The False Promise of Pride

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I heard a wonderful sermon at our Presbytery meeting this week. It was called “The Goodly Heritage of the PCUSA” and was delivered by one Joe McCutchen. The sermon wasn’t so much on humility, but the Right Reverend McCutchen, in speaking about all the good that the church has done for both him and the world, did utter a line I don’t think I will ever forget: “I am going to stop just short of saying that I am ‘extremely proud of our humility.’”

He was, of course, intentionally offering up a bit of humor and a sound lesson with this wondrously oxymoronic statement – that manages to both undermine the real meaning of what is being espoused (humility) while paradoxically reminding the hearer of the only real thing that can really threaten it. (Pride.) I found myself pondering this deeply while at the same time letting out a laugh that was a bit louder than I wanted it to be.

It seems probable that everyone else in the room was also forced to contemplate the implications of a Christian being so “proud of their own humility” – like some prima donna peacock in front of a gilded mirror . . . admiring the feathers they have been able to grow – with the wildly misplaced idea that they had ANYTHING to do with it themselves!

To be “proud of one’s own humility” is like lying so that one appears truthful or using the truth to somehow effect a greater lie. You don’t want to go there. It is the stuff of deep sin.

The following morning – just after attending this meeting – I received an installment of a new collective blog I have been following called “Desiring God,” in which a number of authors, writers, thinkers, pastors, and poets have some of their writings published. John Piper (whose work some of you may be familiar with) is the writer and speaker who originally lead me to the site. But this day’s post was by one Jon Bloom – and his words on humility and pride struck me as so important that I am going to share them with you now in their entirety.

Listen for the truth of Bloom’s words with faithful and seeking ears. It is called: Don’t Let Pride Steal Your Joy 

Pride is perhaps the greatest evil that exists. It wreaks destruction at every level of human experience. It’s present in small irritations – and in the collapse of great civilizations. Pride is the root of every sin and pollutes every otherwise righteous affection, motivation, and action.

While humility sees glory and wants to praise it, pride sees glory and wants to possess it. Pride turns ambition selfish, perverts sexual desire into unspeakable lusts, interprets net-worth as self-worth, infects the wounds of grief and loss with the bacteria of bitterness, and twists [healthy] competition into conquest.

To be proud is what it means to be fallen, whether angel or human. Pride is our most deadly enemy — it is what makes Satan deadly to us. And it is alive and active within us.

But Jesus came to deliver us from the power of pride and restore all the joy it steals. “Death to the tyrant pride!” is the great gospel battle cry of freedom. Pride is The Killer of Our Happiness.

To understand what pride is, we must understand what humility is. Humility is essentially the recognition of what is real, simply assessing things as they really are. (R) To be fully humble is to fully trust God (Proverbs 3:5), the Truth (John 14:6;17:17), to govern according to his just ways and perfect work (Deuteronomy 32:4); to be content with what he gives us (Hebrews 13:5), knowing fully that “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).

Pride, then, is simply to think higher of ourselves, and therefore lower of others, than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). Oh so simple to define — and yet it has the power to produce such hellish consequences.

To be proud is to see the world through the lens of a lie.

In thinking ourselves far greater than we really are, we see truly great things far smaller than they really are. The lie of pride becomes a damned lie when we see God as smaller, and less important than he is. And in trying to make truly great things subservient to our false supremacy, pride shrinks our capacity to experience joy and wonder. In seeking to be gods and goddesses, we learn to only value what magnifies our glory or satisfies our appetites. We yawn at the Grand Canyon and fawn at the mirror.

The damned lie of pride is that it promises us happiness through God-usurping self-exaltation, which turns out to be the very thing that KILLS our happiness. The more highly we think of ourselves, the smaller our capacity for wonder and worship over what is most worthy.

This is why Jesus said that only children would enter the kingdom of heaven.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1–4)

Why do only childlike people enter the kingdom of heaven? Because only childlike people have the capacity to enjoy it.

Think about it like this: children delight in going to a playground; adults chase delight in trying to possess their own “playground.” Children love to hear a great story; adults want to be impressively well-read. Children dance for joy at the thought of a doughnut; doughnut dancing is beneath the dignity of self-conscious adults. Children are easily absorbed in the greatness of something wonderful; adults are easily absorbed in wanting to be great.

