One of the gravest dangers faithful people of God can fall prey to is self-righteousness and arrogance toward the world. Jesus spoke about this problem among the religious leaders of His day in Lk. 18, where He gave the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to pray at the same time (Lk. 18:9-14). It is clear from Jesus' telling of the story that the Pharisee went to the temple to exalt himself rather than to pray. "God," the Pharisee said, "I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector," (18:11). Meanwhile, the tax collector prayed humbly to God for mercy.

Jesus spoke this parable, Luke tells us, to get a point across to those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others," (Lk. 18:9). The Pharisee in His story certainly met this description: he trusted in his own righteousness and despised other sinners. He was arrogant and prideful in his religion and hateful toward those who had fallen short in his estimation. Rather than pull sinners up to worship God, he pushed sinners down to glorify himself.

It is clear that this Pharisee's style of religion was repugnant to God, yet this did not keep many in Jesus' time from behaving exactly as Jesus described. This sort of religion has long been a problem, and it was not unique to the Pharisees and scribes. Indeed, it is clear from evidence in Paul's letters that this sort of problem was beginning to sprout among the Christians of the first century. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul took pains to remind them that it was God's grace not good works that saved them; boasting about one's religion was therefore forbidden. He wrote, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast," (Eph. 2:8,9). While no specific charge of religious arrogance is mentioned in Paul's letter, simply including this language indicates that religious snobbery was a potential problem.

It was not only to the Ephesians that Paul gave such a warning. In Rom. 11, he urged Gentile Christians not to boast over Jews who had not come to Christ by reminding them that it was only through God's grace that salvation had come to them. Rather than boast over the branches cut off, Paul exhorted them, they should fear the power of God both to cut them out and to graft in again those He had once removed, (Rom. 11:17-24).

Boasting of one's salvation at the expense of those who remain in sin is a very strong temptation. It infected the religious leaders of Jesus' time; it began to seep into the minds of first-century Christians; and, sadly, it taints some Christians today. Knowing we have been separated from the world and sanctified by the blood of Christ sometimes creates within us an attitude that we are somehow better than the world. We become spiritually arrogant, assuming that we have some special favor in God's sight that is not available to all men. When we become this way, we tend to scorn the world and lock ourselves in the church building, never reaching out to those who desparately need the Gospel. Like the Pharisees, we become insular and cliquish, boasting about our righteousness at the expense of those outside the church.

This sort of attitude is simply not acceptable for the Christian if he/she hopes to be pleasing to God. The New Testament is clear: grace has been extended to all (Rom. 5:18), God wishes for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), and Christians need to be spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to every creature (Mk. 16:15). For this reason, we must resist the temptation to become spiritually arrogant.

Guidance for overcoming this very temptation can be found in Paul's brief letter to Titus. Paul knew that the problem of spiritual conceit was already drawing the minds of some and understood the problem would only grow with time. Therefore, he counseled the young preacher about resisting this problem in chapter 3 of his epistle. His directives to Titus remain enlightening for us today was we confront this problem.

REMAIN HUMBLE. The first key to combating the sin of spiritual arrogance is to remain himble. Paul wrote to Titus, "Remind them to be subject to rulers and authori- ties, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men," (Titus 3:1,2). Given the world of the first century, it would have been tempting for Christians to look down their noses at the people around them. Idolatry, immorality, and license reigned in both Greek and Roman worlds. Christians had left these things all behind, often suffering persecution for doing so. It would have been very easy for them to show equal contempt for the world. Paul, however, taught that they should remain humble and willing to serve all men, just as Jesus had in His times of persecution.

REMEMBER WHERE YOU CAME FROM. The key to humility, Paul taught Titus, lies in remembering that you also were once stained by sin. Remember that "we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another," (Titus 3:3). In other words, we all were once in their position. There is no room for boasting when we remember that we once also stood apart from God. Instead, this knowledge should prompt us to search out opportunities to bring others to the grace we have received.

BY THE GRACE OF GOD. The greatest key to avoiding spiritual arrogance is to remember that it is ultimately through God's grace that we have been saved. Paul wrote to Titus "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us..." (Titus 3:4,5). We must remember that it is only through God's loving mercy and grace that we are saved. When we truly recognize our dependence on God, any inkling of spiritual arrogance quickly fades in the light of His mercy.

By - Evan Bennett, The West End Way, via. Gospel Power.

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