I’ve always viewed myself as a pretty good person. I grew up in church and attended Christian school, so I am fortunate to have a very strong biblical foundation. God has blessed me with opportunities to put this to use, and I’ve often been able to demonstrate leadership in Bible study or in my friendship circles. I have always been very conscientious and desired to do the right thing in every situation.

Recently, God revealed two big character flaws that were masking themselves as good things.

Once I realized these things about myself, I took a look around and realized that these flaws are running rampant in the church.

Because they look so good on the outside, they often go undetected, but they can be very dangerous when they aren’t submitted to Christ’s cleansing. I see them most often in leaders, and these people often have the positive traits that I shared in the first paragraph.

It’s important that we can recognize these deceptive traits in both ourselves and others so that we can lead effectively and with pure hearts. Without further ado, here’s how to recognize false humility and self-righteousness in yourself or someone else. (Tip: Look at yourself first!)

Genuine Humility vs False Humility

When someone compliments me, I get embarrassed. My face will turn red and I’ll deflect their statement by complimenting them back or making a self-deprecating joke. Often, people will mistake this for me being very humble about myself, but truthfully, pride is one of the things I’ve struggled with the most. The embarrassment doesn’t stem from humility, but from feelings of unworthiness.

Feeling unworthy creates a need for us to find worth in things other than the identity that Christ has given us. We start to look for earthly wisdom and acceptance from others to validate us. This results in a facade of confidence that stems from pride. Since we can’t display real humility, we must resort to that “Aw shucks, I’m not that great” act to mask the pride.

So what does the real thing look like?

A genuinely humble person doesn’t necessarily have a low view of himself. In fact, you can’t operate in humility while feeling unworthy, but you also can’t have it when you exalt yourself.

I’ve found that I can have humility when I am in touch with truth – when I see myself the way God sees me and see others the way he sees them, I can see both my own worth and the worth of others.

When we pursue God and ask him to show us his love and his perspective of people, pride won’t be able to remain in us.

Humility doesn’t come from thinking low thoughts about yourself. Humility comes from knowing the truth about how God sees you.

God’s Righteousness vs Self-Righteousness

We often imagine self-righteousness as a legalistic person who is holier-than-thou. I’ve learned that self-righteousness don’t always exhibit itself the way we expect it to.

One of the biggest a-ha moments of my past year was when I realized that I was self-righteous. I have always had a gentle demeanor toward others in church, and I doubt anyone would have picked this out as one of my character flaws. Here are two characteristics of my own self-righteousness that flew under the radar for so long.

Self-Righteousness Reveals Itself When We Are Attacked

If I was in an argument with someone who was clearly in the wrong, I would stop viewing them as an equal. I felt that since I was “right” that I was superior in the conversation. I’ve come to realize that even when I am right, I can’t allow an argument to trigger pride or defensiveness in me. Our ability to treat others with dignity and respect will always get tested when we are under attack.

This testing isn’t just about how we treat the other person outwardly. What thoughts are you thinking about the other person? Do you say and do everything correctly on the outside and then belittle them in your mind? God doesn’t just see your actions, he sees your heart.

Self-Righteousness Brings Guilt

I was in a few situations this year where I was falsely accused. I defended myself by saying, “I would NEVER do these things! I’m not even that kind of person!” But no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to put my feelings of guilt to rest. In this tough time, I heard the Lord whisper, “Are there any sins you haven’t confessed to me?” I answered, “No.” He replied, “Then you aren’t guilty.”

We had this conversation several times before I understood what he was showing me. I had been defending myself with, “I would NEVER…” and “I’m not even capable of…” While I may not have done what I was accused of, those statements aren’t really true. I have the same capability to sin as anyone else. If I continued to use my own actions to defend myself, there would always be room for guilt.

In God’s justice system, my freedom from guilt isn’t about what I have or haven’t done.

It comes from the fact that I have confessed my sins and been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

This simple shift was a game-changer that propelled me into a greater level of freedom.

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We Need to Wear Christ’s Clothes

As I began to see these things in myself, I asked God what real humility looked like and how I could have it. His answer was that I needed to robe myself in Christ’s humility.

“Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.’” – Zechariah 3:3-7 

I am a sinner, and when people look at ME, Lauren D’Alessandro, my sin will always be visible. Our spirits actually wear our sin, like dirty clothing. Eventually, what we are wearing becomes evident to others. But have you ever seen someone who passionately follows God and doesn’t seem to have ANY sin showing on them? They are glowing with the righteousness of Christ that you wonder whether they’ve ever done anything wrong. I promise you, this appearance isn’t because they are perfect. It is because they are wearing Jesus’ clothes.

Question to Ponder: Are there any areas of your life in which you are relying more on your own character than on Jesus’ character?

When we repent and surrender to his cleansing he is faithful and just to forgive us. Freedom waits for you on the other side of repentance!

Lauren D’Alessandro’s experience began as the founder and
Editor-in-Chief of The You Are Project, an online magazine for
Christian women. She took a step back to study leadership and answer
the burning question, “How can I create a lasting change in the world
around me?” A graduate of Rowan University’s business school, she
currently resides in the Philadelphia area where she works in