Pride in the Pulpit

When I hear an essentially law-driven sermon, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher. I wonder about his view of himself, because if you have any self-consciousness about your own weakness and sin, you find little hope and comfort for yourself and your hearers in that kind of sermon.

You see this dynamic in the Pharisees. Because they thought of themselves as righteous, perfect law-keepers, they had no problem laying unbearable burdens on others. Their misuse of the law had its roots not only in bad theology, but also in ugly human pride. They saw the law as keepable, because they thought they were keeping it. And they thought others should keep it as well as they did. They were the religious leaders of their day, but they were arrogant, insensitive, and judgmental. They were not part of what God was doing at the moment—no, they were in the way of it.

Whole Lot of Pride

I am afraid there is a whole lot of pride in the modern pulpit. There is a whole lot of pride in the seminary classroom. There is a whole lot of pride in the church staff. It is one of the reasons for all the relational conflict in the church. It is why we are often better theological gatekeepers than tender and humble spokesmen for the gospel. It is why pastors often seem unapproachable. It is why we get angry in meetings or defensive when someone disagrees with us or points out a wrong.

We are too self-assured. We are too confident. We too quickly assess that we are okay. We too quickly make heroes out of ourselves and others. We too often take credit for what sovereign grace produced. We too often think we don’t need the help the normal believer needs. We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We too often take as personal affronts what is not personal. We quit being students too soon. We have too little time for meditative communion with Christ nailed into our schedules. We confidently assign to ourselves more ministry work than we can do. We live in more isolation than is spiritually healthy.

Not Yet Free

You are not yet free of sin and all its attendant dangers. You are capable of giving way to disastrous things. You are capable of losing your way. You are capable of ungodly attitudes and dark desires. You have not been completely delivered from pride, greed, lust, anger, and bitterness. Sometimes you minister with the attitude of a king, rather than one called to represent the King. You do not always love God above all else. You do not always love your neighbor as yourself. You are not always kind and compassionate. You are not always patient and forgiving. Sometimes you love your little kingdom of one more than you love God’s kingdom.

There are times when you love comfort and pleasure more than you love redemption. There are times when pride renders you unkind and unapproachable. There are times when you want your ministry to be about you. There are times when your’re irritated by the very people you’ve been called to pastor. You are not proud of all your thoughts. You would not want your congregation to hear all of your words. You do things in private moments that you would not want to be seen publicly.

These things are true of me as well. And they testify to the fact that we who are called to provide and lead ministry desperately need ministry ourselves. We who proclaim the message of grace deeply need grace ourselves. We have not arrived. We have not moved beyond a moment-by-moment need for grace. We are not yet out of danger. We are not yet free from temptation. The war for our hearts still rages. We still fail and fall.

But we have been blessed with the same grace we offer others. This grace humbles us as it exposes in us the very sin we are tempted to deny or minimize. Isn’t it good to know we rest not in our perfection, but Christ’s? We do not promote our reputation but his. The Savior uses people in process as tools of his process of grace in others, so we need not deny our neediness.

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  • Steve Cornell

    One might think that the poor in spirit would not struggle with pride — but forgetfulness — in a context of prosperity or power — can be a prelude to pride for anyone. Yet it must be of greater concern when sinful pride is not just a momentary drifting of one’s heart. Much deeper questions are in order. Only chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinners are justified in God’s sight. (See: Who will be in heaven?

  • Jack

    Wonderful article and so true.

    Added note: The Pharisees were also, to some extent, the political leaders of Jesus’ day. They laid heavy burdens on the people, yet they would not lift one of them with their little finger. Sounds like the 3 branches of our own government- especially the White House and senate, doesn’t it? May God deliver us from Pharisees in religious pulpits and in political pulpits. And my the Lord help me not to be one of them.

  • Honza

    Would you be willing to share a brief example of an outline for a law-driven sermon? 2-3 sentences? I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Thanks!

  • Andrew

    Humbling article reminding me of my sinful nature and great need of Jesus. Thanks, Paul.

  • Michael

    Paul, you kill me… in a good way! I’m so thankful for the insight God grants you into your own life and that of others. I feel like this really describes the painful year God has carried me through. He has taught me many things about myself that I have not wanted to see. Yet it has been his goodness and grace that have done it. Lord bless you and your ministry.

    • Honza

      Yes, that definitely helps. This is the kind of sermon you tend to hear in our church and I haven’t been able to find a suitable label for it. I think this does it.

      There is very little about Jesus, very little about the majesty, holiness and grace of God. It’s mostly cute stories and moral truisms and not the word of God.

      I think this video expresses it quite well:

      Any thoughts on how to encourage your pastor to change their ways?

      • Jack

        Sorry Honza, but most are beyond help. Only the Lord can change them – usually by a moral fall that produces humility and teachableness. Pray for them, but don’t expect miracles. And be careful what you say – you may become the victim of verbal abuse, mental brutalitiy, and public humiliations. Having been there, I know from experience. You could get severely wounded, so be careful.

    • Honza

      Looks like I commented on the wrong thing.

  • Matt

    Honza – law driven sermons are everywhere, and alot of the time preachers don’t even know they’re doing it.

    A law driven sermon tells people what to do (i.e. stop doing this or that) without giving them the theological reason why they should stop sinning. Similarly, a law driven sermon tells people what they should be doing (i.e. read the bible more, pray more) without giving people the theological reason why they should be doing it.

    A law driven sermon suggests that it is possible for humans to be good without the need for God (this is a loose definition of semi-pelagianism, google it if you like). It is telling people to ‘pull your socks up and be good’, without mentioning God’s grace.

