Spiritual Pride

Jennifer Lim, Volunteer Writer, South Barrington | June 13, 2023

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”

Matthew 23:13-15

In C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters, we see a dialogue between Screwtape, a senior demon under Satan’s employ, and his nephew, Wormwood. The conversation is in regard to a Christian man Wormwood has been assigned to lead astray and away from “the Enemy.” In a few of those chapters, Screwtape advises Wormwood about the woman this man begins to meet with romantically, who is also a Christian, and a devout one at that. Although she has many traits that Screwtape considers incredibly unhelpful in their task of leading this man astray, he finds one in her that he believes very useful and suggests, “Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride?”

Through this vice, Wormwood speaks to the very human instinct to have an “us vs. them” mindset. The group that makes up the “us” may believe true and real things that God has spoken through His scripture, but the “us” may also separate themselves from “them,” believing that what this particular group of “us” believes is higher, more advanced, more nuanced, and more sophisticated than any other. Somehow, “us” has access to more knowledge and more updated “truth” than anyone else, which makes it impossible for “them” to enter into this space. 

As we read through Matthew 23, we see that some of Jesus’s harshest words were to those who would bar and distract people from truly experiencing a relationship with God. Not only did the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees uphold erroneous rules that laid a heavy burden on God’s people, but these rules would not even save them after they tried so hard throughout their entire lifetimes.

This is why when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30), we can find freedom in all that He has done for us. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation or a position in front of God. It all hinges on the cross, and in that, we can humbly submit ourselves to the way of Jesus and thereby rid ourselves of spiritual pride. 

Next Steps 

  1. These last few years have brought up some contentious and strong feelings between different camps of people. In very basic terms, think through the different terms and names of ways in which people may categorize themselves or others. 
  2. Are there people in your life whom you would describe as, difficult, impossible, or hopeless? Take a moment to walk with God through your thoughts and feelings in this area. Although you may not be called to a particular action, and indeed there may be relationships where action might not be the wisest recourse, take some time to reflect on this verse: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  

Going Deeper

Grab your printout if you did that yesterday or your Bible, and mark all the repeated words and note contrasts.