You Might Be Self Righteous If

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6 NKJV)

In order to fully understand what Isaiah meant in our key passage, we must carefully examine his unorthodox choice of word pictures. The words “filthy rags” come from two Hebrew words: ed and beged (Strongs #899 and #5708). These two words combined connote a primitive piece of cloth used to shield a woman’s menstruation cycle. We should contemplate Isaiah's crude comparison of the Hebraic Law concerning regulations on personal hygiene to vividly illustrate the worth of our self-righteousness. Trying to earn righteousness through works is like trying to clean yourself with a dirty rag. The more you try to wash yourself, the dirtier you become. We cannot cleanse ourselves nor maintain cleanliness before God in our own efforts. Therefore, we must receive the free gift of righteousness by faith, trust in the finished work of Christ, accept the full forgiveness of God, and believe we are finally righteous once and for all (Hebrews 10:10). Along with this, we must become aware of our tendency towards self-righteousness and fall full into the Grace of God. How do we know if we're self-righteous? Here are a few indicators...

You Might Be Self-Righteous If...

…you think you’re better than someone because of something you’ve done.

…you constantly obsess about your spiritual growth instead of Jesus.

…your success stories always start with “I...”

…the faults of others dominate your conversations.

…you can’t forgive someone who hurt you.

…your freedom in worship is contingent on how holy you’re living.

…you get nervous, irritated, or angry when grace is mentioned or taught.

…you are uncomfortable around unsaved or immature Christians.

…your definition of “godliness” is based on the frequency of spiritual discipline.

…you find yourself more often judging others instead of loving them.

...you focus on the faults of others instead of receiving grace for yourself.

…you sneer at grace for someone else’s failures, but love grace when you need it.

…you believe you have something to do with your salvation.

…you think Jesus' finished work isn’t enough and that you must add your works to it.

…your definition of “good o'l gospel preaching” is being hard on people.

…you say (or sing) that Jesus will never let you go, but subliminally you don’t believe it.

…you feel that getting to Heaven ultimately depends on you.

…you think that salvation is Jesus' job but maintaining it is your job.

…you believe Jesus saved you from your past sins but not your present and future ones.

…you're trying more instead of trusting more.

…YOUR love for God is the focus instead of HIS love for you.

…you’re racing to finish Christ’s work instead of resting in His finished work.

But Grace

"For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully." (2 Corinthians 11:4 NASB)

The following excerpt is from my foundational book GRACE WORKS.

Two very important distinctions in the grace message are legalism and libertarianism. We must understand these opposing viewpoints to better embrace the gospel. When you preach the pure gospel that says we are saved by grace through faith, not of works (without boundaries, exceptions or controls) that is called Libertarianism. When it is taught that we are saved by grace but also must maintain our salvation by good works and sinless living, that is called legalism. Legalism advocates that we must not sin or we jeopardize our righteous standing with God. This is not the New Testament gospel (Paul called it preaching “another Jesus”). Legalism is accompanied by the fear that unless we preach grace with stipulations, then we are throwing everything out of balance. It’s, “Yes grace BUT we must also…” or “Yes, grace BUT we must be careful…” Fear causes us to attach warnings to the message of grace. Simply stated: Legalism says, “Grace, but…” Libertarianism says, “But GRACE!”

When we try to coerce others into adhering to the standard of holy living out of fear that they will take license to sin, we fall into the tireless cycle of fear and control. Why? Control is a by-product of fear. We fear losing control of people so we impose extra addendums to keep them out of sin. Fear is the mother of all confusion. When we operate out of fear and control it only brings envy and strife. Envy and strife are the co-conspirators of confusion and evil, and where confusion and evil exists, sin will surely abound… (James 3:16 KJV).

Enforcing religious controls on people will prove ineffective to produce true holiness in them. People will comply with legalism to a point but will eventually rebel because the flesh can’t keep up with the Law. The Law eventually runs the flesh down. That’s the way God designed it. He created the Law to drive us to utter exhaustion in our own strength (Galatians 3:24). It is God’s Grace alone that totally extricates us from the harsh domination of the Law. Legalism is based on manipulation and control, which ultimately brings people back into bondage. Libertarianism however, liberates the believer to hear from God and respond to God’s power. Living in this way leads the believer towards true life-transformation.