In a passionate plea to seminary students, Reformed theologian C. J. Mahaney cautioned them against becoming "puffed up" believers in Christ.
The temptation of pride is there, especially as Christians grow in their knowledge of the truth, Mahaney warned on Thursday. But rather than being filled with pride, believers should be more and more humbled, knowing the grace of God.
President of Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Md., Mahaney addressed students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., with a message titled "Deflating the Puffed Up Church."
He cited Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians who were drifting from the centrality of the Gospel, becoming increasingly attracted to human wisdom, and desiring the applause of the world.
"We often bear a striking resemblence to the Corinthians," he said.
Mahaney pulled three sobering questions from the New Testament book, posing them to Christians today as Paul did some 2,000 years ago:
"For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"
While the believers in the Corinthian church were proud of their spirituality, gifts, and their exclusive identification with a certain leader, they had no basis for being "puffed up," Mahaney noted.
Citing Paul's letter, Mahaney stressed that it was God who saved them, chose them, and revealed the mystery of the Gospel to them.
"They didn't discover God; He revealed Himself to them," the longtime pastor highlighted. "Everything distinctive about them is attributed to God alone."
Addressing the second rhetorical question, Mahaney reminded Christians that everything they have is from God.
Nothing originates with them and nothing is inherently theirs, he added. "They have received, not achieved."
"All is of grace," he asserted to the young students. "Absolutely everything is a gift from God."
Quoting his historical hero, 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon, Mahaney said, "Believer, learn to reject pride."
Using modern language, he continued, "And if He has made you anything, aren't you taught thereby that it is grace which has made you to differ? Great believer, you would have been a great sinner if God had not made you to differ."
To boast, he added, is to be ignorant of grace.
Mahaney challenged the students to take these three questions with them into their semester and the rest of their lives.
"Take them with you into the rest of your lives because in this context as well as future pastoral ministry, there's temptation," he warned. "Surely you're familiar with the temptation to be puffed up because of what you are learning. That's not the intention of your professors but it is the harsh reality of remaining sin in our lives. There is a temptation and tendency to be puffed up as a result of the education we are receiving."
"These questions will protect you," he assured. "These questions will address your ambition."
An appropriate answer to the questions "should have a humbling, pride deflating effect upon our souls."