Spiritual Inferiority

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
3rd March 2008

Tagged: grace guilt knowledge

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Have you ever experienced a spiritual inferiority complex?

It is usually brought on by somebody else—somebody who seems to be spiritually superior. They may not think of themselves as superior but their actions and words overwhelm us. We feel that if their experience is normal then ours must be subnormal.

It comes in so many different guises. It can be the more righteous person whose moral principles and behaviour make you feel guilty. The abstainer, the vegetarian, the greenie, the person who will only cross the road in the crossing. There are many people who can give you a dose of “the guilts”. Jesus attacked the overly righteous Pharisees in Matthew 23 satirising their practice of straining out gnats while swallowing camels.

Sometimes it is the super religious person. They wear their religious beliefs on their sleeve. They are always talking of praising the lord and being in prayer. They turn every conversation into a matter of spirituality. They cannot even discuss football without talking of God's blessings and they never go to the beach except to evangelise! Their prayer life is amazing and their Bible reading is exhaustive. They only listen to Christian radio and watch the Christian TV station. I have known several adulterers who talked like this.

Sometimes it is the super knowledgeable person. They have read every theologian on every subject. They are able to find a Bible text with a single flick of the page. They have been to every conference, heard every famous speaker, understand Biblical languages and undertaken extensive study at famous institutions. Yet it is love, not knowledge that builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Sometimes, their power lies in their esoteric and arcane knowledge. There is the liturgical expert who knows all the right terms to describe the building. He will express horror that you do not know to follow the “right” order of service, or know the saints day or use the proper liturgical colour for the season. Or it can be the music buff who cannot hide his disdain at your lack of taste or refinement. I wonder if they ever notice how little time Jesus spent teaching his disciples architecture, liturgy and music.

Sometimes, it is the name-droppers. They have not only heard every famous speaker and Christian leader but they have also talked to them personally. Their superiority is so great that when anybody famous or important enters the room they must talk to them immediately—even leaving you in mid sentence. Yet the great apostle Paul commanded us to “associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16).

Often this sense of superiority is a pathetic attempt to cover a deep sense of insecurity. Their security lies in others' insecurity. They measure their significance by the insignificance of those around them and conversely feel important when they are with important people.

But when we allow ourselves to be put down by such people we are suffering from the same problem of insecurity as they are. We, too, are finding our place by looking at those around us. We, too, are living by law instead of by grace.

There is a marvellous freedom and liberty when we live by the grace of God. We have nothing to boast in except God. We do not look to ourselves, or others, to find our true significance. Rather we look to God who has kindly given us all things in Christ Jesus.

Living by God's grace means that our concern for others is for their welfare. When we see our brother sin we do not rejoice in his weakness but seek to restore him in a spirit of gentleness looking to ourselves lest we too fall into temptation (Galatians 6:1-5).

In Christ Jesus we have been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). There is nothing that any Christian should feel spiritually inferior about.