The Sin of Self-Righteousness

I used to have a pet peeve. It was people who gossiped about other people; more specifically Christians who gossiped about other people. It just bugged me to hear Christians talk about how we are suppose to walk in love and then hear those same Christians talking about people in a very unloving way behind their back. I didn’t get it. But surprisingly I am not writing this blog post to talk about those Christians and how they need to straighten out. Why? Well, God straightened me out on this matter a good number of years ago.

Even though I didn’t like to hear people gossip about other people, I usually didn’t say anything to anyone about it when I encountered this, but one day, about 5 years ago, I couldn’t take it any longer and finally sat down and had a conversation with my husband about this.

I asked him to give me advice and told him how I seemed to have zero tolerance for gossipers. I told him how I just wanted to shun them like the plague and never talk to them again. My heart was getting hard toward Christians who talked bad about other people and I was definitely at the point of needing HELP.

As happens so often with my quiet but very wise husband, he listened to my dilemma and then said one thing in a very calm manner that helped me see the light. He said, “Gossiping is just a weakness the same as you and I have weaknesses.” It hit me like a ton of bricks but in a good way. I saw immediately that I had been self-righteous in this area because it’s not a weakness for me.

Now, I am certainly not saying that I have never gossiped about anyone before, but I do not make a habit of it. My friends can count on me to say to their face what I need to say which eliminates the need to talk about them behind their back.

My closest friends are people who are free to be honest with me and people with whom I feel I am free be honest with and I love it this way!

I do think you are wise to keep friends who do not gossip about others though, because the truth is, if a person gossips about others to you, it is highly likely that they will gossip about you to others.

That was my deal. I just felt and still feel like I can’t completely trust those kinds of people. But it was my heart attitude that God was after. He was after that spirit of self-righteousness that had me comparing myself with others in this particular area.

This was one of those defining moments in my life where I realized that I was the one who wasn’t walking in love with others by being annoyed with them because I felt they weren’t walking in love. I wasn’t living out of my true identity!

Now, let me clarify something. I do realize there are times we have to bring issues up in a counseling session or with an accountability partner or a manager may have to talk with their supervisor about one of their employees, but there is still a way that these conversations can be handled.

For those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we are in Christ which means we walk in love. This is our true identity. We are not the type of people who put other people down or make them look bad. Instead, we carry a sense of caution and humility when discussing others, keeping in mind what Steve so lovingly brought to my attention – that in the natural, we all have weaknesses.

The self-righteous Pharisees were the only group of people that Jesus had a problem with and it was simply because they came across as holier-than-thou. Because of the heart change that God’s grace has made in me, I don’t want to come across like that to people outwardly, nor do I want to have a holier-than-thou attitude going on secretly in my heart.

I could be wrong, but I think it is pretty much impossible for us to have a judgmental attitude toward someone else without having first compared ourself to that person. That’s what I was doing. I was comparing myself, as a non-gossiper, to gossipers.

Check out this story about the Pharisee and the tax collector and then I’m going to insert myself into the story.

Luke 18:9-14

Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector

9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

13 But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (NLT)

Now, let me take these verses and stick my own scenario in here. I could say, Two women went to the park. One was a non-gossiper and one was a gossiper. The non-gossiper stood by herself and prayed this prayer:I thank you God that I am not a gossiper like other Christians. For I don’t slander people, talk about them behind their back or steal their good reputation. I’m certainly not like that gossiper over there. I am honest with people and up front with them.’

But the gossiper stood at a distance and dared not lift her eyes to heaven as she prayed. Instead she stood there feeling sorry for her words, saying, ‘oh God be merciful to me, for I am a gossiper.’

Oh my, does this shed some light on the subject or what? The non-gossiper (Pharisee’s) heart was filthy even though her outward actions were good. Do you know why? Because she was relying on her own good works to be righteous. But in reality, this is impossible. Take a look:

Romans 3:20 

For by the merit of observing the law no one earns the status of being declared righteous before God, for it is the law that fully exposes and unmasks the reality of sin. – (TPT)

And here again is verse 14.

14 “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

If you want to do a little project, you could take this same story of the Pharisee and the tax collector and stick in there an area of your own where you are currently struggling with self-righteousness. It really helped me to do this. It opened up my eyes even more as I wrote out this parable, sticking myself in there.

But the great news is, I didn’t have one moment of guilt or condemnation over this issue because now I do know where my righteousness comes from. Take a look:

Romans 4:3 

For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” (NLT)

 and this…

2 Corinthians 5:21 

For God made the only One who did not know sin to become sin for us, so that we who did not know righteousness might become the righteousness of God through our union with Him. (TPT)

In fact, it is precisely because of knowing that there is now no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1) that we are able to receive gladly whatever correction God brings into our life and walk in His power to make those adjustments.

