Self Righteousness… does anyone like it? You know the type… those who walk around like they’re holier than thou, judging everyone else for not being as godly as they are.
And yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, we all love self-righteousness. We believe that we are better than others. If I think ABC is right, and you think ABC is wrong, then I’m probably not changing my mind anytime soon. Why is that? Because our default setting is self-righteousness. We are the kings and queens of our kingdoms, and what we desire is almost always viewed as good and right and beautiful. Those who oppose us are grabbing for power, judgmental, or they’re just plain wrong.
But here’s the thing… you can’t be a Christian and be self-righteous. Christianity looks to the righteousness of another. The gospel calls us to confess our unrighteousness and to trust fully in the righteousness of Christ. The Christian is fully dependent on Christ’s righteousness.
What is Self-Righteousness?
Self-righteousness says many different things. Among them are,
- “I am better than you are.”
- “I am good enough to be acceptable to God.”
- “You can’t judge me, only what I believe matters.”
- “You need to do and believe what I do and believe, because I’m the one who’s right.”
Those are things no Christian can say. If you are a Christian and you say any of those things, then you have not understood the Gospel. (Yes, I recognize the irony here. Before you accuse me of being self-righteous, please finish reading this post.)
As Christians, we completely rely on Jesus’ righteousness, not our own. The only thing my righteousness earns for me is judgment (Romans 3:23-24, 6:23). The Gospel declares, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
The ironic thing about accusations of “Self-Righteousness” is that every religion other than Christian actually teaches self-righteousness. I know that’s a huge claim to make, and I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I do think it’s true. Only Christianity teaches that we are acceptable to God because of someone else’s righteousness. Every other religion and philosophy teaches you how to become righteous and acceptable, or says that you already are acceptable and you simply need to embrace your own inherent goodness.
Where Does Truth Come From?
When we build our understanding of “truth” on our own interpretations or opinions, then we profess to be the ultimate knower and determiner or what is real. In this case, truth comes from within.
Instead, when we rely on what God has revealed through the Holy Scriptures and we seek to understand what God has spoken and how the Scriptures still speak today (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then we are again relying on the righteousness of the God who speaks rather than on ourselves. The uniqueness of Christianity (as opposed to other religions with holy scriptures) is that other religious texts give commands and sacrificial practices on how to be holy enough to become acceptable with God.
The Christian message is summarized in this,
“But God proves his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him!” Romans 5:8-9
To be “justified” is to be “declared righteous.” It is a word that comes from the court of law, whereby a judge pronounces a defendant, “not guilty.” But not only does justification set you free from guilt (“not guilty”), it also pronounces you as righteous. Christian righteousness comes from beyond us.
Ultimately, Christians, we must remember that we are not self-righteous… we fully rely on the righteousness of Jesus. When we’re tempted towards self-righteousness, we are being tempted to deny the gospel.
And if you’re not a Christian because you hate self-righteousness, then please consider the message above, and consider whether or not you hate self-righteousness as much as you think you do.
(I’m thankful for comments below, in case I’ve missed something along the way.)