Tree of Life Church, London

Religious Pride

Religious Pride

If you read 2 Chronicles 26.1-15 you will the story of Uzziah, and it is a wonderful story of a brilliant king.  He was a man of vision, a man who sought the Lord, a man who built many wonderful things.  You could preach many sermons on these verses about the need to have a vision, the need to seek the Lord, the need to be bold and build great things for God and do great things for God.

But I want to focus on what happens next because we need to know what to do when we prosper.  We need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of success.  God wants us to succeed, and God will heal you, bless you, prosper you and make you a success.  If you spend time in his Word you will be a good success and everything you do will prosper.  Look at what happens next to Uzziah:

But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.  He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.  Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in.  They confronted him and said “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD.  That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense.  Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God.

Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry.  While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.  When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead so they hurried him out.  Indeed he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him.  King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died.  He lived in a separate house where he was relieved of responsibilities, leprous and excluded from the temple of the LORD.  Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land.  Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried near them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, “He had leprosy.” – 2 Chronicles 26.16ff

The Bible said as long as Uzziah sought the Lord he prospered.  But at the height of his success, he went wrong.  We have had in the charismatic church far too many people go wrong at the height of their success.  And one of the reasons why some people go wrong is religious pride.

Now I am only writing this article to people who are seeking the Lord and increasing in success because if you do not really care about the things of God, this problem will never happen to you.  If you read 2 Chronicles 26.16 you find that when Uzziah got pride into his life he went to the temple of God.  His pride led him to the temple of God – not to the world.  This is not worldly pride; most Christians would be too smart to fall for worldly pride.  This is religious pride – it goes to church, it prays and it wraps itself up in the pretence of being Biblical.

Religious pride is exalting your achievements that you have achieved by the grace of God above the grace of God that enabled you to achieve them.  You can do nothing without the grace of God – you can achieve nothing without the grace of God – you can build nothing for God without the grace of God.  Religious pride is where you look at all you have achieved by the grace of God and value what you have done more than you value God and His grace and goodness to you.

Characteristics of Religious Pride

1.       Attempting to Minister Without Calling, Anointing or Vision

Uzziah was attempting to burn incense on the altar.  Now a study of the Old Testament will show that Uzziah, as a king, was anointed and called by God to rule his people and lead them.  But, nowhere was he ever anointed and called by God to burn incense.  That was what the priests were anointed and called by God to do (Exodus 29.7, 30.1-10, cf. 1 Kings 8.10).

Uzziah stepped out of his divine calling into another persons’.  This is such an importance lesson for us to realize: no matter how successful we are doing what we were called by God to do, our success is by the grace of God.  We cannot just do something without God calling and anointing us to do it.  That is pride.

Look at the most successful ministries of our generation.  And by successful, I do not necessarily mean the largest, but the ones that kept going without controversy or scandal, and achieved their purpose.  They were men who kept to their divine calling.  Billy Graham in his autobiography talks about the many positions he was offered, but he stayed as an evangelist as that was his calling.  He knew his success was the grace of God and refused to step outside his calling.  Kenneth Hagin was told by the Lord to go teach His people faith, and that he what he did.  He functioned as a teacher, and kept the focus of his teaching on faith.  And now there are hundreds, if not thousands, of graduates from Rhema teaching Biblical faith across the world.  He kept to his calling.

It is religious pride to assume that you can be more of a success doing something without the calling of God than someone doing it with the anointing of God.  The priests had the power of God to burn incense – how proud would you have to be to think you could do a better job without the power and calling of God?

Yet Christians do this a great deal – whether it is an evangelist deciding to pastor a church without God’s calling them to do it, or a Sunday school teacher refusing to take another post in the church even though it is clear they have no enabling from God to do the role.  If you take up a ministry within the church that God has not called you to do, you frustrate the grace of God in your life and take up time that you could be doing what you are called to do.  Not only that, you are stopping someone else doing what God has called them to do because you are in the way!

I remember being in a church in Scotland a few years ago and overheard a conversation where a woman was leading Sunday school for four to five year old children.  She was saying that she knew God had called her to work with the teenagers, but she did not feel that she was capable of doing that and besides, who could possibly take over the work she was doing with the little ones.

I showed her the principles that I am showing here, and she realized that God was intelligent enough to equip her where he had called her, and that God was intelligent enough to ensure the four to five year olds would be looked after.  She took on the youth work, and it was a success and the four to five year olds were looked after – and by someone called by God to be there.

You have to step out on what you know God wants you to do.  Your job is not to look after the whole church, even if you are the pastor.  Your job is to do what God wants you to do.

Now, God can change your vision and your mandate.  Someone can spend time as an itinerant preacher and then be called to pastor a church, or vice versa.  You can be called to work with the homeless, and later on with another group of people.  But it must be the leading of the Holy Spirit that you respond to, not the pressure of circumstance.

Whatever your anointing or calling, you must keep to it.  Without Christ, you are nothing and you have no ministry!

2.       Thinking You Are Exempt From Rules That Apply to Others

Uzziah knew his history – as a king he would have had to have known the history of his nation.  In his case, it was even more important because the history of Israel is the history of a God who makes and keeps promises to people.  Uzziah knew the stories of Abraham, Moses, Saul and David probably better than most Christians do today.  Uzziah must have known that Saul offered a sacrifice he was not supposed to and stepped into a calling that was not his – and Uzziah must have known that this action cost Saul the kingdom. (The story is found in 1 Samuel 13, and contains one of the most important statements that will prevent religious pride: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”)

Uzziah knew that Saul tried to fulfil a priestly role and it cost him the kingdom.  Yet Uzziah thought he could repeat Saul’s sin and not have Saul’s consequences.  Why?  Religious Pride!

When I was a teenager I remember reading in the newspaper about the Bishop of Gallaway who mysteriously vanished.  When he was found again, it transpired that he had run away with a married woman.  When he was interviewed in the newspaper, I remember he actually said that because he had spent 20 years sacrificing and serving God he was entitled to a weekend off.  This was a blatant example of religious pride: the bishop saw the source of his serving God and sacrifice as himself, not the grace of God.  He thought that he was above the rules that applied to other people because of his great service to God.

Now I am sure that most people reading this would never assume because they have twenty years good service they are entitled to a dirty weekend!  However, we do act at times like we are exempt from rules that apply to other people.  More recently in a discussion with a pastor he told me that he never tithed or gave offerings because he was in full time ministry and had given his life to Jesus.  This is an example of making yourself exempt from rules that apply to others, because of his “great” sacrifice.  It is religious pride.

I think sometimes we treat our religious services like a Tesco Clubcard.  If we do enough religious works, we get enough points and we can trade them in for something we like.  I can watch this rubbish on TV because I prayed this morning.  I can be rude to that person because I lead worship at church and it is hard work.

3.       Ignoring the Advice of Others

There were eighty godly priests trying to help Uzziah and teach him the truth, but he rejected the advice of all of them.  Why?  Religious pride – he actually thinks that because of the great things he has done for God he does not need input from other Christians.

Some people have said “I listen to God, not to man.”  Yes well, but God speaks through men so you need to listen to God through others.  Even if you have a vocal ministry yourself, you still need to listen to others.  I do not mean that you have to listen to any Tom, Dick or Harry who wants to comment on you and criticise you.  I mean that you need wise people who you consider friends who will not just say “yes” to you but tell you the truth and encourage you to achieve your full potential in life.

Consequences of Religious Pride

1.       Leprosy

Leprosy in the Bible does seem to occur when people are acting with religious pride.  When Miriam gets jealous of Moses’ ministry and wants to function in the anointing like Moses does and accuses him of superiority, she contracts leprosy.  When Gehazi thinks he is exempt from the rule that says you cannot heal the sick for financial gain, he is struck with leprosy.

Now in the New Testament, we are completely redeemed from the curse of leprosy (Gal. 3.13).  However, what happens in the New Testament is possibly even more severe – we start to develop a spiritual leprosy.  Leprosy is where your nerves fail to function and you lose sensitivity and the ability to feel.

If you develop religious pride, you will have a loss of sensitivity in your spirit.  You will lose your ability to hear God – not because He is not speaking, but because you are tuning out His Spirit and His voice.

You will lose your ability to hear God in the voice of others, because you will assume you are better than the others and that they have nothing to say that could develop you and help you.  In fact, you have already assumed you do not need to change and that you do not need any help from anyone!

The saddest thing about religious pride is that people with it lose all sense of how out of step they actually are with the Spirit of God.

2.       Relief of Responsibilities

The Bible tells us that Uzziah was relieved of all his responsibilities.  If you persist in doing things that God has not called you to do, and refusing to listen to people, and acting like you are exempt from keeping all the basics of Christianity, God will take every responsibility you have away from you.  This is his judgement, but it is also His mercy.

The Cure For Religious Pride

To find the cure for religious pride, we have to leave the story of Uzziah behind because unfortunately Uzziah never repented and never found out how to deal with his pride.  Gehazi also died a leper.  However, in the account of Miriam and Moses, Miriam was healed and restored, so we can see how to deal with religious pride.

The key to dealing with religious pride is humility.  Twice in the New Testament the Bible says “God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud.” (James 4.6 and 1 Peter 5.5).  If you read James 4.6 in context, you will see that the way to express humility is to submit to God.   If you read 1 Peter 5.5 in context, you will see that the way to express humility is to humble yourself before people.  We need both aspects of humility to access true humility.   We need to submit to God and humble ourselves before one another.  This is the cure for spiritual leprosy because it deals with the root pride.  This is the only way for you to regain your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

Miriam was the only one of the three I have mentioned so far who was healed.  Before she is healed, she turns to the person she criticised and asked them to pray for her.  She submitted to God, but that was not enough.  She also had to humble herself before another person and ask another person – a person she criticised – to pray for her. 

I believe that if Uzziah had gone to the Azariah and the priests and asked them to pray for him and he had submitted to God, he would have been healed.  Even his responsibilities would have been restored to him because God is a God of restoration.  However, Uzziah could never have been restored without a public expression of humility.  So many want restoration by just saying that they are submitting to God – but Biblically this is only half the picture.


To serve God fully, we need a vision of God.  We will never have a commissioning to bring the Word of God to this nation; we will never have a revelation of God’s holiness and goodness until we deal with the attitude of Uzziah – the attitude of religious pride – and eradicate it from our lives:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim: each one had six wings, with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet and with two he flew.

And one cried to another and said:

                Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.


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