Those people – and I was one of them for a very long time – who constantly live under guilt and condemnation already feel so bad about themselves that they cannot take correction or even direction very well from God or other people in authority over them. Why? Because they already feel so bad about themselves that being corrected makes them feel even worse. In their mind, it’s just too painful for them to bear. (even though condemnation or making a person feel bad is not at all God’s intent when He corrects His children).

Don’t Go On An Introspective Sin Hunt

In writing this blog post I want to be careful not to throw you into an introspective sin hunt so let me say that I am 100% convinced that we need to be Jesus-conscious and righteousness-conscious as opposed to sin-conscious and self-conscious. This mindset will cause us to keep an open heart toward God in the area of our love walk.

You see, love is the new commandment that Jesus gave us that totally streamlines our Christianity and makes it simple because when we walk in love we will not gossip or judge those who do. Love will inspire us to be concerned for and pray for people instead of judging them.

I don’t feel like I’m suppose to be getting up each day and measuring myself from daylight until dark. I did that for years and I was constantly turned in on myself, feeling good about myself when I felt I was good and feeling bad about myself when I felt I was bad.

All those years I vacillated back and forth between self-righteousness and self-condemnation and even sometimes self-hatred. I’m so glad I don’t measure myself daily like I used to in order to see how I am doing or to grade myself in order to see if I got a better grade today than yesterday.

I feel so free! Not free to do whatever I want, but free to trust God with my whole life. I trust Him to keep me on the straight and narrow path. I trust that since He said He will put His laws in my mind and write them on my heart, The Holy Spirit living in me will bring up anything that needs to be brought to my attention and remind me of my true identity in Christ Jesus.

All those years that I was focused on my behavior – am I being good today or bad today? – had I instead been living out of my true identity in Christ by remembering, “I am good in Jesus. I am righteous in Jesus. I am acceptable in Jesus. I am qualified in Jesus,” my life would have been so different because right believing always leads to right living!

I have experienced much more spiritual growth living this way than I ever did measuring myself all those years. I don’t say this to brag. How could I even think about bragging when I tried to change in so many areas on my own for years and didn’t succeed until I started relying on Christ in me? It’s Him, It’s Him. It’s all about Him!

I hope this encourages you because the devil just loves it when we keep our eyes off of Jesus and on ourselves. He loves it because he knows this is not where freedom will be found.

My husband Steve said it well when we were talking about this blog post. He said, “What I do is simply keep my focus on my relationship with Jesus, knowing that as I do I will be changed from glory to glory! (see 2 Corinthians 3:18)

To some people, this is too simple. They don’t believe we can be changed by merely beholding Jesus. That is incorrect, though. In reality, it’s the only way I ever started seeing genuine, lasting change in my life.

Again, it’s all about Jesus! I love saying that!

There are many different ways in which we may see the need for an adjustment in our life. Sometimes we will see the need for change while reading the Bible. We may see that what we are reading is not what is happening in our own lives.

Other times God will make something clear to us during our prayer time or it may come just like this revelation did with me where I was getting unhappy enough in this area that I sought counsel from my husband on the issue.

Another way God brings things to our attention is through other friends, accountability partners or through people in authority over us and as long as they are not trying to control and manipulate us, we should listen, be teachable and be willing to take what they say to God in prayer.

We don’t have to be afraid of those times when God shows us adjustments needed because He loves us and He only wants the best for us!

Let’s see self-righteousness for what it is – a sin. The good news is, when you live under grace, you don’t want to sin!

I don’t want to be a gossiper and I also don’t want to be a self-righteous person who judges those who have weaknesses in areas where I am strong. I always want to remember that any good that I ever do is only because of God’s grace and not because I am great.

I want to be a Jesus-follower and a person who allows God to bring the adjustments into my life that are needed for me to bring Him the most glory! This life really is all about Jesus! It’s not about what everybody is doing to us, how we feel about everything, what we think about everything or even what we want.

Don’t misunderstand me, God cares about every little thing that concerns us and I believe He wants His children to be blessed, but the truth is, the freedom we seek will not be found when we are self-absorbed but can only be found in Him.

Acts 17:28a says, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.”

I’m thrilled to report that God has indeed changed me in this area by His grace and caused me to believe so deeply in the power of prayer that when someone does something that could potentially annoy me now, I immediately go to God and pray for that person instead of judging them.

Now, of course I’m not going to claim to be perfect in this area, but even in times when I start heading in a self-righteous direction, my awesome Helper, the Holy Spirit, gently reminds me not to judge, but to pray.

When God changes us by His grace He does a work so deep and thorough in our heart that it transforms the way we respond to people and circumstances. God’s grace changes us from the inside out, but we have to receive His grace for that to happen.

So I encourage you to receive, receive, receive from Jesus, today… and everyday!

If you have not yet made Jesus your Savior and received the wonderful joy that His finished work on the cross has provided for you to live in, please visit my page here titled Jesus In The Driver’s Seat. On this page I explain the good news of the gospel and you will have the opportunity to pray a prayer of salvation, making Jesus your Savior! Jesus loves you and His arms are wide open!

Sandra McCollom

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