The Arrogant Christian

We have all encountered them. That person in the congregation or on social media who takes every opportunity to boast of their good works, while sniffing at the best efforts of others. They love to be there to point out your failings, to give unsolicited advice in times of personal difficulty, and always with an attitude of condescension. Yes, they are the “holier-than-thou” folks. Nothing irritates us more than when someone acts like they are better than us. I recall an incident in a small congregation I attended as a teenager, where one of the congregants (we will call him Bob) was fond of cutting down the best efforts of those around him in ministry. It did not matter what area of ministry or how much effort you put into it; Bob could always have done better. And he let you know in no uncertain terms. “You shared the gospel with five people at the mall? Well, when I go there I usually do twice that, and I’m not even trying hard. The Holy Spirit just brings people to me.” Because his fellow Christians wanted to be forgiving and Christ-like, no one ever confronted Bob on his holier-than-thou attitude, not even the pastor. One Wednesday evening several of us were talking about youth ministry at a local drug rehabilitation center, and Bob included himself in the conversation. Harvey was sharing his success at being able to share the gospel with at least one hundred teens over the past year. While we were all happy for Harvey’s success, good old Bob just had to find fault with it. “You have been there a year and all you managed to do is share the gospel? No souls saved in all that time? In the past year, I have brought six people to the Lord. You must need to pray up, cuz something is wrong there, brother.” Bob’s words went over like a lead balloon. Finally, I could not take it any longer. I was young, not as tactful as I am now, and just said what I thought. “Why do you insist on being such a jerk, Bob? Why can’t you just be happy for someone’s efforts once in a while? No, instead you have to be a holier-than-thou jerk.”

As you might imagine, my comments, as true as they were in essence, went over with Bob just as well as his had gone over with Harvey. Hopefully, you never find yourself responding in the way I did as an impulsive teenager, but I am certain you understand the feeling behind the response. Nobody likes an arrogant, holier-than-thou person, and as it turns out, neither does God. Scripture is filled with rebuke for those who think themselves spiritually superior to those around them. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have a little bit of Bob in us. As much as we might hate to admit it, there have been times when you looked at someone who dressed in a way you disapproved of, used language in a way you found crude, was perhaps not very educated, etc., and thought yourself somehow better than they are. Even if only for a brief moment, we all fall into this sort of thinking. It is the proclivity of fallen man to exalt himself above others. For some, it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings. For others, they enjoy the illusion of power and superiority. Jesus encountered the same thing with the Pharisees. They enjoyed making long, flowery, and loud prayers in front of the crowds, and wearing extra-long tzitzit (tassels) on their clothing to make sure everyone saw how they were clearly more spiritual and more holy than others. 

Jesus referred to them in some fairly unflattering terms and rebuked them for making coverts who were even more arrogant and wicked than they. The entirety of Matthew 23 is taken up with rebuking their hypocrisies and warning us not to be like them. If we find ourselves falling into this sort of thinking, that we are somehow better than others, Paul warns us that we should remember that we are nothing (Galatians 6:3). Paul is not suggesting that we hate ourselves, but that we remember the reality that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and that we are not capable of doing anything good nor saving ourselves by our own efforts or our own attempts at righteousness (Luke 17:10John 3:16Ephesians 2:9). In fact, God is often glorified in our own weakness, since it is then that we must understand our absolute dependence on His grace and mercy.

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:6-9).

In fact, if we want to accurately reflect the image of Christ, we are to be meek and humble, and as Paul says, even consider others to be of greater importance than ourselves! (Philippians 2:3). That can be a hard pill to swallow, but it is the only medicine that staves off the disease of egotism and the holier-than-thou virus that comes with it. Jesus Christ made it clear that those who want to be the star of the show, who want to be first in recognition will be the absolute last, while those who are truly humble will be given the place of honor (Matthew 19:30; 20:16).

Is Humility a Weakness?

Which will you be? Humility does not require you to have a low sense of self-esteem, nor to grovel before others. It simply requires you to accurately self-assess, realizing your state as a sinner, that your works are as filthy rags, and that the simplest, most minuscule efforts at sharing the gospel and living it are equal to the seemingly greatest efforts in God’s eyes. As the Church Father Clement wrote: “For Christ belongs to those who are humble-minded, not to those who vaunt themselves over the flock. The scepter of God’s majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not come with an ostentatious show of arrogance or haughtiness — even though he could have done so — but with a humble mind, just as the Holy Spirit spoke concerning him.”