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Surviving Self-righteous Christians

Carola is a Christian writer and author of several books. She writes about Christian living, relationships, and other related topics.

Tom and Mary seem to be perfect Christians. They go to church every Sunday and generously pad the offering plate. They study the Bible every day and can spout appropriate verses for any occasion. They spin long eloquent prayers at the public prayer sessions they attend regularly. Their children are respectful and well behaved.

Tom and Mary do their jobs diligently and are honest in all their dealings. If someone needs help moving, they are the first on the doorstep. The way Tom and Mary live their lives showed that they have high moral standards - they don't swear and they dress modestly. Their children are well-behaved and respectful.

They put a sinner like me to shame with their faithfulness and holiness. I try my best to lead a Christian life, but it is hard for me not to feel inferior and ashamed of not being their level. However, I chose to obey the Bible's instructions not to compare myself to others (2 Corinthians 10:2) and struggle to live my life according to Biblical principles. Only God can see what is in men's hearts.

What looks so good on the surface to me is often not so good underneath. Some people may use self-righteousness to cover up their bigotry and prejudice against others.

The Bible reveals an ongoing struggle between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious superstars of their day. The Pharisees' attitude and actions showed several signs that they may be self-righteous and dangerous to my mental health.

Signs That People Are Self-Righteous

Black and white thinking

Self-righteous people see life in a black and white way, and woe betides anyone who tries to interject shades of grey in their worldview. The Pharisees of Jesus' day fit into this category. They rigidly kept their own version of God's law and expected everyone else to do the same. They were very upset when anyone did or said something that did not fit into their concept of right and wrong, such as the disciples breaking their rules by gathering a little snack on the sabbath day (Matthew 12:2). The Pharisees became angry and vicious.

Even Jesus didn't always come up to snuff in the opinion of the Pharisees. The Pharisees accused Jesus of being a demon because He could cast out demons. What chance would a sinner like me have to get their approval? I don't even try - I tend to duck and run from self-righteous people.

Refusing to listen

Self-righteous people only listen to find a break in the conversation where they can interject their opinions. The Pharisees did not pay any attention to what Jesus said and kept pushing their own agenda. They did not care that Jesus was actually helping people. When Jesus did not fall in line with their religious rules, the Pharisees tried to destroy Him.

Pride and arrogance

Self-righteous people are proud and arrogant and love to show off how holy they are to others. The Pharisees made a great show of praying in public, giving a lot of money to the temple, and rigidly following the letter of the law. They were judgmental and quickly corrected anyone who did not conform to their rigid standards - even Jesus himself.

People who are self-righteous are so proud that they are unable to admit they are wrong about anything. Their arrogance blinds them to things that they need to change. They hated Jesus in part because Jesus pointed out their sins and weaknesses.

A lack of empathy

When self-righteous people are bent on carrying out their own agenda, they don't care about others. They want to feel right, justified, and in control. Self-righteousness is a kind of self-love, not a love of God or others.

A judgemental and condemning attitude

People who have rigid ideas of what they think is right and wrong can be judgmental and condemn others. Since the Pharisees saw themselves as being right, they harshly judged anyone who stepped out of line. One of the first things they asked Jesus was why he ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11).

The Pharisees judged the disciples for not fasting (Matthew 9:14). The next thing we see happening is the Pharisees trying to find something to accuse Jesus of and were plotting to kill Him (Matthew 12:9-13). These actions show that self-righteous people can be dangerous when people don't conform to their value system. They can become full of anger and hatred that motives them to do all kinds of awful things.

My Encounters With Self-Righteous People

A few years ago, I went through a difficult time after being laid off from my job. When I didn't get another job right away, it was interesting to see a few self-righteous people's reactions to my situation.

According to them, I wasn't praying enough. If I worried, I wasn't trusting God enough. If my prayers did not seem to be answered, there must be some unrepented sin in my life. I was told to move out of my upscale apartment into something cheaper (not as easy as they seem to think). I was told to go flip burgers, even though a job like that paid me less than what I was getting on unemployment insurance. Self-righteous people came up with all sorts of supposed solutions, none of which would work for me. These people had no idea what they were talking about.

I have learned not to comment on or oppose the suggestions of self-righteous people, no matter how wrong they are. One person tried to convince me that I needed to walk into every employment agency in the city. It was no use for me that methods that were commonplace years ago but no longer work in the internet age. In her mind, she was right, and anything I said that disagreed with her opinions infuriated her. So I bit my tongue and let it go. She had an agenda I had to follow to succeed in my life. She wouldn't listen to me unless I fell into line with her views.

God’s View on Self-Righteousness

Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector with very different prayers (Luke 18:1-14). The Pharisee was so self-righteous that he patted himself on the back for all his good deeds. He was full of pride and thanked God that he was not like that awful tax collector next to him.

Well, the tax collector was a sinner for sure. Tax collectors were hated for squeezing money out of people and lining their own pockets with the extra money they extorted. However, this guy was humble and so consumed with admitting his wrongs to God that he beat his breast, not daring to even lift his eyes to heaven.

God does not want us to live self-righteous lives - He wants us to live in His righteousness. He wants us to admit that He is the only one who is righteous - our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

The tax collector was justified. The Pharisee was not. I keep that in mind when I am wounded by self-righteous people and thank God that He accepts me, a sinner, and hears my prayers.

Reference: The Holy Bible, New International Version

© 2013 Carola Finch

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