Prior to starting my band, Project 86, I worked in youth ministry for six years. If you have ever been involved in a church at any level you will learn that some of the most interesting characters you will ever meet live inside the walls of the congregation.
I remember one particular guy (named Austin) who was fairly high up in the youth ministry. Although he was a relatively new Christian, he was quite well-versed in theology, doctrine, and church history. Austin was a walking quote machine, and he was always looking for someone to “educate.” It seemed like he had deemed himself the spiritual police of the youth congre- gation, and took joy in correcting others on their lack of understanding of the Bible (or their lack of obedience in living up to its tenets).
At one point, I landed in his crosshairs. During said incident, he “corrected” me during a leadership meeting in an abrasive manner. His point of contention with me was the fact that I possessed, in his opinion, an incorrect view of predestination. We agreed to disagree in the meeting, but afterward I pulled him aside. I explained to him that I wasn’t bothered by his difference in opinion, but by his attacking tone, and the fact that he confronted me in public. I told him that we should have also discussed the issue in private.
His response was telling. He said, “Maybe you should look into your own life, brother, and see why it is you are condemning my ministry. You aren’t opposing me, you are opposing the God I represent.”
He really said this, and I was too dumbfounded to reply. I mean, how do you respond to someone who is claiming that you are opposing God by questioning them? Needless to say, I left the conversation feeling unsettled.
A few months passed, then Austin moved away suddenly. Then, the pastor called an emergency leadership meeting. It turned out that someone on staff had stolen over two thousand dollars in video equipment from one of the offices. A report had been filed with the police. They dusted for fingerprints, checked email records, and watched security tapes. It didn’t take them long to identity the thief. It was Austin.
It turned out he fled the state just after he stole the equipment. The pastor tried to contact him, but did not get a response. I had Austin’s cell phone number, so I called him. He answered, and I asked him what in the world he was thinking. He said that he felt bad, that he had given into the “lust of his eyes” and knew he “had sinned.” But, he said he would not meet with the leadership to return the gear or face the consequences because “they were taking the matter before unbelievers, which was incorrect.” He then said he would deal with God as his judge, not the “carnal police force.”
In the end, he was caught by police, fined, and placed on house arrest for his crimes. He never returned to our church again and after this debacle, to my knowledge, he left the faith.
I remind you this was the same dude who thought he was our church’s resident Bible authority.
I share this story because Austin is the first person who pops in my mind when I think of the term “spiritual pride.” His was an extreme case, but his story serves as a warning to what can happen when we become puffed up with arrogance about our faith:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.—Proverbs 11:2 NIV
Spiritual pride can be very enticing. When we meet God, the natural result is excitement. And in our excitement, it’s easy to begin judging, correcting, and wishing the whole world felt as we did. We become intoxicated with zeal and new knowledge, and yet we have no practical wisdom to temper it. This is dangerous for two reasons. First, our zeal can function as blinders, and we lose perspective of our own weaknesses. Second, we may stop taking correction from anyone who doesn’t share the same level of “fire.” Both leave us extremely vulnerable to sin. Somewhere, the forces of darkness drool when Christian people begin going down this road, because more often than not, the road will lead to a fall for the individual in question. The demons actually have a good point; I can’t tell you how often I have met someone who stands on a soapbox, only to come crashing down off of it. And sadly, I have known many, new, passionate Christians who later left the faith. This usually happens because what begins with a hard-headedness about Christianity evolves into a hard-headedness about everything in life. This is how pride works. It does not stop until it consumes us. We, the men of Christ, have to guard against this specific type of pride AT ALL COSTS. It is life-and-death. And here are five ways to protect us against it:
1. Always be open to correction. God will bring people to our paths to teach, temper, and sharpen us. But we should listen to them when they come, regardless if they are not in the same chapter of faith as we are. This does not mean we blindly accept all advice. It means that we are moldable, and we realize that we will only grow in faith if we learn from the experience and wisdom of others. If we adopt this attitude, we will not fall into the trap of thinking our way is the only way, and that everyone else is wrong.
2. Avoid becoming a cheerleader. God does not need people to wave flags and pom-poms for him. He doesn’t need Bible-quoting, megaphone-toting human PA systems. He doesn’t need a squad of spiritual cops. He wants guys who are quick to listen and slow to speak. He wants individuals who lead with kindness, not Jon Calvin quotes.
3. Be cautious when speaking out against specific types of sin. When we start speaking out boldly against things like abortion, homosexuality, pornography, other specific areas of evil, the temptation is to become fanatical. In doing so, however, it shifts our focus away from simply loving others in the name of Jesus, and onto defeating a specific evil. Our “cause” then becomes our main motivation. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen men do this, only to fall into the exact sin they are speaking out on. I am not saying it is always wrong to speak out on a given topic or issue, but we should proceed with extreme caution. It’s better to speak in favor of Christ than against an evil, in general. Sometimes we overcompensate for an issue we are dealing with ourselves. It’s better to avoid becoming a spokesman until we are certain the issue is resolved in our own lives.
4. Be careful about spiritual debates. Though spiritual discussions can help us grow in knowledge, my experience is that they can turn divisive very easily. Remember this: most times, people are NOT argued into the kingdom of God. If you know someone who is genuinely in error, it’s better to be patient and long-suffering while gently offering words of encouragement, than trying to debate someone into enlightenment.
5. It’s all about motivation. Austin proved by his actions that his motivation participating in ministry was to serve his own ego, rather than Christ. And in the end, he didn’t seem to know God at all. This is often times the case when it comes to people who display spiritual pride. What it comes down to is whether or not you truly connect with the Holy Spirit. Do you fulfill your need for acceptance and self-esteem through God, or through the approval of others? Is your ego satisfied by Jesus, or do you need to postulate, police, and pontificate in order to appear impressive to others? The man who knows God will not need to be egotistical and spiritually prideful to try to gain affirmation from those around him.
No matter how excited we become about Jesus, we need to remember the ultimate virtue: Love. Check out the words of Paul the apostle:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. —1 Corinthians 13:1–3 NIV
If you possess fire for God, allow your passion to motivate you to give to the poor, serve the elderly, show kindness to the downtrodden, and be generous with your friends and family members. Acts of service are the test of true zeal. We should be known as men of few words, humble opinions, and righteous deeds. This is the desire of the God who can turn us from metal to flesh.
The Tin Soldiers is a ministry for men. The Tin Soldiers is also a book meant for small group discussion. It is written to offer encouragement in the areas we need it most: isolation, addiction, fear, stress, honesty. Grab a copy as an ebook here, or wherever ebooks are sold.