Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Pride (Page 1 of 2)

The Guy I Don’t Want to Be

There are lots of things I don’t want to be. Right near the top of the list is stupid. I definitely don’t want to be stupid. Whatever it takes to avoid being the stupid guy, I want to learn that and be that.

Proverbs 12.1 tells us who the ‘stupid’ guy is, from a biblical perspective. It says ‘Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.’

I think there are at least a few ways that you can be biblically stupid, in keeping with this verse. I’ll try to tease a few of them out.

1. Fight Back

One way you can hate reproof is by fighting back against it. If someone corrects you, you resort to pointing out the log in his eye, you draw attention to her hypocrisy, or maybe you accuse them of having impure motives in bringing that correction to you. Either way, you’re hating reproof by turning the attention away from the reproof on to something else. That’s one way to be stupid.

2. Believe You Are Superior

Another way, though, that I think is far more subtle–and perhaps more common in our circles–is to politely receive the reproof (outwardly), while all the while thinking to yourself how ridiculous it is. We smile outwardly and in the best impression of feigned humility we can muster we thank the person for their reproof. But in our minds we think, ‘I’m actually far superior to this person spiritually–how dare she think she (of all people!) is qualified to bring me reproof!’ And then we go on our way, unchanged, not heeding the reproof. That’s another way to hate it… and to be stupid.
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I have written often on this site on the topic of humility (all posts on humility) and that’s for good reason. It’s not because I’m an expert on it, or because I am humble, but because I know it’s what I need to become.

There is no virtue I need to grow in more than humility. There is nothing God hates more than pride. There is nothing that welcomes his favour more than humility. And yet, even after all these years as a Christian and a pastor, there is no sin more pervasive or more powerful in my life than pride.

The more I’ve thought about humility and seen God’s affections for pride and humility throughout Scripture, the more I’ve realized that this is a big deal. In fact, one could very well say the whole story-line of the Bible hangs on the battle of pride vs humility.

In the Beginning, Adam…

The temptation of Adam and Eve is the starting place for this battle. They were put in the Garden happy, naked, successful, knowing and being known. But along comes the crafty old serpent who tempts Eve (in Adam’s presence).

The temptation is multi-pronged, but at least on one level Satan appeals to pride:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.4-5)

Satan essentially tells Adam and Eve that equality with God is something to be grasped at and achieved. God is trying to keep them back from what they could be. If they listen to him, they will be like God.

Of course, they gave in to the temptation and all of humanity was cursed both with their guilt and with their nature. Ever since then, every human ever born has believed in their inherent goodness and their right to not be dominated by a ‘god’. Humans have, throughout history, contended with God for his supremacy. Just like Adam and Eve, we were and are proud.

And Being Found in Human Form…

The story of Christ is the story of God taking on human form, becoming a man. He was the only innocent man since Adam. He was the only man who ever lived who could legitimately claim equality with God. And yet, rather than contending for supremacy the way the first Adam did, he humbled himself:

… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2.6-8)

Christ, who legitimately held glory, who alone has equality with God, didn’t cling to it. He didn’t fight to be equal with God. He humbled himself and obeyed.

The Divine Dare

The Divine Dare throughout Scripture is to take God at his word: to risk everything on him, believing that he will fulfill his promises. This is what we read again and again throughout the OT Scriptures, as God longs to show favour to his people:

… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron 7.14)

And Jesus himself knows the dare:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23.12)

But Jesus alone is the only one to actually faithfully and completely trust God, willingly humbling himself to the point of losing everything: glory, honour, praise of people, riches, adoration, comfort, wealth, even life itself.

The Payoff

Of course God kept his word. His Son, who humbled himself, taking the divine dare, casting all his hope on God, was rewarded:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Phil 2.9-11)

The honour he was willing to sacrifice in not clinging to equality with God is returned to him. He is blessed with the highest honour of all honours: he is given the name of God, welcomed to the throne of God, and honoured as God.

The Call to Follow

The call to humility is the call to follow Jesus in going low. Peter puts it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5.6-7)

As we go low, like Jesus went low, God will exalt us at the proper time, just as he has now exalted Jesus. The call to humility is the same dare now as ever: Do you believe that God will faithfully reward those who take him at his word? Will I ever learn to stop contending for supremacy and simply accept the role of a servant, believing that at the right time God will exalt me in his way at his time?

So far in this life I have not done well. I pray that with the years I have left, God will give me grace to faithfully follow the second Adam, not the first. I pray that he’ll make me a man who is willing to forsake the pursuit of honour in the sight of other humans for the pursuit of honour in the presence of God — as he sees fit.


** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Jonathan Edwards on Spiritual Pride & Humility

Nick Hill posted this back before Christmas, but I reads it tonight and thought it would be worth posting here again. I can never think enough about how to kill pride and cultivate humility.

Spiritual pride is: “the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those that are zealous for the advancement of religion…. Spiritual pride disposes us to speak of other persons’ sins, their enmity against God and His people, the miserable delusion of hypocrites and their enmity against vital piety, and the deadness of some saints, with bitterness, or with laughter and levity, and an air of contempt; whereas pure Christian humility rather disposes, either to be silent about them, or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others; whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself; he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they be, and crying out of them for it; and to be quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies; but the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts; he complains most of himself, and cries out his own coldness and lowness in grace, and is apt to esteem others better than himself”

[Jonathan Edwards as quoted in D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 264].

