Conceit and Life in the Spirit

April 13, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

In the last verse of Galatians 5 Paul gives the command: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” This command comes after the lofty commands of “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). Often when we think of life in the Spirit, we entertain some sort of “other-worldly,” “spiritual escapism” concept. The apostle Paul, however, immediately grounds the life in the Spirit into the nitty-gritty realities of life. Life in the Spirit changes our relationships with people, the real people we interact with on an everyday basis.

So, what is conceit, how does it reveal itself, and how does the Spirit help us overcome conceit?

The Greek word for conceit is kenodoxoi, literally meaning “empty glory.” So conceit springs out of an emptiness and ultimately is a longing for glory before others. On a deeper level, conceit is a “work of the flesh” in that it operates with the belief that I am sufficient to meet my own needs. Conceit longs for the glory of sufficiently meeting my own needs. Since I am insufficient to meet my needs, though, my glory is empty.

Paul uses two participial phrases to explain how conceit manifests itself in our lives: “provoking” and “envying.” Provoking others is to challenge and test others, in order to prove yourself better than them. Envying others springs from the belief that the other is better than yourself and you wish to be like them. How can provoking and envying both be manifestations of conceit? One seems to be an overconfident pride while the other is a self-inflicting humility.

Tim Keller helps us understand the nature of conceit:

“Provoking” is the stance of someone who is sure of his or her superiority, looking down on someone perceived to be weaker. “Envying” is the stance of someone who is conscious of inferiority, looking up at someone they feel is above them. So Paul is saying that both superiority and inferiority are a form of conceit. This is striking, and profound. Both the superior and the inferior person are self-absorbed. In both cases, you are focusing heavily on how the other person makes you look and feel instead of how you make him or her look and feel. (Galatians for You, page 160)

So a superiority-complex and an inferiority-complex are manifestations of conceit.

What does this all have to do with life in the Spirit? Why does Paul command “keep in step with the Spirit,” and then immediately command, “do not become conceited”?

Our conceit, namely our empty longing for glory, is the greatest roadblock to keeping in step with the Spirit. In our flesh, we are competitive and make comparisons with those around us. We feel either superior or inferior to those around us. These feed our conceit and only feed the flesh, not the Spirit.

Keeping in step with the Spirit involves two activities, or acknowledgements: 1. The recognition that I am not sufficient to meet my own needs, and 2. Resting in the glorious truth that Christ is sufficient for all my needs. This kills conceit by quieting my competition with others (I lay down the competition) and providing true glory in all that God has done for me in Christ.

Are you keeping in step with the Spirit? Just consider your relationships with others: are you provoking others? Do you envy others? These are not of the Spirit.


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