Religious Pride and Deception 1

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.

It is so hard (impossible apart from the Spirit) for religious people to gain insight from Scripture that contradict the heart of their religious fervor, but it may be that those who are deceived in and through their religion are as deceived as anyone on the planet. While many would think that I am speaking of Muslims, though there is a place for that, I am primarily speaking to professing Christians. We live in a religious nation (in one sense), but there is very little true Christianity. We have more Bibles and helps to study the Bible so the previous sentence may seem like nonsense, but we also have to take into account the repeated verses in Scripture that warns against deception. It would also be wise to consider how many times Jesus spoke against the most religious people in His day (time on earth in a human body) and reserved His strongest words of denunciation against them.

The Pharisees were known for their orthodoxy and their striving after holiness. The Scribes were known for their knowledge of the Bible and their scholarship in the Law. Yet Jesus spoke strong words to them (both) and against them time and time again. While Jesus never had a harsh word for humbled sinners, He had many hard words for the most religious of people who were proud. The same things are true today since it is also true that God does not change. The Scriptures tell us with great clarity that God opposes the proud and so He still opposes the proud regardless of whether they are rich or poor, religious or not, and religious leaders or religious followers.

It is a fact that God does not change, but it is also true that all men since Adam do not change as to their very nature from birth unless God gives them a new heart. All men are born dead in sin and trespasses and by nature are children of wrath. A person can become the most religious (in one sense) person in the entire world and yet be the most proud of that religion. A man can be the most articulate preacher and have a theology that is as orthodox as anyone and yet be proud of those things. A person can strive for humility and lowliness and think that s/he will get grace because of that, but that is nothing but wicked pride in a system of works. It is also true that a person can strive for humility and upon arriving upon something s/he thinks is humility is quite proud of that humility. Pride is not always what people think it is and it is possible to be in the grip of pride and have that pride blind you to the presence of that pride.

Could it be that the religion of America is really the religion that flows from a selfish, self-help, and do things our own way society? Could it be that the American society and culture are really opposites of true Christianity? Could it be that our culture has so inundated the professing Church and that same culture has so taken over the way of thinking and desiring that the heart of Christianity has been taken over and only some semblance of a shell remains? Could it be that while all that is happening we are being given over to our proud hearts and as such we are blinded by pride while true Christianity has virtually disappeared from among us? In many ways that is precisely what happened to the Old Testament Jews. They kept up some of the externals of the religion and yet the heart of it was taken away by the cultures and practices of the nations that the Israelites copied. They did not realize that they had left God but instead thought that they were being faithful to Him.

The Scriptures are explicit and they are clear. True Christianity cannot consist with pride. True Christianity is by faith, yet pride and faith cannot live together. We are also told that God dwells with the humble and the contrite in heart and that the only acceptable sacrifice is a broken and contrite heart (Psa 51:17). True Christianity is not consistent in the slightest with proud preachers regardless of how large the numbers are, how large the offerings are, how large the denominations are, and how large the buildings are. While we may fool ourselves and deceive ourselves about our pride as we think of our own humility, we must know that the proud heart can be proud of a deceptive and false humility. We can be deceived by our hearts into thinking that we must be humble because of things we do and of how we serve others, but serving others can be done by a proud heart.

It is the case that most people hate pride, but they hate it in others. What is so hard for people to grasp is that it is not just the athletes who pound their chests who are proud, but it can be those who are the busiest in the church and it can be the minister who gets the most converts and has the largest building program. Pride is a great affliction, but spiritual pride is an even greater judgment on individuals, churches, denominations, and even nations than the pride people have in life. Yes, it is true that “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” But the professing church is full of the world and those things.

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