Self-righteous is one of those words that everyone in our culture seems to acknowledge as one that labels the worst of human qualities. This is especially true in the Evangelical Christian community. We want to avoid it like the plague. While we seem to abhor it, I believe we have learned to hate an emotional attitude rather than a way of life.
While self-righteousness may be displayed through an arrogant and proud attitude, it is not the substance of it. It is possible, and I submit quite prevalent, that a person who is living in a self-righteous way can appear to be humble. Humbleness, is in fact, one of the goals of a self-righteous person.
Self-righteousness is not an attitude but a way of living. It is to live life with the goal of self-improvement. For a Christian, this would mean that their goal is to improve themselves in order to be more pleasing to God. Christians have used the word sanctification to describe their pursuit of pleasing God.
At the heart of all these pursuits is the goal to become more righteous, more acceptable and more pleasing. These pursuits are also characterized by the efforts of the person. Thus we have the pursuit of self to be more righteous- get it- self-righteousness.
The typical Evangelical understanding about how to live life is to figure out what is right and wrong and then to do what is right. Wasn't this the essence of the very first temptation presented by Satan? Satan told Eve that she could know the difference between right and wrong. This ability to know implies that they could choose to do what is right. They were deceived into thinking they could be "right" on their own. They could be like God and be right! I believe that we are actually promoting the very sin that brought about the fall of man. Self-righteousness is to determine for ourselves what is right and then to do it.
It is a good thing to want to be pleasing to others and to God. Within all of us is a craving within our hearts to be acceptable. We desperately seek a rock solid relationship of acceptance. The desire to please God is also a fruit of God's life in a person. Let us not confuse the desire to please God with a life that is lived trying to please Him.
We cannot become acceptable in our own right. This is partly what makes self-righteousness so atrocious. We have created for ourselves a goal, which can never be met. This pursuit of self-righteousness is what empowers Satan to be the "accuser of the brethren".
The teaching and pursuit of self-righteousness in the church is the explanation for most of the apathy and lack of joy among Christians. We have created a toxic environment where standards are raised and presumed to be followed. Some people leave knowing they are not measuring up. Some pretend they are living right and are miserable. Many are waiting for the "key" that will finally cause them to live holy. Many have tuned out any sense of true spirituality and have ceased to let any truth penetrate. Some are deceived into thinking they are measuring up!
We must stop measuring ourselves by any standard- including the Law. Measuring ourselves by any standard implicitly reveals our pursuit of self-righteousness. Week after week from nearly every pulpit in this country the preachers raise a standard, call their listeners to examine themselves according to it and challenge them to change. This is none other than a call to self-righteousness.
We must settle this issue of righteousness, as did the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. He wrote, that I "may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
There is only one way to deal with this basic of all sins. We must rest from the pursuit of self-righteousness. We must accept the gift of His righteousness. It is finished- everyone in Christ is holy, blameless and fully acceptable to God. In stark contrast to those who think this message would unleash a backlash of sin, I am convinced that if Christians could actually embrace Christ's righteousness alone, we would witness a revolution in the Church.
"Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:1-4
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