What Does the Bible Say about Self-Righteousness?

We have to accept that we are merely humans, and we need God to lead us to the path of righteousness. It is not our own mind or being that makes us holy, but it is only God and God alone.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 23, 2022
What Does the Bible Say about Self-Righteousness?

Definition of Self-Righteous

Merriam-Webster: "Convinced of one's own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrow-mindedly moralistic."

Cambridge Dictionary: "Believing that your ideas and behavior are morally better than those of other people."

Dictionary.com: "Confident of one's own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others."

Why Christians Should Avoid Self-Righteousness

Self-righteousness has often been highlighted in the Bible as something Christians should avoid. These are a person’s characteristics that are usually found to believe that they are superior to most, if not all, people.

This is a person who has a superiority complex and believes that they are better than everyone else. The term “holier than thou” is often used to exemplify such character, which also means “marked by an air of superior piety or morality,” according to the Webster Dictionary.

What does the Bible tell us about being self-righteous? How can we avoid such a plague in our minds?

Self-Righteous Meaning in the Bible

To fully understand what the Bible tells us about self-righteousness, let us first learn about some examples of people in the Bible. They displayed self-righteousness and how it ultimately led them away from God and His will.

The first example is King Solomon. Although the Wisdom of Solomon was world-renowned, Solomon had one downfall. He had too many wives, many who were from other countries and therefore had their own gods and demanded proper worship from Solomon. This ultimately went against God’s commands. In 1 Kings 11, we see this to its full extent:

The Lord did not want the Israelites to worship foreign gods, so he had warned them not to marry anyone who was not from Israel… As Solomon got older, some of his wives led him to worship their gods. He wasn’t like his father David, who had worshiped only the Lord God. Solomon also worshiped Astarte the goddess of Sidon, and Milcom the disgusting god of Ammon. Solomon’s father had obeyed the Lord with all his heart, but Solomon disobeyed and did what the Lord hated. Solomon built shrines on a hill east of Jerusalem to worship Chemosh the disgusting god of Moab, and Molech the disgusting god of Ammon. In fact, he built a shrine for each of his foreign wives, so all of them could burn incense and offer sacrifices to their own gods.

The second example is the Prophet Jonah. Jonah was at the top of his game as Israel’s prophet. But when God called him to the unthinkable, Jonah thought he could run and hide from the Creator of the Universe.

Even after everything he went through (remember the fish), he was surprised that the Ninevites repented and turned to the Lord. He was so upset that God did not spite such a wicked people, that God showed them mercy and grace. This can be seen in Jonah 1:1-3,

One day the Lord spoke to Jonah son of Amittai. He said, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and speak out against it; I am aware of how wicked its people are.” Jonah, however, set out in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord. He went to Joppa, where he found a ship about to go to Spain. He paid his fare and went aboard with the crew to sail to Spain, where he would be away from the Lord.

The third example is the Sanhedrin. These were the people who gave false evidence against Jesus because they were too proud to accept that they had faults and were not representing the Lord their God as they were called, as stated in Matthew 26:57-67,

“Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.” 

The fifth example is the Pharisees, one of the most famous examples of a self-righteous people. Jesus always made an example of self-righteousness, and one of the most renowned parables He told was about the Pharisees, as stated in Luke 18:10-14,

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people —robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And the last and one of the best examples of relying on self-righteousness is the Apostle Peter. Who could forget Peter’s assurance to Jesus that He would never betray Him only to betray Him three times in a row, as stated in Luke 22:58-62,

But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

How Do We Humble Ourselves?

As James 4:10 states, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” This is the most authentic way to remember that we are not better than anyone else. We must constantly look at ourselves with humility so that we don’t think we are better than those around us. We must strive and work in prayer to see ourselves accurately as the fallen sinners we are by nature, in need of Christ, the Redeemer of mankind.

We have to accept that we make mistakes and stumble. This was the mistake of Sanhedrin and Peter. They did not accept that they could stumble, and ultimately that was their downfall, but the truth is that they could indeed stumble and have faults.

We must accept that we are merely humans and need God to lead us to the path of righteousness. It is not our own mind or being that makes us holy, but only God and God alone will defend us from the sins of this world.

Conclusion on Self-Righteousness

We must remember that God made us in His image and likeness. Each one of us is God-made, and no one is inferior to the other. We are inferior to God. Because of this, He does not play favorites.

Each and every one of us is unique in the eyes of God, and that is why we should never look down on others; instead, look at ourselves and contemplate if we are worthy of God’s love.

For further reading:

Does Pride Really Go Before the Fall? (Proverbs 16:18)

What Makes Pride a Sin?

What Does the Bible Say about Haughty Eyes?

Why Is Humility Seen as Weakness?

What Is the Difference Between Independence and Pride?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Robert Daly

Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.


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