The simple fact is that “Proud ‘grown ups’ cannot [and will not] be happy in heaven.”

Satan wants us to grow up and be like God. God, on the other hand, wants us to grow up and be like children. Listen to God. He knows that it requires humility to fully enjoy things for what they are. That’s why heaven is for children.

Just Take the Next Humble Step! Don’t listen to Satan. Jesus came into the world to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And the devil’s most destructive work was to turn humble, wonder-filled happy creatures into proud, rebellious, miserable sin-slaves who think they can become gods and goddesses. On the cross Jesus purchased the reverse of this curse, to set us free from satanic pride and to restore our God-like joy and wonder.

This is why everything about the gospel is designed to expose our pride and force us to put it to death. God doesn’t humble us because, like some conceited tyrant, he takes pleasure in our groveling. He humbles us because he wants us to be happy and free! He wants us to reflect his image! God is perfectly humble; he sees all things — himself and everything else — exactly as they are. And HE is the happiest being alive – joyful beyond our imaginings – have you ever stopped to think about that?

The only road for us proud sinners to travel – to reach the promised land of joy and be the free children of God – passes through the valley of humiliation. And it’s hard! The trek requires real courage! For humbling ourselves often feels like death, but it really is not. In reality it is “holy chemotherapy” that kills the cancer of pride [while leaving and allowing the good cells of humility to grow.] “Whoever would save his life will lose it,” said Jesus (Luke 9:24) and by this he means losing the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16) in order to gain what is “truly life!” (1 Tim 6:19).

Yes, through humility Jesus is inviting us into a heaven of joy and wonder. And it’s a heaven that begins now. To travel this humble road to joy only requires taking the next step, the one right in front of us today. And it’s that step that our pride doesn’t want us to take. But go ahead and take it. You won’t regret it. The joy of humility will grow and the misery of pride will shrink as you do . . . For “The holy habit of humility is formed one honest step at a time.”

Wow. That’s some pretty good stuff, isn’t it? I encourage you to reread it online when you get a chance. There is quite a bit there. But the overriding focus – that pride undermines all that is good – and that it indeed has the power to transform our best intentions and turn them into our very worst – is, to me, the core of what we MUST take to heart.

As is the over-arching conclusion that this ability to transform good into evil is what ultimately results in the loss of real and abiding Joy!  Our JOY! That which C.S. Lewis said is the very BUSINESS of HEAVEN! What IT – is all about! What God in all His mercy, love and grace is ultimately trying to effect in us! That’s where his Love (apart from the influence of our pride) leads!

So no wonder that of all of the seven deadly sins pride is recognized as the most dangerous and despicable –  the very root of all sin! The common denominator used by the evil one to poison the glorious Truth of God’s love that would otherwise rule the world as it was fully and originally intended! As Christians seeking to bring something of the Kingdom into the world do you think we need to get a handle on its ability to disrupt, disarm and dismember us – as well as the Body of Christ that is the church?

Of course we do. And we need to do so intentionally – reminding and asking ourselves in the every moment of the everyday whether some element of pride is not driving us in our actions or re-actions to the people and events around us. People and events that so often come swarming at us like bees – causing us to start swatting wildly without thinking about the true humility in which we SHOULD be carrying ourselves as disciple of Jesus Christ.

A dear friend of mine said recently that she just wants to be “real” with everyone and everything she knows and encounters – and to me that is a just another way of saying that she wants to live in the truth – that she wants to live for Jesus – which is to say FREE of the pride that would keep her from genuinely being herself as God made her to be.

And I have to say that from my perspective over time she has been learning more and more to do just that – intentionally checking herself and allowing the Holy Spirit to correct her in the moment as well – by remaining open to the whispers He brings when we slip the bounds of the awareness of that He is always seeking to provide – if (and only if!) we don’t let our pride get in the way.

So let us seek and learn to walk by grace in the kind of deep and abiding (and genuine) humility that cast out pride and opens the door to the Kingdom . . . So that Christ can dwell in us and we can walk in this world and the next as the true children of the Father we were so carefully and lovingly and yes, JOYFULLY created to be.

– Stuart Revercomb