This is thinking you live up to a high moral code without acknowledging or relying on the Lord’s help, trying to justify oneself by condemning others, or trying to remove the speck in another’s eye when there is a plank in your own (Prov 30:12; Mt 7:3-5; Lk 18:9-14). It is having a false idea that we can somehow generate within ourselves a righteousness that will be acceptable to God (Rom 10:3). This attitude of having ultra-confidence in their own righteousness was typified by the Pharisees, and was the focus of the numerous clashes Jesus had with these religious leaders about what true righteousness is. A self-righteous person has a derogatory comment about most matters and never admits they are wrong.
We have no reason to be smug, thinking we haven’t sinned as badly as some others. In our natural selves there is nothing good, not even one thing to be proud of, because we fall far short of the divine standard, but in the grace and mercy of God we are seen as perfect through the blood of Jesus (Rom 3:23, 7:18; Phil 3:9). When the Pharisees made a heartless demand to impose sentence on a woman for her wrongdoing Jesus said, “Let those without sin in their lives throw the first stone” (Jn 8:3-11). Sin must be addressed but with a restorative approach, not in a judicial, punitive manner, aware that we may be guilty of the same offence, even if only mentally. Jesus spoke of a Parisee who assumed his acceptance with God based on his own actions, and a tax collector who recognized that there was nothing in himself that would cause God to approve of him (Lk 18:9-14).
Paul also addressed this attitude in the early church and states if righteousness could come from their own actions, then Jesus died “for no purpose” (Rom 2:17-24; Gal 3:21). He even states it is foolish to attempt to be perfected by the human effort, (the flesh) for it is by grace we are saved, not works (Gal 3:1-3). How often because of our sinful pride nature do try to earn our salvation?
We can only rely on His righteousness, not ours
ourselves to others, but only to the divine standard (Isa 64:6; Lk 16:15; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 10:12). “He has saved us, not because of the righteous things [in our opinion] we have done, but because of His mercy” (Tit 3:5). Yet, because of our sin nature, there is a constant temptation to believe we are, or can be, righteous in and of ourselves (Rom 3:10). While we are to walk in righteousness, we do this with, and not independent of the Holy Spirit, for we can do nothing acceptable to God on our own (Jn 15:5).