Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14.
The problem with self-righteousness is that it makes us believe we are righteous. We arrogantly put ourselves in the position of God bestowing judgment on whomever we see fit. That’s a big problem. As you read this about being self-righteous, you’re probably thinking of other people. But sometimes the best place to look for self-righteousness is in the mirror.
Self-righteousness is not a good look for anybody. It is “the me in me” and is ugly to God and it is ugly to others. Sometimes self-righteousness leaks out and reveals its ugliness through judgmental thoughts and attitudes toward others. We find ourselves looking down at or being dismissive of others.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the older brother starts an argument with his father. He was angry and, with good cause in his mind. He had a pretty good case against his younger brother. But the real cause of the argument was resentment. He tells his father, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29). His angry confession reveals that he is bitter. He mentions that he’d never had a party thrown in his honor. He felt that he was owed a party and the respect and accolades that come with it.
Self-righteousness can impair our ability to find joy in the redemption of others. When I’m being self-righteous, I’m far better at looking at the speck in someone else’s eye than the plank in my own. Reading the parable of the prodigal son can be pretty convicting because it is easy to see ourselves as the older brother who was bitter rather than forgiving his brother and rejoicing in his return.
Our goal is to become holy without becoming “holier than thou.” We do that by actually becoming holy. Of all the goals we have for our life, the most important is to pursue holiness because it is God’s goal for our life. If we truly love God, we will commit to making holiness the primary purpose of our life. It is impossible to become both holy and holier-than-thou. To grow in one is to atrophy in the other.
As believers, we are to be holy not because we want to be loved by God but because we are already loved in Christ. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). And the best way to show that we love God is by seeking to become holy because He is holy.
- What are some ways pride shows up in your life? When it comes to pride, how much is too much?
- There is a difference between confidence and pride. Under what circumstances do you tend toward pride? Have there been times where you have experienced humble confidence?