GUARDING OUR HEARTS AGAINST THE TRAP OF SPIRITUAL PRIDE
Spiritual pride is a subtle enemy to our walk with God. Jesus often confronts and rebukes the Pharisees for their blatant spiritual pride. He speaks against their superficial piety on display for all to see. Under the guise of devotion to God, the Pharisees set themselves up as the ones with all knowledge and authority. They exalt themselves and look in disdain on all others.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ – Luke 18:9-12
Spiritual pride can be viewed as the opposite of love. This Pharisee seeks attention and adoration yet fails to show the love and mercy of God. He puts on the appearance of being above reproach… zealous for God, avidly carrying out all his religious activities to the highest standards. He is trying to prove his superior spirituality to his peers, the people and himself. Yet God sees his heart… which is far from Him.
…But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Luke 18:13-14
This tax collector humbles himself before a holy God… worshiping Him with awe and due reverence… looking to Him for mercy and forgiveness. His attitude is in direct contrast to the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who sees himself as superior, loftier, holier. The Pharisee judges others based on his own set of standards, condescendingly looking down on those who do not measure up.
In God’s eyes the tax collector is the one who is worthy of being exalted. This humble man recognizes his sins and seeks restoration. He is the one deserving of justification… the righteousness bestowed by a gracious God. Whereas all the effort and works done by the arrogant Pharisee are worthless in the sight of God.
“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15
Jesus is calling out the Pharisees… saying that God’s values are in opposition to the world’s values. What the world admires is power, prestige, money, status, education… all that the Pharisees are pursuing in their lives. Yet God knows the heart… the core beliefs and motivations behind all actions. He knows the people who are faithful and devoted to Him.
The spiritually prideful may be difficult to recognize because they are zealous for the cause of Christ. They believe they have the true light, viewing others not in line with their exact beliefs as being in the dark, deceived, wrong in their thinking. Yet those overtaken with spiritual pride are unaware that they are the very ones whose hearts may be darkened.
Mature Christians may succumb to spiritual pride. In believing themselves to be authorities on religion and the Bible… “puffed up” with knowledge… they view others as being less enlightened, less spiritual. They seek to display their good works to all, looking down on others as lacking their perceived “piety”… and inferior to their own spiritual walk.
Newer Christians may also fall into the trap of spiritual pride. Without the breadth of Christian knowledge and experience, they may believe the scope of their learning to be the only way to believe. They seek to adhere to the “rules” of their new faith, often judging or condemning those who fail to abide by these rules.
“Spiritual pride takes many forms and shapes, one under another, and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion… Therefore, we have need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for His help.” – Jonathan Edwards, 18th-century Theologian
How easy it is to see spiritual pride in others. Yet have we cast a discerning look upon ourselves? Are we becoming ensnared by this trait and falling out of God’s favor?
We may unknowingly be entangled in the trap of spiritual pride. It can enter subtly into our lives… is easy to entertain yet stubborn to evict. We must guard our hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23).
All believers are on their own personal journey with Christ. We are not to judge another’s walk with God… nor can we be the Holy Spirit in their lives. For He is working quietly in their hearts in ways we cannot see.
Along our Christian walk, we are to encourage and uplift one another. As we stay close to our Lord in prayer and seek to live out His Word in our lives, we will treat others with the grace, authenticity and gentleness of Christ.
Righteousness cannot be judged by external standards. The true righteousness of Christ is an inner heart righteousness leading to a life lived for His glory. Only by keeping our hearts open and receptive to the light of Christ and the leading of the Spirit, can we avoid the trap of spiritual pride in our lives.