What can happen if a person attempts to become "overly righteous"? Just like everything else concerning spirituality, Satan has his counterfeit. In this world, super-righteousness as a solution may appear attractive to certain personality types. Consider Colossians 2:18-22:
Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
The key to grasping this austere regimen lies in the phrase “basic principles of the world” (verse 20; “rudiments” in the KJV). The subject of Paul's teaching does not involve God's laws at all but worldly, pagan teachings that involve asceticism and demon worship. A “rudiment” is a basic, elementary principle or act of worship, and these rudiments are drawn from the world. These ascetic practices have nothing to do with God's true religion. Verse 22 confirms this when Paul writes that these regulations are the decrees and teachings of men, not God.
Paul's counsel on the extreme disciplines of the super-righteous, such as those practiced in the world by ascetics, is that they produce a puffed-up mind—pride, a haughty spirit—rather than humble obedience that truly impresses God, such as that praised so highly in Isaiah 66:1-2:
“Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of my rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says the Lord. “But on this one will I look; on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”
In no way is the apostle teaching that we must not discipline ourselves to live balanced lives within God's laws to avoid sin. The super-righteousness Solomon cautions us against would include conduct similar to what Paul is telling us about here.
There are people in this world who are deeply and sincerely religious but not because of conversion. They are prone to do extreme things like virtually imprisoning themselves, living in all-male or all-female religious compounds, and spending their entire lives in prayer and study. Yet where is the generous giving of their lives in service to fellow man? Such are those who will crawl from bottomland to mountaintop on hands and knees out of dedication to their god. They will permit themselves to be nailed to a cross and displayed in a parade through town on a holy day dedicated to that town's patron saint.
Consider what the Catholic Church does by forcing their ministry to remain unmarried because they think it is a holier state and impresses God. But look also at all the sexual molestation cases it has produced. Does celibacy produce good fruit?
Instead, Romans 12:3-13 provides us with a profound list of services God desires of us:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly that he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them; if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion