Self-righteous Christians Defined: Is This the Norm?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Self-Righteousness?

Although many who claim to be Christians act as if they are better than everybody else, such a "holier-than-thou" attitude is antithetical to biblical Christianity. Jesus said that we should not practice our righteousness before others to get noticed, and the apostle Paul clearly stated that we should not boast in our own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Rich Deem

Christians seem to like to tell other people how to behave and act as if they never do anything wrong. They also tend to focus only upon a few moral issues - namely abortion and gay marriage - seemingly to the exclusion of more important issues, such as justice and care for the poor. Is this the kind of behavior the Bible commends or are these people acting against what biblical Christianity actually stands for?

What is being self-righteous?

To begin the discussion, it would be good to know what the words "self-righteous" really mean. Here is the definition from the The American Heritage Dictionary1:

self-rightˇeous (sělf'rī'chəs)
adjective
  1. Piously sure of one's own righteousness; moralistic.
  2. Exhibiting pious self-assurance: self-righteous remarks.

So, a self-righteous person is one who acts as if he is morally superior to everyone else.

Righteousness and the Christian

If there is anything that is antithetical to Christianity, it is a person who thinks that they can be righteous by their own good works. The Bible says that all people are sinners and that none can meet God's standard for righteousness.2 Both the Old Testament3 and New Testament4 say that righteousness comes from God alone. Righteousness for human beings is on the basis of faith in God's promises. Accordingly, the Old Testament says that God would send the Messiah as the source through whom righteousness would come to mankind.5 The New Testament says that Jesus of Nazareth is that Messiah and that righteousness comes only through faith in Him.6 So, a person is declared righteous based upon faith in the sacrifice of Jesus.7 The Old Testament even indicates that Abraham was considered righteous because He believed God.8 The New Testament indicates that one does not become righteous by obeying God's law,9 but by the mercy of God through the sacrifice of His Son.10 So, righteousness for a Christian is something that is imputed by God and one can never be "self-righteous."

Acting better than others

Since righteousness is not from what we do, but the result of what God has done for us,11 the Christian should never act morally superior to other people. Paul tells that we should never boast "except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."12 Jesus said that we should not act like we are morally superior to be noticed by others, and even indicated that doing such behavior would remove one's reward in heaven:

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

Ultimately, we do not attain righteousness until we die and are rewarded with righteousness in heaven.13

Telling others what to do

Is the Bible Intolerant? Sexist? Oppressive? Homophobic? Outdated? Irrelevant?Even though we cannot attain the righteousness of God through our own behavior, Christians are commanded to live godly lives.14 It is all fine and well that religious people want to live their lives with their own version of morality. However, why do Christians insist on telling others how they should live? It turns out that the Bible actually tells believers (both Jews and Christians) to warn others if their behavior does not meet God's standards.15 If we fail to warn the wicked, God will require their blood by our hands.16 However, if the wicked person turns from their sin, then even the evil they have committed in the past will be forgiven and forgotten by God.17 So, a Christian's motivation for telling others how they should behave is not one of self-righteousness, but one of concern for the fate of the other person's soul.

Conclusion Top of page

Christians who act as if they are better than everyone else are certainly not living by the creeds of Christianity, and may not even be Christians at all. Christianity says that all people are sinners, and none can be righteous on the basis of their own behavior. Jesus said that we should not act like we are better than others just to get noticed. Such a "holier-than-thou" attitude is strongly condemned in the Bible. When Christians tell others that their behavior does not meet God's standards, it is not to try to be superior, but rather to warn them of the peril to their soul in light of their actions.



References Top of page

  1. self-righteous. (n.d.). The American HeritageŽ Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved November 06, 2007, from Dictionary.com.
  2. The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)
    For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
    for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
    as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;" (Romans 3:10)
  3. "They will say of Me, 'Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.' Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. (Isaiah 45:24)
    "I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel. (Isaiah 46:13)
    "My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, And My arms will judge the peoples; The coastlands will wait for Me, And for My arm they will wait expectantly. (Isaiah 51:5)
    "Lift up your eyes to the sky, Then look to the earth beneath; For the sky will vanish like smoke, And the earth will wear out like a garment And its inhabitants will die in like manner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not wane. (Isaiah 51:6)
    "For the moth will eat them like a garment, And the grub will eat them like wool. But My righteousness will be forever, And My salvation to all generations." (Isaiah 51:8)
  4. and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Romans 6:13)
    Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. (Galatians 3:21)
    For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)
    and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:24)
    for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)
    Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: (2 Peter 1:1)
    For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:3)
  5. And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. (Isaiah 59:16-17)
    The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name Which the mouth of the LORD will designate. (Isaiah 62:2)
    "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
    'In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 'In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the LORD is our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 33:15-16)
    "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)
  6. even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:22)
    whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; (Romans 3:25)
    for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)
    For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Romans 5:17-18)
    so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
    But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30)
    "YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU WITH THE OIL OF GLADNESS ABOVE YOUR COMPANIONS." (Hebrews 1:9)
  7. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." (Romans 1:17)
    For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Romans 4:3)
    But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, (Romans 4:5)
    just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: (Romans 4:6)
    Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Romans 4:9)
    and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, (Romans 4:11)
    For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)
    If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10)
    What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; (Romans 9:30)
    having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)
    For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. (Galatians 5:5)
    By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
  8. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  9. Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
  10. but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. (Romans 9:31)
    For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)
    For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. (Romans 10:5)
    But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), (Romans 10:6)
    for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:10)
    "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." (Galatians 2:21)
    Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. (Galatians 3:21)
    and 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, (Philippians 3:9)
  11. He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)
    and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
  12. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  13. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
  14. in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
    But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, (Hebrews 12:22-23)
    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:12-13)
  15. First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
    for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)
    Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
  16. "Whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them so that they may not be guilty before the LORD, and wrath may not come on you and your brethren. Thus you shall do and you will not be guilty. (2 Chronicles 19:10)
  17. "When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18)
  18. "But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. "All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. (Ezekiel 18:21-22)

http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/self-righteous_christians.html
Last Modified March 29, 2013

 

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