"Pride always finds a way to stratify people, to separate people, to categorize people in a way that works to their disadvantage. Pride always creates an elite, an inner ring to exclude others. The game wouldn’t be any fun without keeping score and identifying losers…" -Ray Ortlund Jr.
The above quote struck me as perhaps the quintessential problem of church families. People want to experience a feeling of rightness. They want to know that they are OK and are approved of God.
The problem is that so many have bought into a system of evaluation that can only make them feel approved by comparing themselves to someone else. It goes something like this: "I have discovered truth. No one else understands the truth I have and therefore they are not as approved as I am. I have the right teaching and only those who see it exactly as I do are in the same position as I."
For many people this smacks of arrogance. I am saved or approved of by God because of my knowledge or good works. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so crass as to say it out-loud or to suggest that someone else might go to hell because they do not have the knowledge I have—but certainly they are wretched creatures here and if they do somehow get into heaven they will come up to me and fawn and say: "I’m so sorry! You were right all of the time! I am unworthy!"
It is pride and arrogance. I am approved by my knowledge.
But let’s reword that statement above: "I have discovered grace. No one else understands the grace I have and therefore they are not as approved as I am. I have the right understanding of grace and only those who see it exactly as I do are in the same position as I."
Is it not the same? There is another word for this kind of arrogance. It’s been thrown around a lot—to the point that people misunderstand it. It’s a word that will seem contradictory to the words used above.
It is legalism.
Say that again?
It is legalism: the obtaining righteousness by one’s own ability or understanding. Legalism is an expression of arrogance that says “I am better than others because…” Legalism allows a person to feel superior to another person who just isn’t as together or as knowledgeable or as "grace-filled." In this way grace becomes just another measuring stick for me to compare others to myself. It’s another way for me to puff myself up by tearing someone else down.
Paul said it: love builds up but knowledge puffs up.
Some suggest the answer to legalism is a true understanding of grace.
I don’t disagree with that.
But I would suggest the answer to an arrogant legalist is not a sermon on grace—but a gracious response known as love.
I don’t mean the kind of touchy-feely warm fuzzy emotion you might have for someone. I mean the kind of gutsy and tough love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8—
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
[Note: I had written this article in December of 2004. I'm not certain if I had ever posted it or sent it out in my old Thoughts To Ponder format.]