    God’s grace should always be the reason for our change in behaviour. This is consistent with the Apostle Paul’s theology in his letters. Paul always gives theology before he tells people what to do. Some people call this ‘giving the indicative before the imperative’.

    Anyway, hope that helps : )

    • Michael

      I might also ad that a law driven sermon results in the hearers being motivated by guilt to try and change, to do better… instead of resting in the grace of God that has already paid in full for their guilt. The gospel is the only thing that sets us free to have love as the motivation. We should want our hearers to know that holiness is important, but only the gospel produces the proper and enduring motivation to obedience. Law can never do that.

      • Matt

        Thanks for adding that. I might also add ;)
        Law driven sermons constantly make people feel as though they aren’t quite Christian enough, rather than assuring them of their salvation which is found in Christ. The latter is far more biblical and brings deep, lasting, transformation.

    • Honza

      Please see my comment above.

    • Ethan


      You’re right, and the “indicative then imperative” is perfectly demonstrated in Romans!

      Rom. 1-11 = Indicative
      Rom. 12-16 = Imperative

      I know it’s not as cut and dry as that, but it’s pretty clear.

  • Neil

    What then do we do with those who preach a false gospel? What is the solution? Do we confront them? Do we mark them and flee them? What position does a layperson have against a clergy who preaches a law- driven monologue?

  • Rick Owen

    Good exhortation which applies to other areas too: Christian witness, dialogue between Christians and non-Christians, and discussion (or the lack of it) in the church between believers.

    Pastors get too isolated. This can be due to their own choices or the unrealistic (unbiblical) expectations of church members, or both.

    Broader involvement by the whole body, viewing itself as a company of pilgrims pressing upward together, would help. Every believer is a member of God’s royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) who should be actively involved in using their God-given gifts (1 Pet. 4:10) to build up one another in humility and sacrificial love (Heb. 10:24-25) in concert with the example, instruction and oversight of faithful church leaders (Heb. 13:1-17).

    More thoughts here on the disconnect between “the pastor” and the church as a unified body devoted to Christ-centered mutual ministry:

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Mr. Tripp, I make it a point to read all of your posts. I’m a young, Reformedish ministry guy and every day I need reminding of the dangers, the comfort, and the hope that comes with this calling. I need to remember more often that I’m not the King, just the King’s representative that needs his saving presence just as much as those that I proclaim his reign to.

  • Brandon Klassen

    Perhaps “normal believer” should have been in italics?

  • Betty Elledge

    Mr Tripp, your blog has all truth in it. There are lots of pride around, but sadly there are greed too around in churches – pastors/church leaders in lawsuit over handling of funds from the church, elders and deacons who used their power to dismiss people who questioned the running of the church, people in committes keeping their role so they can use the church (on their own business and agenda) as a practising and performing venue; church authority removing members who disagreed with pastor who embezzle millions but was asked to return the money to the church, younger generation eyeing title deeds of churches originally given by the king during the colonial time……. happening in Singapore and Malaysia!

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  • Rev. Nolly B. Saturnino

    Very good lecture notes on “PRIDE IN THE PULPIT” Pls make me thru my email add as a regular recipient of whatever lecture or notes you wish to forwaed or share.


    Pastor Nolly

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  • Josh C

    Christ didn’t condemn the Pharisees because they were faithful, obedient law-keepers. He condemned them because they were selective in their obedience, hypocritical in their obedience or because they added to the law of God. Ultimately, He condemned the Pharisees because they were trusting in their indicative (children of Abraham) rather than “doing the works” of Abraham. John 8:39

  • Rob

    “We are not yet out of danger.” danger of what? Falling from grace or falling into temptation and sin – from which grace has saved me.

    “We are not yet free from temptation.” clear and I fall prey to it and sin … and I hate it, yet it is not me but sin in me (Rom 7). And I am again thankful for the grace of Jesus Christ who rescues a wretch like me from a body of death. And cleanses me with his blood (1John1:7)

    “The war for our hearts still rages.” To me, the lack of precision here is a troublesome, because if the war still rages then maybe I need to do something. But what can I do, as it has all been done by grace alone in Christ alone. Certainly there is a BATTLE between my heart (which I think is new, and sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit and kept by the power of God for the day of redemption) and my flesh, which though crucified with Christ still screams for attention and to be fed and satisfied by it’s sinful desires. So there is the battle, but the victory is won in Christ. Or is my heart still in play … is it still wicked or is it redeemed. If I must fight the war, then I must get busy and thus a law based sermon arose. But if the victory is won, and if I have been crucified with Christ, then resting in Him and keeping my eyes focused on the hope before me is far more productive than trying to kill the sins of a dead man who has already been crucified.

    Any thoughts on these ramblings would be welcome.

    • Stephen Chaffer

      Grace, love and peace be a blessing from Christ our Lord.
      I struggled with Romans 7; 20 year or so, until the Lord revealed 8:4 “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the FLESH but according to the SPIRIT.”
      Yours Always in Jesus’ Love

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  • Stephen Chaffer

    Greetings in the Worthy Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    I read your tweet: “When I hear an essentially law-driven sermon, asking the law to do what only the grace of Jesus Christ can accomplish, I am immediately concerned about the preacher”
    What about the Welsh Revival: I think it was William Williams who preached the law, the people were mortified, a preacher friend advised him to preach Christ, he was to see a great awakening, he saw thousands saved by the grace of God. “The Law is a School master, that drives them to Christ the only Redeemer” I see from this that both must be applied otherwise what are we saved from? for without the law we would not know what has done.
    Yours Always in Jesus’ Love

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