One of the most paradoxical and troubling experiences I have had in my Christian life is the existence of spiritual pride.
Pride as a human behavior is common, and is a very basic aspect of sinful human nature. But spiritual pride is much harder to understand, and even harder to deal with.
It’s easy to categorically say that any spiritual revelation that leads to pride is not true spiritual revelation. The real life experience, however, tells you that it’s far more complicated than that.
Often, you see terrible and hurtful pride in some men and women who have such profound spiritual knowledge. The spiritual knowledge demonstrated by such individuals are so profound and admirable, yet the person is so evidently and hurtfully prideful, condescending, and self-important, it challenges a normal definition of “pride”.
But what is even more perplexing is that, sometimes the pride is there, not in spite of the spiritual knowledge, but seems precisely because of the spiritual knowledge.
If one is prideful in spite of the spiritual knowledge, you can explain it by calling it a failure to live out the new life, and that would still give others hope in pursuing the same. But if one is prideful precisely because of the spiritual knowledge, it forces you into a dilemma, like a corner in which you don’t know how to turn, much less to escape, because that causal relation is an indictment of the object of the pursuit itself, not just a particular individual’s behavior.
You are almost tempted to conclude, “look at this man, he is so proud and arrogant, therefore what he says must be wrong.”
But I believe that’s exactly what the enemy of God wants you to conclude. Once you do, the enemy’s work in you through the other man’s sin has completed the cycle and taken a hold. That’s the enemy’s design in the spiritual battles.
Resist such temptations. Only measure man by truth, never truth by man.
Nevertheless, the practical confusion and detriment of spiritual pride are real. I believe one of the keys to understand this matter has to do with the difference between Truth and Knowledge.
I’m not telling this in abstract. The confusion I have experienced comes from many years of fellowship with several groups of Christians who seriously pursue the eternal will of God. These are children of God who have come to know the heart of Christ, and desire to escape from the captivity in the pseudo-religious Christian system, and to enter into the true living Body of Christ. It’s the highest calling for the overcomers to faithfully follow the Lamb to the end.
However, after all these years of learning, I’ve been brought by the Lord to re-examine the practical meaning on this matter. Some of my previous understandings are challenged by the spiritual pride I’ve seen in some of the leaders in the groups.
I do not call it “spiritual pride” just because I momentarily felt it was prideful. No, this is a painful conclusion after over a decade of living through the practical aspects of the spiritual pride, which hurt not only a few but numerous brothers and sisters.
In fact, in one group, the spiritual pride of the leader hurt almost every other leading brother or sister in the group, to a point that many of them had to leave the group or even move to a different place in silence. Some left with a broken heart, not only because of the suffering they took from the leader’s prideful behavior (which some feel is manipulative), but more because their hearts are torn over their love and devotion to Lord’s calling.
How devastating is the enemy’s work! In this case, the enemy attacks the seemingly strongest. The attacks are subtle. His tactic is to deceptively turn some seemingly strong faith into pride. In other words, the enemy’s strategy is not to directly diminish weaker faith, but to corrupt strong faith through the door opened by human pride, and strike to the heart of the matter.
Satan is the author and father of pride. He is a master of playing and perfecting pride.
It would be too easy for us to just say that true faith is incorruptible. That would be a correct statement in the fundamental sense. But we need to look into some practical aspects of human experience to be able to discern, to be warned, and to continue to be encouraged.
Spiritual pride always lurks among God’s people, and could cause a devastating effect to an individual or a group when it takes roots and grows big. Spiritual pride is particularly harmful because it is a very deceiving imposter of truth by knowledge in disguise.
In addition, a leader with spiritual pride is often charismatic and persuasive, making the problem more difficult to even recognize, much more so to prevent.
But a person who has spiritual pride does eventually make it manifest, in both the personal behavior and the fruits.
For example, he may only defer to one or a few established iconic senior individuals known to the groups, but broadly distrusts others, criticizes others, demeans others with a condescending attitude, and disparages others.
He would go a great length to paint a negative picture of others, and subtly boast his own way as the ideal way of being a Christian.
He may always have an imaginary enemy, and spin many plain events or even non-events to emphasize his negative views of others.
He will become extremely intolerant to any different views, and be easily offended.
He may put on an appearance of humbleness but in reality always rejects or deflects other people’s views (even if those views are in reality consistent or compatible with his).
He may further ignore or distort plain facts that are not supporting his own view.
He will do all this with an appearance of superior devotion, but sooner or later it will start to show it’s just pride.
Also, ironically, the group under such leadership ends up manifesting exactly those characteristics that are being criticized the most by them, and find themselves in conditions worse than those who are being criticized and disparaged against.
If you are a member of such a group, your spiritual life suffers. If you still manage to grow, you do so despite of, not because of, such conditions.
You see confusingly contradictory things. Your faith is weakened precisely by hearing the teachings that are meant to strengthen the faith, as if the enemy has found a most effective way to undermine the faith by letting a wrong vessel emphatically teach a correct doctrine.
You soon realize that many of your companions are being stumbled and falling away, one after another.
Sooner or later, you start to be perplexed.
What is wrong with us? Why isn’t Christ increasing among us? Why does it seem impossible to have true fellowship with the leading brother? Why is any sharing of God’s Word and Christian experience looked upon automatically with suspicion and even despite unless it is clearly a mere echo of what has been spoken by the leader as a standard correct view?
Why are some questionable interpretations of the Word of God can’t be even discussed, much less questioned and challenged?
Why is there a prevailing assumption (although unspoken) that the leading brother alone is always right, and everyone else is presumed to be wrong (until proven acceptable, if there is a chance at all)?
