The Poison of Self Righteousness

Written on 09/10/2021
Christian Dunn

Verse: Luke 18:9-14

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “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.’ 14 “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.”

I hate poison ivy. I have always been highly allergic to it. Not only do I get it if I just look at poison ivy (that might be a small exaggeration) but when I get it, I get it really bad: think blisters and swelling and horrible itchiness (that is not an exaggeration). I'm also not great at figuring which leaves are the killer ones. So I tend to do my best to avoid all green leaves for half the year. And still....I get it. That poison ivy disguises itself as normal leaves, and gets me every time.

Self-righteousness is very similar. It is the silent killer. It disguises itself as good behavior, right thinking, and even "holy" living. When we are self-righteous, we "look the part." We seemingly do all the right stuff. But our hearts are drifting from God.

Instead of being in touch with our total dependence on God, we begin to think that our Christian growth is a credit to our good decisions and our strong will. Instead of numbering ourselves with sinners, we begin to number ourselves with the saints. Instead of humbly allowing the Holy Spirit to dig deeper into our lives to reveal new layers of needed growth, we pridefully assume we are doing very well, thank you.

This self-righteousness spreads like poison ivy, and it begins to infect other parts of our lives. Unchecked, it can damage our relationships with others, and become a block between us and God. As it worsens, it can even start to interfere with our mission to love others and show them Jesus. Instead of Jesus, all they see is us. Instead of the invitation to grace and healing, all they feel is judgement.

So the big question for all of us is not, "am I self righteous?" It is, "how self righteous am I?" "Where in my life is self righteousness growing and starting to affect me?"

One more encouraging thought. Note that Jesus says, "those who humble themselves will be exalted." Who humbles us? The invitation is to humble ourselves. So in the areas where we are watching self righteousness begin to infect us and spread like poison ivy, tripping us up and hurting our relationship with God and others, we can make a choice and humble ourselves. Humility is the antidote, much like wearing long sleeves and pants when walking near green leaves. We can choose humility to put on humility. We can repent and turn from our pride, and choose instead to walk clothed with humility before the Lord.

I pray that you would give me eyes to see self righteousness in my heart and life. I want to humble myself, and remember my incredible need for you and your grace.