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The dictionary definition of self-righteousness is "confidence in one's own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." Biblically speak...
For we know that righteousness is exclusively of God. Nobody apart from God can ever be righteous by themselves. It is only acquired by faith through Jesus Christ. In light of this, any righteousness that is so (if at all it is) besides Jesus is what we can term as self-righteousness. Rather it means one who is righteous in their own eyes, and may be in the eyes of the observers. Any "good" works besides faith in Jesus Christ is simply human effort to please God. Man by himself can never please God. If it had been so, there wouldn't have been the need for Jesus to come. By simply performing good works, we can appear to have the picture of God, but that is not what counts. What counts is the state of your heart. True goodness is only of God. If therefore you are to be counted to have done anything good, you must have had your roots in God by accepting Jesus Christ. For when many people are preached to, they will always say; I don't kill, I don't steal, I give a tithe of all my income, I pray, I fast, I keep the law, what is therefore the need for me to believe what you are saying? However though, you may have not been seen doing whatever, but that doesn't mean you have not done it (Matthew 5:27-28). It isn't therefore about whether you have done it or not, it is about submission to Jesus Christ. The Bible says much about self- righteousness as we can envisage below: Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus teaches that we should not do good for the public eye, but for the building of a relationship with our God, for God is the rewarder of all that seek Him diligently (Hebrews 11:6). We should therefore love to avoid to appear opportunistically righteous. Righteousness should never be used for the public eye, it should only be used for the building of a flourishing relationship with God. Matthew 23:27, Jesus said to the scribes and the Pharisees that they were like whitewashed tombs which appear clean on the outside yet inside, they are full of dead bones. He in fact called them hypocrites. For they did whatever they did simply to be appraised by the public and never minding about what God thought of them. For someone to perceive themselves righteous, they simply want to disregard the role of Jesus Christ in their lives. Such can't be. True acceptable righteousness before God is only through Jesus Christ. Luke 18:9-14, Jesus teaches of the Pharisee who had perceived himself righteous by giving the tithe and fasting two times a week, and the tax collector who knew himself for a sinner. The Pharisee only went before God to boast of his ability to please God. He was only proud and had self assurance. The tax collector on the other hand knew what he was and he admitted it. He knew he was a sinner. Once you understand what status you are, it gives you the proper way to pray. The tax collector prayed according to what he was. It is therefore the tax collector who went justified not the Pharisee. On account of all the above, we learn that to be counted righteous is not simply wishful. It is not simply to say I am or to be seen to be righteous. Only God declares who is righteous and who is not. How are we then not to be self-righteous and therefore counted as righteous? First step is to repent. Avoid making any excuses when you are asked to repent. Simply humble yourself and submit to God through Jesus Christ His Son. For the Bible teaches that the fact that Adam sinned, it is counted on all humans for unrighteousness (Luke 13:1-5), (Romans 3:23), (1John 1:8-9). Allow to be transformed. For there should be evidence in us of the work of salvation of Jesus. When Mary Magdalene met Jesus, she never remained the same. Her life was totally transformed for the better (Luke 8:1-3). Righteousness or unrighteousness is the state of our heart. If therefore we mean to be counted righteous, our hearts must be upright. If we pray, fast, read the Bible, give or help others, let us do so with the intention to build a good relationship with God not men.
I read a commentary on this that really hit the nail on the head. Jesus became livid with anger toward the self righteousness of the Pharisees. They thought they were righteous, but leveled sins against everybody else. Jesus said they were blind guides, a brood of vipers, hypocrites, fools, white washed tombs, and children of the devil, and other than that they were pretty nice people. Jesus had no use for them and went to the real sinners, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the outcasts to eat and drink with. He had more compassion for them than the self righteous Pharisees. So it seems that Jesus hated judgmentalism and self righteousness more than all the immorality of "real sinners." And it still happens today when we say, "My sin is not as bad as your sin." And for those that believe they have no sin they need to read 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 1:10. It reminds me: I found a pencil with a one foot long eraser that said, "For mister perfect." So many times we need to get the log our of our own eye so we can see clearly to get the splinter out of our brother's eye. So I think, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is probably a good rule to keep from self righteousness. Besides the fact that a wounded spirit is almost impossible to rectify. "Judge not that ye be not judged" because the way we judge others God will judge us. Romans 14:4 Who art though that judgest another mans servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea he shall be held up; For God is able to make him stand.
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