Why is fellowship among other brothers and sisters discouraged and suppressed? Why is brotherly love looked upon with suspicion? Why are those who need spiritual nourishment, especially young believers and children, not nourished but instead being treated harshly and pushed down (or even pushed away) with a self-righteous attitude, all in the name of high spiritual principles and faithfulness to someone’s personal conviction?
Why are efforts to heal the wounds (which are as real as life) labeled as sympathy toward the flesh or acting out of the flesh?
Why are clear facts twisted or covered using high-level spiritual principles (when the controversy is not the spiritual principle but the mere facts)?
A sorry state of God’s children that is.
I’ve been prayerfully seeking for guidance from the Lord these days because I more and more strongly feel I need such guidance. I ask the Lord to keep me true to the life I have received, and be obedient to the Head, lest when I think I have some understanding of the eternal will of God, I myself am left out, or even become a stumbling block to others.
In my seeking, the Lord has led me to question some more basic elements.
Did we receive truth but fell short of it? Or did something even worse happen to us: some of us just enjoy knowledge (or even usurp knowledge), and fail to lay hold on the truth itself?
Truth and Knowledge are very different things, even though they may seem to be similar. The Lord said he is the truth. He never said he is the knowledge.
Pursuit of knowledge, even that of what seems to be highest form of spiritual knowledge, is at the root of spiritual pride.
Such pride may manifest itself in claiming an exclusive knowledge of the eternal will of God, claiming to know the only right way to assemble in the body of Christ, and purporting to belong to an exclusive small number who are true overcomers.
But it is work of the enemy.
It is the enemy’s way to slander against the truth. Because the enemy wants those who have suffered or observed this error to draw this false conclusion: it is bad to pursue the eternal will of God, it is bad to assemble according to the heart of Christ, and it is bad to pursue overcoming.
It is the final deception the enemy uses to mislead the faithful. His purpose is to prevent the children of God from entering into the eternal will of God. Instead of alluring them to pursue worldly things (which of course he often does), he deceives some through human pride into pursuing the knowledge of the eternal will of God, so he may slander (that is, to falsely testify against) the eternal will of God.
The spiritual pride also manifests itself in trying to create a certain structure, an order or form, in the name of protecting the purity of the truth and church. It is an alarming fact that pride always try to build something for itself on a foundation of knowledge, instead of truth.
“Brothers have overcome by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and by reason of the word of their testimony…” Rev. 12.11.
The Word of God does not say that “brothers have overcome by building a fortress which is the new Jerusalem on earth.”
There were two aspects of the truth here.
First, in God’s eternal will, the new Jerusalem is not a fortress on earth, but rather an eternal abode in heaven. Let us answer to the calling and fix our eyes on the Lamb, not on any concept of an order and structure on earth, even if those concepts may seem exceptionally biblical and spiritual. Let us be aware of the dangers of the man-made Christian system.
But on the other hand, it’s possible that we may take the calling, but turn it into a pursuit of “an anti-calling system”, and end up being locked in our own system, only in a different form, but just as dead, which will soon become a fertile ground for pride.
There is necessity of church governance, including constraints and disciplines of the corporate life. But God does not ask us to purposely establish any order and structure in Christian gathering for the sake of church governance itself.
True life does have inherent order, and does have its own intrinsic structure (which is spiritual in nature and different from human organizations), but such order and structure come with the life naturally, and only the Head has full control and full-awareness of this order and structure. Our responsibility is to faithfully live out the life in us. We can never place ourselves at a position of a judge, which is a position that solely belongs to the head. Failing to take heed to this principle leads to spiritual pride, and to egotism disguised under spirituality.
Second, we are not the mastermind of the new Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is built by the Lord himself, and we are materials. For some specific responsibilities, we may also be co-workers of God on some specific tasks, but only Christ Himself, through the works of the Holy Spirit, is the Architect and the Builder.
None of us can see the whole picture, nor should anyone claim to see the whole picture. Even Apostle John only saw a vision of the new Jerusalem, not the real thing. So we shouldn’t act like we do. We are not the head and therefore shouldn’t judge like we are. It is wrong even when we acknowledge that we are not the head but nevertheless feel we are a part of the “brain” and therefore special.
The truth is: as we pursue our personal spiritual life, we must connect with the Body of Christ, which is God’s eternal will. But at the same time, as we pursue God’s eternal will for the Church, we must acknowledge that we are not the Head, not even a small part of the brain which is the central nervous system of the body, and therefore must limit our judgment to the proper scope and context in which the Lord has placed us.
Regardless of how much spiritual knowledge and understanding of God’s eternal purpose one may have, that person is not a part of the head.
It is necessary for us to firmly root ourselves in this principle in order to avoid spiritual pride.
This does not mean that we should not pursue the eternal will of God and share the heart and mind of Christ. The opposite is true. We should do that diligently.
But may the Lord help us distinguish truth and knowledge. May the Lord give us truth to save us from the vain pursuit of knowledge.
Truth requires great humility, and truth also begets humility; Truth requires love, and truth also gives love; Truth requires the leading of the Holy Spirit, and truth also enables us to trust the Holy Spirit; Truth honors the body, and truth also respects the life in the members as the work of the Holy Spirit; Truth exults Christ, and truth also unites (not alienates) the Christ’s life in each individual member.
In contrast, knowledge brings pride. Knowledge quenches love. Knowledge preempts the position of the Holy Spirit. Knowledge exults egos. And knowledge begets distrust and always justifies one’s self against others.
Truth is what God wants. Knowledge is what man wants.