Human Unrighteousness And Self-righteousness

Being unrighteous refers to having a nature, character, attitudes, thoughts, words and actions which are not perfectly right as judged by God. In His view, all humans in themselves are unrighteous despite their continuing attempts to be otherwise. In Jeremiah 17:9, God declares: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

In Isaiah 64:6, Isaiah said: “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” After being given a vision of how perfectly holy and clean God is, Isaiah understood how unrighteous and sinful he was. [1]

God hates self-righteousness among humans (see Matthew 23:28, Luke 16:15 and Romans 10:2-3). Self-righteousness is one of the main things preventing humans from turning to God in faith and repentance. Unbelievers need to realise how wrong they are in their nature and behaviour in order to be prepared for receiving justification by God’s grace.

Note Jesus’ words about the publican and the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14: “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee was self-righteous and failed to acknowledge the depth of wrong in himself. The tax collector, however, humbly accepted the truth about his own unrighteousness.

All unsaved humans have varying degrees of self-confidence and pride in their abilities to be good and do right things. Despite the accusations of their consciences, the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the criticisms of themselves by others, most fallen humans think they are righteous or good to some degree. In other words, they are self-righteous. If we challenge non-Christians about whether they are good or not, most of them will tell all the good things they do. Also, they will mostly happily give us a detailed account of the faults of other people.


Bible Study Question

1.        What is self-righteousness?


[1] Isaiah 6:1-5 states: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; … And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’.”


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