The Ugliness of Self-Righteousness :: by Grant Phillips

When I think of ‘self-righteousness’ I am immediately drawn to Jesus’ blistering of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 and also to the Pharisee and the publican (tax collector) in Luke 18:9-14. However, lest we forget, Satan is the originator of self-righteousness (Isaiah 14:12-17), and reigns supreme in that area.

God says in Proverbs 6:16-19, “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

The New Living Translation (NLT) says it this way, “There are six things the LORD hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.”

Did you happen to notice what God listed first? It was “pride,” which results in self-righteousness.

Pride was Satan’s downfall because he thought he could usurp control from God. At the very beginning of mankind, he convinced Eve that she could be like God. Her husband Adam fell for the same line and went along with their direct disobedience of God’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Because of their sin, God demonstrated to them and all of us that “… almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22) Innocent blood had to be shed, “For Adam also and for his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)

So clearly we are all born with a sin nature, and since only the blood of the innocent can redeem us from sin, we remain in our sin and need a Savior. Jesus Christ is the only one who can qualify to be our Savior. His innocent blood was shed in order that we may come to Him and be redeemed from the judgment of sin.

Coming to Jesus to be “born again” as He identifies it in John 3:3, is something that certainly cannot involve any self-righteousness on our part. If we attempt to add anything whatsoever to what He has provided for us by His sacrifice, we insult the God-head and are refused the very pardon we seek from God. We may come to Him with all of our ‘baggage,’ but we must come to Him with the clear understanding that salvation can only come from Jesus.

Let’s say that I invite a beggar in from the cold for a lavish meal, new clothes, a hot bath and a warm bed, explaining that all the expense is on me. That’s it. I have provided all they need to be full, clean and warm, but if they attempt in any way to pay for my generosity, the offer is cancelled. They will remain hungry and out in the cold.

People do this every day with regards to Jesus’ offer of salvation. We want to leave a tip for the meal, or we want to wash the dishes afterwards. We offer to do some kind of work to repay the generosity shown us, but what are we actually doing? We are attempting to lessen the value of the gift and to elevate our self to show worthiness on our part when there is no worthiness on our part.

If a beggar comes to me wearing clothes that need to be burned, reeking of body odor, not a penny to their name, and a lifestyle that is shameful, what exactly do they have to offer me? Nothing. But someone says, “I’m not like that. I have a good job, a nice place to live and good moral habits.” Oh really!

“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways:

And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23)

We all need a Savior. We are all like the beggar. There is nothing we have to offer Jesus, but a willing heart of acceptance in HIS work on our behalf.

How ugly it must be to God when people come to Him trying to add something to the work Jesus did for us. Remember, even “our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Yet, there are those who try to add (for example) baptism, or joining a church, communion, ‘good’ deeds, dress codes, food and drink codes, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve witnessed Christians burden the unsaved with these, and other, acts of self-righteousness when witnessing to them about the Lord. That is wrong.

In short, Satan is telling the same old lie that we can be like God (Genesis 3:5). What do you think got him into trouble? He wanted to be like God (Isaiah 14:12-14). When we insert any part of self-righteousness in with His Holy righteousness, we are attempting to be like God. We must come to Him, leaving all the self-righteousness behind, and trust unequivocally in His righteousness to save us if we are lost and to help us grow as a Christian if we are His child.

Grant Phillips