If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:25-26)Following his words about keeping in step with the spirit, Paul gives an exhortation to not become conceited, the consequences which are provoking and envying.
What does it mean to be conceited? The Oxford English Reference Dictionary says it is to be vain or proud. The Phillips translation of the New Testament translates is as "being ambitious for our own reputations." Conceit grows from thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and letting others know about it.
When we are conceited we will have one of two responses. First, we will feel superior to others, and will act accordingly, provoking them. Second, we will feel inferior, and become envious and resentful. Have you ever noticed that some of the most conceited people are actually the most defensive? That is because when we are conceited anyone who may look better than we do becomes a threat. It's a vicious circle; we get more defensive and more conceited. Everything becomes about us.
Paul, later in 6:7-8, reminds us that everyone who sows to the flesh will reap flesh, and everyone who sows to the Spirit will reap Spirit. When we foster conceit, it is about us, not the Spirit. It is about our flesh. If we want to reap Spiritual things, we cannot sow seeds of conceit. It is the basic rule of sowing and reaping. You won't get petunias if you plant pansies. When we feel frustrated that we're not seeing any fruit in our lives, perhaps it is because we're sowing the wrong things.
Walking in step with the Spirit, then, is dependent upon our view of ourselves. If we are conceited, thinking highly of ourselves, we will not find it easy to rejoice with the joyful because we resent them, thinking that we deserve the good fortune. We may struggle to mourn with those who mourn because we are looking down upon them. We may be dissatisfied and frequently complain because nothing is good enough for us. We will be continually offended because we think we are above criticism. We may be arrogant and self-important toward others, alienating them. We may be unapproachable when others confront us. Conceit feeds those works of the flesh, things like envy, rivalry, dissension and jealousy. Thinking we are better than others causes us to value them less highly than we ought, which is the antithesis of what Paul said earlier in Galatians 5:14. This is clearly a sin which needs to be put to death.
To fight against conceit, we must understand who we are in Christ. We are sinners in need of a Saviour, precious in the sight of God, created in His image, and redeemed by the blood of His Son. We must find our identity in those truths, not in how we compare to others. We will never find satisfaction in nurturing our conceit, because we will always find someone who threatens our view of our own importance. We will always be looking over our shoulder, wondering who is coming along to oust us from our position of pride. We certainly won't be looking at Christ. This is not life in the Spirit.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul assures us: if we walk by the Spirit, we will not walk according to the flesh. To sow to the Spirit, we have to put aside the flesh. We have to put aside our fascination with ourselves, and see ourselves clearly through the mirror of Scripture. It may be difficult, but there is certainty of success. Sow to the spirit to reap a harvest of holiness.