The Thorn Bush of Theological Pride

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

— 1 John 4:7,8 ESV

“Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak.”

— Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed

To begin with, I must repent. The topic I am writing about here is one that I am all too familiar with, because I have been among the guiltiest of perpetrators. As such I write this piece not with a heavy hand, but a heavy heart.

The sin that I am referring to, and here repenting of, is the sin of pride (which is self-idolatry). Particularly, I have sinned by being prideful about my theology. Instead of seeking to justify this pride, I would like to take time to explain what it looks like and why we should seek to kill it.

What the Sin of Theological Pride Looks Like

There is “zeal for truth,” and then there is his ugly cousin “zeal to prove others wrong.” The former is good and right and godly, and we ought to pursue it. But its imposter is a sneaky serpent that slithers in when we least expect it.

STAGE I

For me theological pride was borne when I became exposed to different streams of orthodox Christian tradition. Having been brought up in the Arminian/Wesleyan traditions, I was under the impression that “we” were right, and that those who disagreed with us were either mistaken or worse, deceived & deceiving. This was the seed that was in the soil of my heart—an “us v. them” mentality.

Much later in life as I became aware that there were respected and godly teachers in the Reformed tradition, I gave them ear. As a result, my understanding of Who He is deepened far beyond where it was before. I was humbled. I was grateful.

STAGE II

But there was another emotion I experienced. I felt shortchanged by the denomination I had grown up in. Did they know this was in the Bible and neglect to preach it? Or worse, do they deny the sovereignty of God?! These thoughts watered the seed, and disunity sprouted.

STAGE III

And I surrounded myself with others who had similar experiences. And we discreetly watered the disunity by patting one another on the back and assuring one another, without saying so, that we must surely be better than those who were not like us; even those who were in the Reformed tradition but held to slightly different perspectives on secondary issues.

“How can they say that?!” We would assure ourselves. “Don’t they see how inconsistent they are?!” And the sprout began to grow into a thorn bush.

Why We Should Murder the Sin of Theological Pride

I have seen the destruction this thorn bush has wrought. Both in my own relationships and those of dear friends. I have seen the rift it can cause, and by the grace of God I stand here today, humbled, and plead with you to put this sin to death.

If we don’t kill it, it can kill unity in our local churches.

If we walk into the sanctuary on the Lord’s Day with swagger and look down on those whom we deem inadequate, a second-class citizen of the Kingdom, how could we have true unity with them? We can’t! Instead we should come before the Lord’s table with awe and humility and seek to serve, as Christ has done:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

— Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

If It Remains, It Will Kill You

Probably one of the most well-known quotes from one of my favorite Puritan’s is from John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin:

“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”

This applies to any and all sins we allow to remain in the life of the professing believer. But this sin can be a tricky one. It can be hard to recognize as sin, because we deceive ourselves into thinking it is a good thing. But I assure you, if what is in your heart is “zeal to prove others wrong,” it will destroy you from the inside.

It will eat away at your spiritual health, and you will think that you have studied “to show yourself approved” (2 Tim. 2:15), but truly you have only selfishly glutted yourself on the King’s delicacies. You will think that you are rich, but really you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). And it will slowly chip away at your relationships, until one day you realize that the only people around you are those who are also wretched.

How to Kill the Sin of Theological Pride

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that you can’t kill this sin. Or any sin for that matter.

The good news is that there is One who can. In fact, He is the only way sin can be defeated in our lives. Jesus told us that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that apart from Him we can do nothing. But if we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit (John 15). What fruit? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control (Galatians 5:22). Jesus didn’t say if we abide in Him we might bear much fruit, but that we certainly will.

So how do we kill this sin? How do we uproot the thorn bush? We can only do so in the power of the Holy Spirit.

“ So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

— Romans 8:12-14 ESV

To truly love one another, we must depend on the Spirit of God for grace. And let us not be like the servant who was forgiven so much, and yet demanded payment from our fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Instead, may we recognize that God was patient with us, and show patience to our brothers who do not as of yet believe all the same (secondary, but important) things we do. May we not be arrogant for “believing better,” but humble.

Holy God, help me to see those whom You have placed in my life as dear brothers and sisters in the faith. Instead of puffing up my ego when I see something in their beliefs that I disagree with, help me to love them and pray for them. Help me also to remember that I am flawed and capable of error, but You are eternally perfect, and yet You have shown me vast patience and mercy. Help me to do so in the capacity I can by the power of the Holy Spirit. May I worship you by having the mind of Christ as my own, and serving the Body of Christ in that humility. For Your glory, amen.

3 thoughts on “The Thorn Bush of Theological Pride

  1. from Romans 14 KJV (the Bible of "**real Christians!" ) — "Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand……. 19. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another."20. For meat destroy not the work of God."

    I **jest about the "Bible of real Christians": Because I was raised on KJV, it is in this version that passages come immediately to mind, But it is ridiculous and sinful pride in me that would see this as superior training. "Standeth," "falleth," "holden," et al, just show my age, and hinder meaningful dialog with other people.

    As you have stressed, the point is, "What does God mean to you, my brother?"

  2. A timely reminder. Calvinism vs Arminianism. If an issue doesn’t affect our salvation in Christ, then let us live peaceably with one another and fight the REAL ENEMIES- the humanistic philosophies of this world that deny the existence of God and/or deny the deity of Christ. Yes, we need to show love to one another as believers in Christ so that we may become effective witnesses of the Gospel.

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