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?

Resources

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

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Judge Not is Not a Shield to Hide Behind

It is not uncommon to hear people say:

Aren’t we all sinners? What gives you the right to make moral judgments about someone else? Isn’t that God’s job?” “Do not judge, or you to will be judged.”

A Real Life Example

I posted an article one time on Facebook that questioned homosexuality. One comment I received said, “Aren’t you a Christian? I thought Christians were not supposed to judge others.” After which, my friend, or used to be friend, de-friended me.

Some people who make these claims know where this verse is found, and other do not, but both groups are using this verse out of context. Incase you did not know, the verse is found in Matthew 7:1.

Why is this verse commonly used, or might I say, misused?

People desire to shield their sin. They want to keep others at bay. They desire to have “unrestrained moral freedom, autonomy, and independence” [1]. In short, they don’t want anyone to question their behavior, thoughts, or ideals.

What Does This Verse Really Mean?

Even though people use this verse to dissuade others from judging their behavior, the verse actually does not mean we cannot ever judge another person. Let’s look at this verse in context, and you will see what I mean.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

After reading this verse in context, it should be apparent that what Jesus is addressing here is not all judgment, but hypocrisy. He was after the Pharisees who judged others without first dealing with their own sin.

In these verses, we see first, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by telling them to “Judge not.” Then, He tells them “the measuring stick they used to measure the lives of others will be the same measuring stick held up against their lives by God Himself” [2]. After which, we are told that the Pharisees sin is greater than the sin of those they were judging. They had a log in their eye, which is by far greater than a speck.

The key to these set of verses comes in verse 5 when Jesus tells them to remove the log in their eye first before dealing with the speck in their brother’s eye.

Essentially, Jesus is giving them two commandments:

  1. Stop judging others in a hypocritical fashion.
  2. Get the sin out of your own life [3].

So then, Jesus is not telling us that we cannot judge others. Rather, He is telling us that we are not to be hypocritical. We are not to judge others, when there are massive sins in our lives that we are not willing to deal with.

It is like a father chastising his daughter for her suggestive and scandalous dress, then after she leaves, he looks at pornography. His actions are hypocritical. He is not dealing with his own sin before dealing with the sin of his daughter.

Can We Judge?

The answer is yes. In fact, it is our duty to judge others, so that they will grow in their Christian life. We are to spur one another on to growth and godliness, and we are to keep each other accountable. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

In order to stir one another up and hold them accountable, we have to look into people’s lives and make judgments about how they are living.

However, if we are not humbly submitting our own lives to the Word of God for review, and if we are not willing to allow others to help us in that task, then we are not to judge others. If we are examining our own lives, and we are dealing with our own sins, living a life of genuine repentance, then we can judge others.

So then, we can judge others, but not before we deal with the sin in our own lives.

The Proper Way to Judge

When we judge others, we must do it in a loving way. We are not judging them in order to make ourselves look better. We don’t come at them from a morally superior position. No, we approach them in love, humbly recognizing we are all sinners, we have all fallen short of God’s glory, and we all need Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If we approach people from that position, then we have a right, neigh a duty, to speak into their lives, so that we may wage war on the flesh together.

Conclusion

Jesus did not say these words, in order to keep us from ever making any moral judgments about others. Nor is He giving us this verse so we can shield our own sin from review. Rather, He is attacking the Pharisees, who were hypocrites because they did not deal with the massive amount of sin in their lives (log) before passing judgment on others, whose sin was not as great (speck). So then, when we look at this verse in context, we see that we can judge others, as long as we are first judging ourselves, and as long as we are approaching them in a loving manner.

Resource

[1] Eric Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 26.
[2] Ibid., 27.
[3] Ibid.

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The Gospel: A Third Way

The parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32 is directed at two types of people. The relativist (younger brother) and the moralist (elder brother).

The Relativist

The Relativist lives how he wants. He does the things he wants to do because he does not believe it is important to follow God’s commands. He does not believe it is necessary to give God His rightful place, which is the Lord of His life. In doing so, he shows he believes he does not need a Savior.

In the parable, the younger brother represents the Relativist. He asks for and receives his inheritance from his father before his father’s death. He turns his inheritance into cash and leaves home to seeks fulfillment and joy in living how he pleases. Even though he thought living his own way would bring him joy, it brought him nothing but despair and enslavement.

The Moralist

While the Relativist does not obey God’s commands, the Moralist strictly seeks to obey God’s commands and please Him. He is at church every time it is open. He reads his Bible everyday, prays, and does a host of other things that look Christian. Even though he does and says all the right things, his heart is not right. He believes his good works earn His salvation and favor with God.

In the parable, the elder brother represents the Moralist. While, he did not ask his father for his inheritance early, turn it into cash, and leave home to seek his own desires, he still seeks to serve himself by staying home and serving his father faithfully.

Even though, his actions looked noble righteous, they did not stem from a righteous heart. He believes he should receive good things for his good works. Notice in the parable the complaint of the elder brother. He believes his father should have given him a young goat to celebrate with his friends because of his dedication in serving him.

Instead of living to glorify God, the Moralist does good, in order to attempt to control God.  Not only does he believe his works earn him salvation and favor with God, but his good works are an attempt to control God.

A Third Way

Jesus tells this parable not only to point out the error of the Pharisees in living like the elder brother, and the enslavement and joylessness that comes from loose living, but also to show us the gospel, which is the third way we can live. In the gospel, we are not accepted based on our works, but by God’s grace, and His grace is not something we can earn. It is something freely given to us.

In the gospel, we do not seek to please ourselves, or we do not obey God, in order to control Him and get our way. Rather we live a righteous life because we have been freed and empowered to do so.

Our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior serves to change our hearts, and with it our desires. Not only are we given a new heart and new desires, but we are empowered through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to live out our righteousness. In other words, we do not perform good works to earn our salvation or favor with God, but we perform good works because we have been freed and empowered to do so.

Conclusion

In this parable, we do not see two ways to live, but rather three. We can live either like the Relativist, the Moralist, or we can rest in the gospel. For it is only in the gospel that we are truly free to worship and serve God, rather than ourselves.