Overcoming our Pride

Last week on this blog, and this past Sunday in my sermon, I shared some thoughts on the danger of pride from the Puritan Richard Mayo. Here are some of his suggestions for overcoming pride, with a final addition of my own. The first four points are his, the explanations are mine. We will not overcome our pride until we:

1. Understand the sinfulness of pride (see previous post). Many tend to treat the sin of pride like a neighborhood dog. We know it can bite us, but for some reason we don't think it will bite us. The truth is, it will devour us. Until we understand the danger of this sin, and begin taking it seriously, we will never overcome it.

2. Be convinced that this sin is in you. I am always surprised at how many of us think we are free of this sin. It is all too common for me to think that I am not a proud man. But of all the forms of pride, we Christians are guilty of the worst kind - a spiritual pride that encourages us to look down on both the church and the world because of our own perceived achievements in grace! The absurdity of this sin is grievous. Make no mistake about it, pride is right there with you, in you. "It's desire is for you, but you must master it."

3. Consider God's judgment against sin. Historically God's judgment often came upon his people because of their pride and arrogance. But have you considered that the God you claim to love will stand against you in your pride? Do you really believe that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble?" The warnings of judgment, and God's judgment itself, is a mercy for those who know him because his judgment is remedial and reformative. Consider his just anger against this sin, and his righteous response to it.

4. Look at the examples of humble people. Mayo points out three circles of influence that we should look to for examples of true humility.

a) Friends - Surround yourself with humble men and women. It is unfortunate that we tend to look for other qualities in friends and mentors. Success, expertise and giftedness get far more attention than the quality of meekness. Find people who look like Christ - as Andrew Fuller pointed out, nothing makes us look more like Jesus than humility.

b) Biblical Saints - Consider the saints who have gone before us, we have much to learn from these people in their humility.

  • Jacob eventually got it. "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant." Gen 32:10
  • David understood who he really was, and who God is. Read Ps. 51
  • Paul understood his need for that "thorn in the flesh" that God sent to keep him humble. And he could admit, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." 1 Tim 1:15

c) Jesus. We can do no better in looking for the glory of humility than the in person of Jesus. That the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of all that is would humble himself to save the proud and arrogant; this is awe-inspiring humility. That the Messiah showed up to serve, rather than be served; that Jesus came to seek those who ran away, to heal those who made themselves sick, to raise those who killed themselves, to include those who excluded Him - this is grace and humility beyond measure.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:3-8

5. Keep the Gospel always before you! This is my addition to Mayo's list. There is nothing that can overcome pride like the gospel. In fact, only the gospel can really overcome our pride. The gospel allows for no arrogance, because we cannot truly understand the good news, or receive it, without humility. The gospel is that in Jesus Christ sinners are forgiven, humanity is restored, creation is remade, justice prevails while grace reigns, and we experience all of this through the humble, faithfulness of Jesus. It is fair to say that his humility is our hope! Our redemption cannot be aquired in any way that leaves room for boasting in ourselves. We do not earn it, pay for it, or trade for it. We are justified, sanctified, and promised glory with Christ through all that Jesus has done. So everyone who comes to the gospel must come empty-handed and naked. Like the tax-collector in the temple, if we bring only our guilt and shame and simply rely on the mercy of God in Christ we find redemption. If, like the pharisee, we come with our credentials, consistency and commitment we only find God's opposition.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk. 18:9-14

The gospel is not the starting point of the Christian life. It is not Christianity 101. It is the whole thing. There is nothing deeper, more profound, or more exciting that Christ's life, death and resurrection for a broken and sinful world. If you don't believe this, than pride has led you away from the center.