I think there’s a lot of confusion when this term is thrown around by others and many don’t know what it means. I think many equate self-righteousness with thinking you are better than others, morally or in other ways.
Webster’s definition of self-righteous is this: convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrow-mindedly moralistic.
Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary gives the theological definition: belief, attitude, or behavior of persons who seek God’s acceptance by their own efforts, that is, by doing good works and keeping divine statues.
Bible passages where the concept of self-righteousness is discussed: Luke 18:9, Romans 10:1-3, and Philippians 3:9.
Zondervan continues, “A self-righteous person is righteous neither in the religious nor moral sense. Those who trust in themselves do not have right standing with God through self-effort nor are they morally upright since their attitudes are not affected.”
From my understanding, righteousness is a gift from God that we received from Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. The “self” goes directly against righteousness since we humans have nothing to do with God’s grace.
If someone is being self-righteous, they are basically being self-reliant and in relation to others portray a smug and prideful attitude which is where superiority creeps in. They waste precious energy, time, and resources trying to earn God’s grace and mercy when it was freely given. And because they are striving so hard to earn God’s love they create a feeling inside of themselves that they are better than others because of their good works. It becomes a numbers game and they end up judging themselves against others–again, something God should only be doing.
Self-righteousness is a sin because we are relying on ourselves and not accepting what Jesus has done for us on the cross. And when coupled with others it is an act of judging others and only God can do that.
Self before righteousness is like putting you before God–self-reliant instead of God-reliant.
Examples of self-righteousness: thinking you are better than others because–you believe in God, do more good things than others, are a better person in your view, etc.
Self-righteousness is another form of the wrong kind of pride and as Jesus says, “…he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:14
End Note: Definitions and examples of Bible passage are from Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary by JD Douglas and Merrill C Tenney. I would not have been able to explain this concept without this help! Thank you!
I would love any other ideas or clarification points added!