The Subtle Deceit of Self-Righteousness

Deborah Sybil   |   November 23, 2021 

There have been so many times that I have ‘missed’ friends and acquaintances at church meetings and Bible studies. Missed them not for their company but for how useful the message being preached would have been for them! One Sunday morning the preacher was talking about the simplicity of the gospel and I ‘missed’ my friend who generally complicates every bible teaching with ifs and buts. ‘Missed’ a close family friend during a mid-week bible study on forgiveness and another friend during a session on loving your spouse in spite of his/her weaknesses. This became a ritual - I would sit through Sunday morning church services and wonder who would actually need that message.

And then one day something happened. There was a gospel outreach effort by my church and I was a support staff in the organising committee. The hall was filled with people and the preacher was doing an excellent job of keeping the crowd engaged as well as presenting the gospel truth plainly and clearly. My mind ritualistically drifted to thinking of all those who had ‘missed’ the meeting and who would have been benefitted by the message being preached.

My thoughts settled on my neighbour, a self-proclaimed atheist, with whom I have had numerous discussions on God, religion and religious practices. I leaned towards my husband, as we sat in the last row, and said, “How I wish Mr. X was here. This line of thought will help him understand the truth. This is something he needs to hear.”  My husband leaned back and said to me, “Yes, wish Mr. X was here, but do you know why you are here? Because you need it as much as he does. That is why God saw to it that you were here!” And there it was - my misconception shattered by his single statement (again!!!).

I realized that day how I had been ‘missing’ the messages being preached to me. I had been sitting through sermons and Bible studies always thinking about others who should have been there. I presumed that because I was in a healthy Christian environment with good Christian friends doing Christian activities, I did not need to hear the same messages again. We do that don’t we? We believe that because we know God, we don’t actually need Him! At least I did.

And this is what the church in Laodicea did too. (Revelation 3:14-22) Laodicea was known for its riches (gold in particular), for a certain kind of cloth (black wool specifically) and for an eye ointment. People from all over the world came to Laodicea for gold, clothes and eye salve. Laodiceans prided themselves in these three things and look at the irony in verse 18 – the Lord asks them to buy exactly the same three things from Him. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

A land known for riches was being asked to buy gold to become rich; a land known for its special wool was being asked to buy clothes to cover their shameful nakedness, and a land known for restoring the vision of many was being asked to buy salve so that they could see.

On that day when my husband burst my bubble, I saw myself as a Laodicean, proud in my circle of Christian friends and activities, proud in my knowledge of God but lacking in understanding the truth of that knowledge. I realized that this was self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness has many faces – considering oneself righteous based on our own interpretation, considering oneself more important and better than others, judging others based on our criteria of righteousness, condemning the sinner, a feeling of superiority over others, feeling spiritually, ethically and morally higher than everyone else, judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intentions, considering oneself to never be in need of anything anybody may offer (wisdom, advise, food, clothes, gifts or anything), not being able to identify with others and much more.

Self-righteousness is a matter of the heart; it’s a matter of pride. Jesus spoke about self-righteousness through the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 which starts with, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:” Jesus said that the tax collector went home more justified than the Pharisee.

Humbling ourselves before the Lord is the antidote to self-righteousness. Realising that our righteousness is like filthy rags and that true righteousness is a gift of God’s grace is the way out of this sin. Sadly, it is difficult to detect self-righteousness in oneself. It takes someone else or the word of God to reveal to us our self-righteous nature. May we be blessed with family and friends who know when and where to point this out!


Photo by Nikhil kumar on Unsplash

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Deborah Sybil

Deborah loves reading, enjoys cooking and is ready with book/restaurant suggestions for all who ask. She likes travelling and interacting with almost anyone she meets. Nothing interests her as much as the riches of God's word and His work in the present times. She is a professor of Oral Surgery by vocation and lives in Delhi with her husband, Augustine and two adorable sons, Caleb and Bryan.

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One comment on “The Subtle Deceit of Self-Righteousness”

  1. It's so subtle, isn't it? This is something that God has spoken to me about in the past, but even as I was reading this, I was thinking of a couple of people who I thought this applies to ???? Humility is so nuanced and
    it takes conscious, consistent surrender, every single day. And we can never feel like we've ever arrived or mastered humility. Because that in itself could be indicative of pride. Thank you for sharing this.

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