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Leadership, Ministry, Theology

Christ's Righteousness > Self-Righteousness

Maybe you’re like me and you LOVE a good checklist. Maybe you even add things to the checklist just so that you have the satisfaction of already crossing things off.If you’re REALLY like me, you think to yourself “I feel so accomplished, now I can celebrate and forget the rest of the tasks on the list.” There are so many times I do this in my relationship with the Lord as well. I stopped this sin, starting doing this good deed, now I can celebrate how God has to be proud of me. This was my perspective especially when I began to pursue the Lord. I immediately fixed my eyes on all the external areas I needed to “clean up.”For me, it was like an Extreme Makeover: Christian Clean-up Edition. This was a form of self-righteousness. I knew the Lord declared me righteous by the cross, so why did I feel the deep need to add to the power of the cross with dead works, or take away from the power of the cross through my own shame? Adding or taking away from the cross in this form of shame and striving nullifies the grace of God.If our righteousness came through our actions, then Christ’s death would be for nothing (Gal. 2:21). Recognizing that our righteousness comes through the cross alone enables us to have freedom from self-righteousness. When leading others to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ, we can’t stand on the platform of pride, we have to get down in the pits with those we lead. We combat self-righteousness and lead others to God’s grace through our willingness to consistently examine our hearts, be transparent with our testimony to others, and have the humility to allow God to be our ultimate sustenance. 

Guard and Examine Your Heart 

Jesus shares the parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray in the temple. The Pharisee thought to himself, “I am not like the other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I tithe all that I get.” But the tax collector had an entirely different posture—his eyes weren’t on the men around him in comparison, but solely on his humility in the presence of God. The tax collector would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-13). Self-righteousness is a disposition that can stealthily creep into our hearts if we are not constantly mindful of our position before a holy and righteous God. Being able to stand holy and blameless in the sight of God is nothing of our own doing, but directly comes from what He accomplished on the cross. When we fix our eyes in comparison to who we’re not like, or on all the things we are doing right, we become our own savior. Self-righteousness eradicates the magnitude of what was done on our behalf, and replaces it with dead works. To guard our hearts from the deceit of self-righteousness, we must constantly examine ourselves, remember our depravity, and reflect on our daily need for Christ’s redemption. 

Be Transparent of Your Sustenance

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 how the enemy had planted a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming conceited. Three times he pleaded with the Lord for Him to remove it, but the Lord replied to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). God refused to remove the thorn from Paul’s side. The existence of the thorn permeates conceit, cultivating humility, and causing Paul to recognize his constant reliance on God’s grace to be his sustenance. The thorn in our sides can be painful, shameful, annoying, or even debilitating. We become so tempted to keep it hidden, but the power of our transparency gives access for God’s righteousness to be revealed to others, rather than our own. The more we try to conceal this thorn, the more it blocks the glory of the work God is completing in us and through us.A shifting must occur within us, He must increase and we must decrease. Our primary focus should be for His glory to be revealed to others more than our platforms of false perfection.  There is so much power in a young girl watching you wrestle with the Lord and lean onto Him more than your own understanding of your circumstances. We are often more concerned with preserving ourselves and our own image, but as a result, so often, the ones we are leading feel uncomfortable to share their struggles because all they see is their shame in comparison to our self-righteousness. Alternatively, being transparent with our stories enables others to be vulnerable, share their struggles, and even allow us the opportunity to speak truth in love! 

Self-righteousness places the spotlight on us and takes away from the glory of God. We don’t have to air out all of our dirty laundry, but we can model for others the process of being authentic, wrestling with the Lord in a holy way, and allowing His grace to be sufficient for us in our weakness. 

Our righteousness belongs to God alone and is declared by Him alone. We can exemplify to others freedom in Christ that we don’t have to strive in dead works to earn our own righteousness, nor do we have to bury ourselves in shame as if we are unrighteous. We can walk in the humility and authority that our righteousness was nothing of our own doing. “We overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11).” We can combat the enemy’s tactic of self-righteousness through reverently reflecting upon and sharing our testimony with those God has graciously placed before us. 


Sullivan Owens is 24 years old and from Dallas, North Carolina! She is a missionary/teacher in Honduras, but currently residing in the United States. Her passion is to encourage others to recognize the magnitude of God’s love for them, and for them to walk boldly in the calling God has placed over their lives. Sullivan loves all things outdoors, trying out new recipes, traveling and learning different cultures, and laughter amongst friends! Connect with Sullivan: Instagram