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How does one draw the line between spiritual confidence and arrogance?

Weekly Q&A

How does one draw the line between spiritual confidence and arrogance?
Posted on July 30, 2019  - By Dr. Barry K. Creamer

Can you help differentiate between spiritual confidence (in the Word) and spiritual arrogance (possessing head knowledge only versus actually practising what the Word of God teaches us)? At what point does one cross over into the other? In other words, how does one identify that line?

A common answer to this question is that spiritual confidence includes the practice of what’s learned. It travels from the head to the hands. In contrast, spiritual arrogance stays only in the head. While that answer is true, I think we can be more specific.

Talking definitions

Let’s begin by clarifying terms. I’m taking “spiritual confidence” to be about “faith” — especially in the sense of ‘trust’. The words are related anyway, since the ‘fid’ of con-fid-ence is from the Latin word for faith as trust, ‘fides’. ‘Confidence’ is risky because, in normal usage, it implies as much about the person’s faith in self (such as their knowledge and interpretation of Scripture) as it does about their faith in Scripture. How much faith should a person have in Scripture? Total! How much faith should a person have in himself? Not nearly as much as they do in Scripture.

Spiritual confidence includes the practice of what’s learned. It travels from the head to the hands

I’m taking the other term, spiritual arrogance, to be about pharisaism (acting like a Pharisee), legalism, or judgmentalism. By legalism, I mean making the mistake that conforming to a rule satisfies God or makes a person righteous. By judgmentalism, I mean condemning others instead of helping them, made even worse when the judge fails to consider the same errors in himself.

Now, hopefully, the difference is a little clearer. Faith blossoms when our trust is in God and His Word, rather than in ourselves. Pharisaism surfaces when we confuse our trust in Scripture itself with absolute certainty that our understanding of it is right. In technical, but still light-hearted terms, I often hear people say that even those with absolute faith in Scripture need to have hermeneutical humility.

(Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret and apply passages. So, hermeneutical humility is the ability to admit that the Scripture we have is perfect, but our ability to read it is not. I know we are tempted to say that if a person has the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text, then he should be able to interpret it with absolute authority. But the issue is parallel: I have absolute faith in the Holy Spirit; but in my [or your] willingness to hear clearly what the Holy Spirit actually says — not so much.)

Drawing the line

So, I think pharisaism strikes right at the heart of the real difference between the two terms you mention. The Pharisees themselves failed because they used the religion God gave them to accomplish exactly the opposite of why He gave it to them. He gave it to them so they would repent of their own unholiness and love their neighbours and even strangers as themselves — a claim made obvious in the chapter on holiness (Leviticus 19, specifically verses 2, 18, 34), the passage Jesus quotes as the most important of God’s commandments in this world. They used what they deemed to be their own holiness to set themselves apart from their neighbours and to condemn them, instead of to humble themselves before God, and therefore serve their neighbours as equally in need of God’s grace.

True faith (spiritual confidence) in Scripture will result in humility and love. Pharisaism (spiritual arrogance) will result in pride and judgment. From the latter, run. The former, follow with all your heart.

Dr. Barry K. Creamer

About Dr. Barry K. Creamer

Barry Creamer serves as president of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. A trained philosopher and historian, he holds an M.Div. from Criswell College, and a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington. His writing has been featured on numerous print and electronic platforms.



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