Self-righteousness is a feeling or display of (usually smug) moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than either those of the average person or of individuals with differing views, actions, or affiliations. (via Wikipedia)
Jesus had a real problem with the people of His day that were self-righteous.
Jesus Calls Out the Self-Righteous
Jesus ate, drank and hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He defended a woman who was living a “sinful life” in Luke 7:37. He showed mercy to a woman caught in adultery. He took pity on lepers and the infirm. There are numerous stories in the Bible that demonstrate the compassion, forgiveness and kindness of Jesus toward all sorts of people.
However, He could also preach some fire and brimstone to those that needed it. He always seemed to come down hardest on people who thought too highly of themselves. That’s why the last of the 12 Essential Ways to Copy Jesus is to avoid self-righteousness.
Here’s what Jesus had to say to a bunch of smug religious folks:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:25-28 NIV
We are ALL sinners (Rom 3:23). Everyone fails to live up to God’s standard. Jesus welcomed those that recognized they were corrupt and immoral (whew!). As the Parable of the Prodigal Son demonstrates, God is eager to welcome every messed up soul that wants to come home.
When you see and admit your mistakes, there’s hope for you. This is exactly where Jesus wants you to be.
But, woe to you, if you are arrogantly pleased with yourself. Woe to you, if you think your way, your understanding, your denomination is morally superior. Woe to you, if you look down on others because they aren’t as “good” as you are.
Self-Righteousness Is Useless and Hurtful
Here’s what Jesus had to say about this sort of attitude:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24 NIV
Doing the right thing is important, but not at the expense of love. Without love, we are only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. We annoy and repel.
Self-righteousness leads to hard-heartedness towards others. We attract others to Jesus when we show mercy, compassion and kindness. God hates sin, but He loves every last sinner. There is simply no room for smug religion in our mission to reach others for Christ. Let’s copy Jesus and avoid self-righteousness.