Why Self-Righteousness Is a Big Spiritual Problem

God's grace applies to all of us, which means we should avoid sizing up someone else’s spiritual health.

Posted in , Jun 26, 2019

Be humble

Even people of faith, who have the best spiritual intentions and habits, can get caught up in self-righteousness. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-righteousness is defined as: “convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others...” When we think of ourselves as being more spiritual and more righteous than others because of our beliefs and religious practices, we must remember that God see us as all the same. 

I like to believe that most people’s desires and intentions are good, that they want to draw closer to God and practice their spiritual disciplines to grow in their faith. But even people of faith with good intentions get into trouble when comparing their spiritual health with that of someone else. 

This can cause us to think less of people whose lifestyle and faith traditions are different from our own. The late author Rachel Held Evans wrote, “The easiest way to make oneself righteous is to make someone else a sinner.” Whether we admit it or not, this is something with which we all struggle. 

When we look down spiritually on others because we think more highly of ourselves. We forget “There for the grace of God go I.” Jesus addresses the problem of self-righteousness through the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this parable to those who were “confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” 

The Pharisees were devoted to following the law and traditions. The tax collectors were viewed as unclean traitors who worked for the oppressive Roman Empire. In the parable, two men went to the temple to pray. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

We are told that it was the tax collector who went home justified. Jesus added, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

Religious and spiritual disciplines are great practices that can draw us closer to God, but when they distance us from others and lead us to believe in our self-righteousness, we have gotten it wrong. It is by grace alone that we are made righteous; a gift granted to each and every one of us.

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