mindset is independent
Jesus said “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), but the self-righteous man didn’t get the memo. “I am rich and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17).
Since the goal of the self-made life is to stand on one’s own feet, the self-righteous man has trouble receiving from God. “If I didn’t earn it, I won’t want it.” He cannot receive the free gift of God’s righteousness because he is too busy establishing his own (Rom. 10:3).
The self-righteous man is more than happy to do things for God, but he will never ask for anything from God. By his self-reliance he is effectively saying, “I don’t need a thing from you Jesus. You died for nothing.”
9. 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, just to name a few.
Sadly, they have their rewards. They have not waited for a far GREATER reward that only God can give them.
Here’s food for thought:
When we do something good, we do it not to show how righteous we are, but instead, WE DO IT TO SHOW HOW AWESOME THE LIVING GOD IS. We do our good deeds so that people “may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
10. Self-righteous people list their good works
Have you ever noticed how hard it is for us to forget the good things we have done to other people? Every time we do something good, we have this little notepad in our brain where we list all our good deeds. Afterward, we add them all up and show ourselves and others how righteous we are!
When we do this, we forget that our righteousness is just like FILTHY RUGS (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness pales down to nothing when compared to the righteousness of God.
In reality, it is not our job to list our good deeds. It is God’s. “For God is not unrighteous to forget [our] work and labor of love, which [we] have shewed toward his name, in that [we] have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
11. 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 unteachable.
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. Jesus Christ was teachable in spite of His wisdom and divine nature. He did everything and anything His Father told Him to do.
12. Self-righteous people talk back to God
For God to work with self-righteous people, they need to be humbled first. However, self-righteousness may persist.
Like Job, we may talk back to God and rationalize our thoughts and actions. We may show God how rich, how we have increased in goods, and how we have need of nothing (Revelation 3:17). We may tell God how good we are by following His commandments and that He owes us a pat on the back and praises! However, just like the Laodicean church, we didn’t know that we are actually “wretched, miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (same verse).
13. They Know It All (Including God)
“O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.
A senseless man does not know,
Nor does a fool understand this.”
Self-righteous Christians do not seek God for wisdom because they believe they know everything they need to know. Not only do they have “enough” knowledge, but they talk about the Lord with complete understanding.
They make themselves an authority figure for understanding God and preach to others the absolute truth of who he is.
The Bible describes God as being beyond total human comprehension (Job 11:7-8). Even the most devout Christian will not understand God completely. That means that there will always be a mystery to God that will never be solved. There will always be more to learn and more to discover about him.
How then can any Christian ever feel like they know everything about God and about life? God has never over the course of the Bible given one person complete knowledge of everything so that they no longer needed him.
14. A Lack of Love
“Wise people store up knowledge, But the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.” (Proverbs 10:14)
The first greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others (Matthew 22:35-40). The self-righteous Christian is not able to do either correctly. Since self-righteousness is inward-centered, those of this mindset will see everyone not behaving like them as doing wrong.
Even though Christians are supposed to define behavior by God’s standards, these individuals will see themselves as already at the epitome of good behavior. Anyone not acting like them is therefore not acting like a Christian.
Their behavior and words will reflect this disdain towards other believers and the end result is destruction. Instead of nurturing community, they will create strife and dissension in their relationships.
15. They Value Self over God
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts.”
Sin is not always obvious to people, which is why Scripture encourages Christians to be in community. With the accountability of God and others, sin can be exposed and repentance achieved.
The issue with self-righteousness is that people don’t see themselves as wrong, or even sinful when they are reproved. Instead, they reject guidance from God and others. Their faith is the right faith, and in fact the only faith.
The key to true righteousness and not self-righteousness is doing good according to what God defines, not ourselves. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone has the truth.
When Christians keep God in mind with their various behaviors, sin will not be able to easily take root. They will be able to do all things, even the mundane for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
16. They Make Their Righteousness Known
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
In order for the self-righteous to stay fueled in their behavior, they need the approval of others. Jesus commanded his disciples to spread the gospel. Even the self-righteous Christian will do that, but in their own way.
If their faith is the prime example for other Christians, then they have to teach others to behave like them.
When they interact with others in the form of giving advice, or donating to charity, their actions are going to carry a heavy significance, at least in their minds. Without the approval of others, they are bound to doubt themselves and what they believe. Thus, they will make their good deeds known to many.
17. The self-righteous mindset is hostile to grace
Since he is not a wretched sinner, the self-righteous man has no need for grace. Indeed, he detests grace for it undermines everything he has worked for. Like the elder brother, he thinks grace is unfair (Luke 15:28-30).
Unacquainted with grace, self-righteous people are the most stressed-out people around. They carry heavy loads and don’t know the meaning of rest. They hear the happy sounds of a grace party thrown for prodigals, but their pride won’t let them join in.
The remedy for self-righteousness
Self-righteousness is the deadliest sin of all. In a classic sermon on self-righteousness, Spurgeon explained the problem:
A self-righteous man does not and cannot trust Christ, and therefore he cannot see the face of God. None but the naked man will ever go to Christ for clothing; none but the hungry man will ever take Christ to be his food; none but thirsty souls will ever come to this well of Bethlehem to drink. The thirsty are welcome; but those who think they are good, are welcome neither to Sinai nor to Calvary. They have no hope of heaven, no peace in this world, nor in that which is to come.
Self-righteousness is a grave deception. To be disabused of such a powerful lie, we need a stronger truth, and Jesus provides it.
“You are dead,” said Jesus to the self-righteous Sardians (Rev. 3:1).
“You make me sick,” said Jesus to the self-righteous Laodiceans (Rev. 3:16).
“You are naked and wretched!” (Rev. 3:17) Jesus spoke like this to wake the self-righteous from their stupor.
If you think you need nothing from God, hear the hard words of Jesus. Then take a good look into the mirror of the law and allow those righteous commands to plow the self-righteousness out of your heart.
Then once the law has revealed your true state—wretched, naked, blind and desperately in need—run to the Lord and receive from the rich supply of his grace.
Here are the 10 deadly signs of self-righteousness. There’s no doubt; it’s HARD TO SEE THE SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IN US. In fact, every time we do something good, the natural response is to have a certain amount of self-righteousness budding in our hearts.
However, if we truly see what we truly are without God, then we will realize that our righteousness must be from God. After all, it is CHRIST WHO LIVES IN US, and it is Him who helps us produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Instead of building our own righteousness, WE NEED TO BUILD THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD.
This is a profound and significant subject we all need to think about. Self-righteousness is indeed a fatal sin that we all need to overcome, and by being alert to these 10 signs of self-righteousness, I hope we can be more successful in becoming less like us and be more like God!
7 Signs of Self-Righteousness Infographics
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