Alma 31 describes a very unusual church meeting involving a group of people called the Zoramites. The church building described in this chapter contains a very high platform called the Rameumpton, and anybody who wishes to worship has to climb up on this platform and shout the words to a specific “prayer” — the same exact words are uttered by each person in turn.
The essence of this prayer is that they are thanking God that they are better than everybody else. They even go as far as to say, “thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell” (verse 17). Wow, heaven would be a small place if that was accurate.
The above is reminiscent of the parable of Jesus in which He depicted a Pharisee praying in a similar way: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). Jesus went on to say that this was not the proper attitude to have.
The type of attitude described above is one of self-righteousness. When one is self-righteous, the person may well be living a life that includes activities that are typically pleasing to God. For example, the Zoramites in the story above are attending church and praying regularly while the Pharisee in the parable is staying away from sin, fasting often and donating his fair share. These are all good things to do — perhaps exceeding what some of us do.
However, God is not pleased when we try to take credit for what He has done. We need to understand that we cannot be righteous on our own. The scriptures say, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). What makes us righteous is the Holy Ghost that is placed within us after we are baptized.
If I’m self-righteous, I’m saying that I did it. I changed my life. I found the right way. I figured out what has to be done. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all that I possess. How about giving God the credit for changing my life? For giving me the gift of the Holy Ghost? Again, the activities may be good, but my pride is preventing me from recognizing the source of my new way of living. If I could just have less self and more righteousness, then I’d be OK.
Since self-righteousness is a prideful condition, it causes us to think we’re better than other people. As a result, it manifests itself in the way we treat others.
For example, a self-righteous person trying to “share the gospel” will say things that sound like, “You should change your life to be more like me,” or, “I’m on my way to heaven. You’re on your way to hell,” as opposed to the approach that puts the credit where it belongs: “God forgave me of my sins and changed my life; He can do the same for you.”
Have you ever been in a position of needing to correct someone in church who did something wrong? How do you approach it? Do you let the person know you love them and that you’re offering the correction to help them and to help the church? Or do you look down your nose at the person and say in a condescending manner, “We don’t do that here,” maybe even throwing in a little “harrumph” for emphasis? Which is the self-righteous approach and which is the approach more likely to have a favorable outcome?
If, after some self-examination, we find we have some degree of self-righteousness in us, what is the solution? The best approach is to focus on God as the source of all righteousness. Remember that before we met the Lord, we were sinners, and if we didn’t have the Holy Ghost today, we would still be sinners. Don’t stop doing the good things; just give the credit where it belongs. In other words — less self, more righteousness.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.