What’s another consequence of self-righteousness? We become judgmental. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes: “Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.” In other words, when we become self-righteous, that is, trust in our own goodness, we wonder why those who are not as good as us act the way they do.
Self-righteousness produces an attitude of pride instead of humility. It results in a life of condemning others as those who are self-righteous are quick to look at the sin of others before their own. The self-righteous tend to look down on others who have not attained their level of spiritual maturity.
Self-righteousness results in what Tim Keller calls “elder-son syndrome.” In the story of the lost sons in Luke 15, the older son’s heart towards his younger brother is hardened. And when his father forgives his younger brother for leaving home and wasting his portion of the family money, this older son becomes even more angry.
Why such anger? Because his self-righteousness has clouded his vision. His self-righteousness led him to feeling superior to his younger brother, and when one feels superior, it’s hard to forgive.
Do you see the dangers of self-righteousness? Thinking that we are ok, we become blind to our need for God’s grace and thus, we become ungrateful to God and judgmental towards others. Jesus’ commands to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:37-38) are broken. And what’s even more detrimental, the self-righteous who break such commands are not even aware of their disobedience.
So what is to be done? Is there a cure for self-righteousness? Of course there is. The writer of Hebrews writes that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). God’s word convicts and kills in order to bring healing and life. It exposes self-righteousness in order to give true righteousness from God (2 Cor. 5:21).
But we must be careful, however, not to become self-righteous against self-righteousness. Tim Keller profoundly writes:
It’s simple: we can become self-righteous against those who are self-righteous. Many younger evangelicals today are reacting to their parents’ conservative, buttoned-down, rule-keeping flavor of “older brother religion” with a type of liberal, untucked, rule-breaking flavor of “younger brother irreligion” which screams, ”That’s right, I know I don’t have it all together and you think you do; I know I’m not good and you think you are good. That makes me better than you.” See the irony? In other words, they’re proud that they’re not self-righteous!
As I think about self-righteousness and how none of us are exempt from it, I am reminded of Paul’s struggle with sin as he writes, For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. This led Paul to see himself as “wretched” and to ask, Who will deliver me from this body of death? His answer? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15, 24-25).
Oh how we need saving from self-righteousness! And praise God that we have one!