11 Characteristics of the Self-Righteous

Self-righteousness is rampant in our churches. Pews are packed every week with Pharisees, who think they are doing everything right. Scripture, however, paints a woefully different picture. Far from thinking, we have arrived or that we are superior to others, we should see a need for and dependence on the righteousness of Christ.

Instead of raising our spiritual noses at those struggling with sin, we should humbly bow before the Savior knowing we too are sinners saved by God’s grace. Instead of thinking of ourselves as self-righteous, we should thank and praise God for sending His Son to die for our sin.

Even though we should humble ourselves before our Savior, we often don’t. We have a tendency to act like we are the ones who make ourselves righteous by our own efforts, instead of relying on Christ’s work. When we rely on our own efforts we acting self-righteous. We can fall into self-righteousness without even knowing it.

In an effort to keep us out of the trap and create self-awareness here are 11 characteristics of the self-righteous adapted from Paul Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling.

11 Characteristics of The Self-Righteous

1. They do not see their walk with God as a community project.

2. They do not work well with others.

3. They consistently believe they are right and know best.

4. They are resistant to change.

5. They do not respond well when reminded they need to change.

6. They do not desire others exhortation or admonition, even getting angry at times.

7. They are not patient with those who mess up, struggle with sin or have lost their way.

8. They do not deal well with opposition or accusations.

9. They will consistently wonder why God has singled them out for difficulty.

10. They do not see a need to admit or confess their sin.

11. They consistently point out the sin of others with an air of superiority.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do your actions or attitudes reflect any of these characteristics?


Characteristics in post adapted from Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 73-74.


30 thoughts on “11 Characteristics of the Self-Righteous

  1. Self-righteous…or narcissist? I’m currently reading Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie” and, as I went through your list, I saw many similarities between your list and narcissistic behavior. Peck points out in a later chapter (haven’t got there yet) that many narcissistic people gravitate towards church to improve their public persona. Just a thought.

    1. Don,
      I think that is a good observation. Self-righteous people often want the praise of others. They want others to look at them as great. The Pharisees fasting and praying is a great example.

      What is the name of the book? Would you recommend it for the reading list?

      Casey Lewis

    2. Lynn

      That’s a wonderful observation. I believe we have all had some self righteous and narcissistic behaviors at one time in our lives. This article makes for a great self check list.

  2. The point about our Christian walk as a community project is interesting and important. It is one of those theological truths that is so difficult to remember and work out. I often rush through life failing to engage in the lives of others and pridefully portraying only my best side. Perhaps this topic could be the subject of a longer post from you. I would be especially interested to see what directly says about it.

    1. Dustin,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree that walking in community with others is difficult. I too often fail to engage others I know and at times puff myself up as if I don’t have any sin. As I have been reading Dangerous Calling by Tripp lately, I am reminded of the importance of community and confessing sin, especially for a pastor, since it is easy to seclude yourself.

      Church culture for both the pastor and the congregation needs to work toward creating meaningful community. I will see if I can come up with a post on community in the near future.

      Casey Lewis

      1. Antony Tickle

        We need to test the self righteous when they want everything done for them because they say they’re too busy. Step back and let their lack of sincere action speak for its self. You are not a slave…. My wife expects me to do all the cooking because she says her life is too busy. I can’t remember the last time she did anything for me. She tells me I should be more involved in the Church like her 3 days a week schedule. I acknowledge Jesus all ways but I won’t let that make me too busy too help others and enjoy my life. Her Facebook is blinding our relationship because it’s so important to be popular? It doesn’t leave
        much time for us to do things together. I asked her for help and she said “I do my part”
        If you are an over zeleoust self righteous feminist please fisegard this message. I don’t like gender being used as leverage.

        1. If you last statement is true, then you need to nullify the one right behind it. If you can’t accept your wife on her own terms, you’re in for a much more rude awakening than you seem to be aware of. There’s a very old episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when Edie leaves Lou Grant for good. Perhaps you could seek it out on YouTube, watch it and give it some serious thought.

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  6. Casey, one of the things I tell people about myself is that I used to be the “most self-righteous son-of-a-gun you’d ever meet.” Nearly all of the points in your post described my self-perception to a tee. I thank God for allowing me to hit rock bottom, for allowing me to recognize my own sinfulness, and for then showing me what grace is all about.

    I trust you won’t mind me reblogging this on my site. God bless you, brother.

  7. kally widd

    My husband is a lot of these. In the 13.5 years I’ve been married to him, I can only think of one time that he actually seemed remotely “broken” over something he had done. Generally, if any apology comes, it is a mechanical “sorry I caused you a problem” rather than actually naming what he did and taking responsibility and asking for forgiveness. There is rarely any tenderness or compassion. There has never been a “let’s get on our knees and pray about this.” It’s scary to me. I cannot put myself in his shoes. I feel like emotionally, I am married to a young boy, not a man. I often get the feeling that being “right” is the most important thing when there are challenges between us. My heart or my pain is perceived as my wronging him….he feels no responsibility for how he leaves me feeling.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I am sorry your husband is not caring for you emotionally. I would suggest seeking counsel from your pastor or a Christian counselor in the area. As well as pray. The Lord has the power to change hearts.

      I pray God works in your marriage, softening the heart of your husband to your emotional needs.

  8. Devin

    What about when Jesus Says If you love me, keep my commandments? It’s hard to not get a righteous mindset about yourself when you are wali in getting as he walked. READ 1 JOHN 1-5. He wants us to not sin. To Sin is the transgression of the law. Doesn’t make you self righteous by following his ways, it just makes you more aware of others sins around you because that’s the way you once were. We just aren’t supposed to judget because we are not perfectly sinless. There’s sin that leads to death and sin that doesn’t. Sin that doesn’t is one who repents and turns from their sins. These characteristics sound more as the Pharisees who judged but we’re not keeping the commandments themselves. He calls sinners to repentance. We aren’t supposed to stay sinners. With Acceptance, there needs to be a change of actions. Righteousness. His righteousness=His Law. Not our own, just to be clear 👍 what do you think?

    1. Certainly, these are directed at those with a Pharisaical mindset. But they are also directed at those who don’t see Christianity as a community project. There are those who think they “have it” and aren’t interested in others speaking into their life. That mindset, however, isn’t what we are called to. Instead, we are called into a deep relationship not only with God but with other believers as well.

      Yes, when things are going well, we may have a tendency to gloat. We, however, must fight against that tendency. Pride in our righteous achievements misses the point that God not only saves but sanctifies. While it we should notice a progression away from sin in our lives, we must remember it’s not due to our own bare-knuckled effort, but the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

    2. Success

      You played out exactly whats on mind, i felt guilty and confused at the same time.
      As a christian shouldnt i be aware and consciousely following so i wont sin?
      Avoiding people and places that will lure me back into my oldlife isnt wrong, right?
      Am so confused

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