One of my favourite of Jesus' parables is the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18:9-14.
We all know that the Pharisee's are baddies. The ones who looked down on Jesus and criticised him. The thing is that Pharisee's were the goodies of their day. They were the people who took God seriously. They were the ones who we would have admired, looked up to, invited round for tea. They were people like most of us. Because they thought highly of themselves.
That's what self-righteousness is. To think that you are generally a decent sought of person. And being self-righteous is a very dangerous thing, because it excludes you from God's forgiveness in Jesus. The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector ends with the cheating, lying, money grabbing tax collector going home in a right relationship with God, because he throws himself on God's mercy. But the self-righteous Pharisee is excluded from God's people by his own assumption that he is one of them by right!
Or as Jesus puts it: "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
So how can you spot if your self-righteous:
1. You look down on people. Whether that's the homeless person or the drug addict or the drug dealer or the bloke who cuts you up at the lights. You're not perfect but at least you know that you're not as bad a person as they are. You're not a robber, evildoer, adulterer or tax collector!
2. You feel that you're doing quite well in serving God. You think you probably go to church enough, you give enough, you help others enough. No one thinks that they pray enough or do enough evangelism!
3. Your prayers rarely, if ever, contain heart felt personal confession. You don't weep at your sin before the Lord. Your prayers are more a list of how you would like him to change others. Your wife. Your work. Your children.
4. You feel sorry for yourself more than sorry about yourself. Self-righteousness can be displayed in self-pity. The latter has its root in the belief that we are owed a better life. This can only be true if God owes us because we are righteous!
5. When challenged about disobedience or half-heartedness in following Christ you're defensive. Rather than looking at your own heart, you criticise those who would dare to rebuke you. Because you're self-righteous you presume anyone criticising you is as well. Rather than that they love you and are concerned for your soul.
6. You are less committed to church because you're heart is less driven by love. Often we think self-righteous people are the ones who are most regular and prayer meeting and church services. They can be, but it is also possible for people to use "grace" as a means of self-righteousness. This is the attitude that says: "I'm saved by grace so I don't have to go if I don't want to!" Do you see who features most in that sentence? Rather than seeing God's grace as the beautiful free gift of Jesus that moves your heart to love God and others. It is something you have that means you're alright jack so you can be half-hearted in your love for him and His people!
I love Tim Keller's story of the woman who told him that his preaching of God's grace was very frightening. When he asked why she said that if she was saved by her works (her self-righteousness) then there was a limit to what God could ask of her. Their relationship was like a bargain. But if she was saved solely by His grace alone, there was no limit to what God could ask. In love she owed him everything.
7. You've just spent the last few minutes thinking about the other people that points 1-6 apply to. Rather than repenting and looking to Christ yourself!