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The Spiritual Pride

One of the most paradoxical and troubling experiences I have had in my Christian life is the existence of spiritual pride.

The enemy’s scheme

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 is so profound and admirable, yet the person is so evidently and hurtfully prideful, condescending, and self-important that 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 it 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. 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 hold. That’s the enemy’s design in the spiritual battles.

Resist such temptations. Only measure man by truth, never truth by man.

The reality of spiritual pride

Nevertheless, the practical confusion and detriment of spiritual pride are real. I believe one of the keys to understanding this matter has to do with the difference between Truth and Knowledge.

I’m not telling this in the 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 enter into the true living Body of Christ. It’s the highest calling for the overcomers to follow the Lamb faithfully to the end.

However, after all these years of learning, the Lord has brought me to re-examine the practical meaning of this matter. The spiritual pride I’ve seen in some of the group leaders challenges some of my previous understandings.

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 spiritual pride, which hurt not only a few but numerous brothers and sisters.

In fact, in one group, the leader’s spiritual pride hurt almost every other leading brother or sister in the group, to the point that many of them had to leave the group or even move to a different place in silence. Some left the gathering with a broken heart, not only because of the suffering they suffered from the leader’s prideful behavior (which some feel is manipulative) but also because their hearts were torn over their love and devotion to the 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.

Spiritual pride in disguise

Satan is the author and father of pride. He is a master of playing and perfecting pride.

It would be too easy for us just to 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 have a devastating effect on an individual or a group when it takes root 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 recognize and even more difficult to prevent.

However, a person who has spiritual pride eventually manifests it in both 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 to great lengths to paint a negative picture of others and subtly boast his 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 of any different views and be easily offended.

He may appear humble but, in reality, always rejects or deflects other people’s views. He may do that even if those views are actually consistent or compatible with his, because he isn’t really interested in the substance of the views, but only in his own authority.

He may further ignore or distort plain facts that do not support his own view.

He will do all this with an appearance of superior devotion, but sooner or later, it will start to show that it is pride.

The effect of spiritual pride

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.

If you are a member of such a group, your spiritual life suffers. If you still manage to grow, you do so in spite 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 have stumbled and fallen 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 for God’s children, that is.

Personal reflections

I’ve been prayerfully seeking guidance from the Lord these days because I feel increasingly strongly that 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 the truth but fall short of it? Or did something even worse happen to us: some of us just enjoyed knowledge (or even usurped knowledge) and failed to hold on to 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.

The pursuit of knowledge, even that of what seems to be the 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 the work of the enemy. 

It is the enemy’s way of slandering the truth. 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 God’s eternal will. 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 God’s eternal will so he may slander (that is, to testify against falsely) the eternal will of God.

Spiritual pride also manifests itself in trying to create a certain structure, order, or form in the name of protecting the purity of the truth and the church. It is an alarming fact that pride always tries to build something for itself on a foundation of knowledge instead of truth.

The overcomers’ testimony

“Brothers have overcome by reason of the blood of the Lamb, and by reason of the word of their testimony…” Revelation 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, the spiritual order is not man-made.

In God’s eternal will, the new Jerusalem is not a fortress on earth but rather an eternal abode in heaven. Let us answer the calling and fix our eyes on the Lamb, not on any concept of a certain 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.

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.

Church governance, including the constraints and disciplines of corporate life, is necessary. But God does not ask us to purposely establish any order and structure in Christian gatherings for the sake of church governance itself.

True life has 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 life naturally, and only the Head has full control and full awareness of this order and structure. Our responsibility is to live out the life in us faithfully. We can never place ourselves in the 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 egotism disguised under spirituality.

Second, only Christ is the head.

We are not the masterminds of the new Jerusalem. The Lord himself builds it, and we are the building 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.

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.

Pursue truth, not knowledge

Christ alone is the builder and the head. We must firmly root ourselves in this truth to avoid spiritual pride.

This does not mean that we should not pursue God’s eternal will and share Christ’s heart and mind. The opposite is true. We must do both 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) Christ’s life in each individual member.

In contrast, knowledge can bring pride, and quench love. Knowledge can preempt the position of the Holy Spirit, exult egos, beget distrust, and always justify oneself against others.

Truth is what God wants. Knowledge is what man wants.