How Can Christians Avoid Being Self-Righteous?

How Can Christians Avoid Being Self-Righteous? March 7, 2024

This is a depiction of a businessman who does not avoid being self-righteous as he ignores the bomb that’s bringing destruction into his life. Photo courtesy of, by Sesame


How can I avoid being self-righteous? Every Christian must ask this question periodically to ensure they are not delusional about their spiritual growth. 

However, one can not avoid self-righteousness unless they have an accurate understanding of the term.

Scholarly Explanations 

The Cambridge Dictionary suggests self-righteousness is thinking one’s thoughts and moral conduct are better than others. An example of this is an individual who acts spiritually superior because they donate $5,000 to charity every week.

Supreme spiritual self-esteem can also manifest through boasting about biblical knowledge, bragging about supernatural gifts, and taking pride in how much sin a person does not commit.

A cultural phrase many use to label people conducting themselves in this manner is holier than thou. 

Interestingly, a study conducted by Chicago Booth Review finds most people do not see themselves as holier than others but rather less evil than others.  Researchers define this thought process as asymmetrical self-righteousness since people judge themselves based on intentions but others by their actions. 

An individual may justify their decision to tell a lie with the intent of not trying to hurt someone else’s feelings. However, if they notice someone else lying, they will immediately question their character rather than the person’s motives.  

Why Self-Righteousness is Detrimental for Believers?

Denies Jesus Christ’s Redemptive Work 

While the above explanations describe self-righteousness in light of how a person compares their behavior to others, biblical scholars offer a different perspective. They view self-righteousness as a way to gain salvation apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

According to Romans 3:21-24, believers are freely justified before God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Justification is possible since Jesus shed his blood to be the atoning sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God due to humanity because of sin (Isaiah 53:5-6; John 3:16; Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Sin occurs when humans fail to keep the holy laws God has set for creation (Romans 3:20). Thankfully, Christ’s atoning sacrifice covers those who profess faith in him when they fall short of his glory (Romans 3:23).

This is why Romans 3:27-31 says no one can boast because only faith in Jesus leads to salvation and justification. So when believers fail to avoid being self-righteous, they depend more on their worthless works than Christ’s priceless sacrifice.  

Makes Christianity Less Appealing

Another reason why self-righteousness is detrimental for believers is it makes Christianity less appealing. Evidence supporting this belief comes from Matthew 23. 

In this chapter, Jesus warns listeners not to imitate the conduct of religious leaders because they are hypocrites. More specifically, they are leaders who practice religious customs to impress people but lack sincere love for God.

Religious hypocrites also “crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4, New Living Translation). This mindset exists today as some leaders add legalistic expectations to the Gospel message.

These unbearable legalistic demands make people believe Christians must be perfect to sustain their salvation. This unrealistic expectation causes many to leave the church. 

Lifeway research affirms this through a 2019 survey of young adults between the ages of 23-30. 73% of participants say church or pastor-related issues caused them to leave the church. One-third of this percentage left because they believe the church is hypocritical or judgemental.

These findings prove believers need to avoid being self-righteous because a “holier than thou” mentality hinders the ability to reach younger generations. This disconnect may tempt the youth to look for salvation and affirmation elsewhere.

How to Avoid Being Self-Righteous

Be Authentic

One way to ensure no one rejects the Christian faith because of self-righteous behavior is to be authentic. People must understand eternal salvation is not a one-time fix that makes one flawless.

Instead, it’s the first step to a continual sanctification process that is complete on the Day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Paul also encourages readers to work out their salvation with critical salvation to ensure we do not offend or discredit God (Philippians 2:12, Amplified Bible).

Being authentic helps people understand everyone struggles with sin and will fall short. Knowing this will encourage others to continue pursuing a relationship with God despite their flaws.

Listen to Wise Counsel

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18; New International Version). People who tend to be self-righteous either lack or do not listen to people who expose their faults out of love.

When this happens, the prideful person usually has to have a terrible fall from grace until they change their ways. However, a person who listens to wise counsel will have wisdom, safety, and victory (Proverbs 11:14; 13:10; 24:6).

Wise counsel can also bring people to a place of repentance they can not arrive at on their own. The Prophet Nathan proves this when he makes up an unjust situation to see how King David will respond (2 Samuel 12:4-6).

When King David starts being self-righteous in his demand for justice, Nathan explains how he is the one guilty of the injustice   (2 Samuel 12:7-10).

Confession & Self Examination

Once King David realizes his injustice, he shamefully acknowledges his sin to the prophet (2 Samuel 12:11). Psalm 51:1-17 also shows the king admitting his transgressions against God and vowing to teach sinners his ways.

David’s willingness to teach sinners the Lord’s ways demonstrates a sense of humility and compassion. David has learned from his sins and desires to use his experience to help others draw closer to God.  

David also draws closer to God through his plea in Psalm 139:23-24. By asking God to reveal any offensive ways in him, David is unable to honestly assess his conduct.

David needs God to reveal the truth about himself so he can ensure his ways to please the Lord. When believers acknowledge this need, they will become more aware of their shortcomings and less likely to judge others as they strive to avoid being self-righteous. 







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