Arrogance is defined like this:
“Offensive display of superiority or self-importance.” I wonder if there’s someone, or some occasion, that immediately comes to mind for you when you read that. Surely there have been people we’ve all been around from time to time in life who are so clearly the center of their own universe that there’s no room for anyone else. And in such cases, the “offensiveness” is pretty easy to spot. And it’s even easier to feel.
Harder, though, is recognizing this trait in ourselves. Pride is like that – it’s one of those “creeping” sins that slowly crawls throughout our hearts and embeds itself in our thinking. That’s one of the reasons it’s so dangerous – it’s because pride can take hold of us without our knowledge. We don’t mean to become arrogant; we don’t intentionally set ourselves on the road to pride; we don’t purposely pursue a grand vision of ourselves; but nonetheless, this sin creeps in slowly but surely.
Of course, there are different kinds of pride. We might become overly proud of one of our skills – that we can run faster, bake better, or lead more efficiently than anyone else. Or we might become overly proud of our families – that our children are smarter, more beautiful, or better behaved than the families around us. Certainly we should be aware of this kind of pride, but there is a “spiritual” kind of arrogance that is particularly dangerous.
In fact, one could make the case that “spiritual pride” is really one of the roots of all other kinds of sin. In our spiritual pride, we think we are too strong to fall. In our spiritual pride, we start to believe that there are no consequences for our actions. In our spiritual pride, we convince ourselves that we are above the commands of God. And slowly but surely the creep continues until eventually we experience the truth of Proverbs 16:5:
Everyone with a proud heart is detestable to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
That’s a scary verse to me, especially if pride is a subtle as it seems to be. If that’s true, then, we would be wise to not only be on guard against the pride that so easily creeps up on us, but actively fight against it. And that fight can be, I think, exceedingly practical. Here are three ways to actively engage in the fight against spiritual pride:
1. Share the gospel often.
One of the indicators of spiritual pride is beginning to think that the gospel is for you, and people who look and act like you, but that there are those around you who are just too far gone down the road of sin. In cases like these, it’s not even worth reaching out and having a conversation. This withholding of the gospel is not only due to a lack of faith and not only due to an unwillingness to obey the commands of Jesus – it’s also rooted in our own pride. That the gospel was good for us, but that others are not worthy of the same grace we received. To actively fight this notion, then, the best thing we can do is make it our regular practice to simply share the gospel. It’s to associate and befriend “those people” – the ones we might be tempted to think are too far out of the reach of grace.
2. Remember who you used to be.
As you read through the New Testament letters of Paul, you find him not infrequently referencing who he was before his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. He remembered who he was before Christ; the sin from which he was being saved was never too far from his mind. This wasn’t some kind of morbid fascination on his part; it wasn’t an obsession that led him to live in guilt or emotional self-flagellation; it was a reminder to his audience that no one is out of the reach of Jesus. But perhaps it was also a reminder to himself – that in all his learning, in all his ministry, in all his acts of sacrificial obedience, Paul was, at the core, a sinner who was saved by grace. Remembering who we used to be helps us, as it did him, fight spiritual arrogance.
3. Let your knowledge lead you to worship.
One of the sources of spiritual pride is our learning, and we have a lot of chances to learn. Podcasts, sermons, books, libraries – these are all tools readily at our disposal to help us read, study, and understand the Bible. We can go down the rabbit hole of the Greek and Hebrew, engage in all the parsing exercises, and look deeply into the mysteries of God… through our phones. Important, though, is remembering that knowledge in and of itself will lead us to downfall. It will lead us to a cold heart that has been frozen with the adoration of our own intellect.
To turn back to Paul, we find him writing the greatest theological treatise in history in the book of Romans. The first eleven chapters of that book are a deep dive into the nature of God, the nature of man, God’s infinite providence and inexhaustible grace, the future of Israel, the mysteries of election, and a host of other theological fodder. But what happens when Paul comes up for air at the end of those eleven chapters? Worship:
Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments
and untraceable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:33-36).
Another simple, practical way we fight spiritual pride is through worship. It’s through attending, and participating in the service of worship. It’s through singing loudly and boasting in the Lord instead of ourselves. When we let our knowledge lead to worship, we are actively in the fight against the creeping sin that ensnares our souls.
Friends, we can find pride and arrogance in the silliest of things. So be on guard, lest our pride lead to our fall.