Good for My Humility… ?

This morning I lost at squash. That’s normal. How badly I lost at squash was a whole other story. In previous weeks I had thought that I’d been making progress, getting better. This morning, however, I don’t think I could have made a shot if we had’ve been using a beach ball.

That’s embarrassing. It’s super-frustrating for lots of reasons. For one thing, I hate knowing that I’m ruining the game for the people I’m playing against, who are actually good and would have a lot more fun playing against other people that are good. For another thing, I’m not a bad athlete. I mean, I’m no Neon Deion or anything, but I can generally at least play most sports when I set my mind to it.  Apparently not so much with squash.

As I was showering I thought to myself, ‘Well, at least it’s good for my humility.’ And that made me feel a little bit better. But then I thought again and realized I was wrong. The event itself is not good for my humility any more than winning every game 9-0 would be good for my humility.

The only thing that makes one event or another ‘good for my humility’  is what I choose to do with it. How will I respond? If I respond with self-pity, I’m developing pride. If I get angry, I’m fleshing out my pride. If I get sullen and withdrawn, I’m acting out on pride that says I should have better than what I actually do have. But if I take a step back and apply truth, I can take either failure or success and make it an opportunity to grow in humility.

What kind of truth do I need to apply? I need to ask questions of hope, joy, life, and meaning.

Why does losing at squash make me feel hopeless or worthless? What was I looking for in that game that is being denied? Why would I believe that joy could be found in being esteemed as a good athlete? Why in the world would I think that my identity should be tied up in how I can play a game?

Squash is a bit of a silly example, but it serves to display a point that I think is worth thinking about.

One of the tremendous honours that comes with pastoral ministry is being privy to the different struggles and hardships of people’s lives. Whether it’s just living in a fallen world where we have trials of various kinds or battling against horrible sin, people all around are struggling with hardships. What I’m eager to point out here is that it is a lie of Satan to think that merely going through hardships will be good for developing humility. Circumstances can be used as tools to develop humility as you choose how to respond to life, but circumstances themselves will never do the hard work of preaching to your heart.

Circumstances may point out the vanity and superficiality of joy in this world and in this life, but the only thing that will produce humility is taking the truths of God’s word and applying them to your heart.

For the Christian, our identity is in Christ. Our hope is in his finished work. Our joy is in fellowship with God. Life is found in communion with his Spirit. Our purpose is entirely wrapped up with Christ and his purposes for us.

So what situations are ‘good for your humility’? All those which you choose to take as opportunities to remind yourself of your meaningless, purposelessness, hopelessness apart from Christ. Each and every situation which provides you opportunity to remind yourself that your joy, hope, comfort, peace, and identity are tied up in the gospel of Christ. Every one of those circumstances becomes good for for your humility because it’s a circumstance that you use to preach your need of Christ’s finished work on your behalf to yourself. And there’s nothing more humbling than that.

How Big Are Your Phylacteries?

What are phylacteries? They’re the Greek word used for Tefillin. Not helping? They are boxes with straps that the Jewish people have made for millennia. They contain pieces of Torah and are worn on the arms or foreheads.

Where would they get an idea like this? Try looking up Exodus 13.9, 16; Deuteronomy 6.8; 11.18.

Each verse on its own, isolated from its context, could be taken in such a way that these Tefillin could be defended. More fitting, however, is the idea that the Lord is calling his people to preach to themselves and their children. His word is to be so central to their thoughts, meditations, and conversation that it would be as if they have the word bound to their foreheads–you can’t help but notice it! To run into one of these people is to come face-to-face with the Law.

As I’ve said before, what excites you is what you pass on. God is calling his people to show their passion for his righteous Law.

When it comes to phylacteries, one could make the case that they are legitimate, even as physical things. But they were to be peripheral things, not central.

What did Jesus think of phylacteries? Well, he mentions them in Matthew 23.5, in condemning the religious leaders of his day. In that case, Jesus was condemning their actions because they had taken a peripheral, non-necessary element of their faith and made it central. They had made it a show. It wasn’t enough to rejoice in the Law like all the rest of God’s people–they had to figure out something extra that they could do to make themselves stand out from the crowd. They wanted to show themselves as different and better in some regard.

The temptations to do this in the Christian life are legion. As Don Carson is wont to say, ‘It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is desperately needed is to be prophetic from the centre.’ What he means is simple. It is easy to make yourself seem more spiritual, more noble, more informed, more mature than you are by dealing with side issues. It makes you look like you’re further advanced. If you’re forever preaching about things that others hear and say, ‘wow, I hadn’t even thought about that…’, then it makes you seem like a prophet. You are exalted.

What I want to suggest is that in the Christian life, our pet issues will often become our phylacteries; the extra things we add on to the centre of the Christian faith to make ourselves seem further advanced in Christian living than we are. They make us stand out in a crowd of ‘normal Christians.’

As Christians who know the gospel, it is always a temptation to assume the gospel. When that happens we exalt secondary (or even tertiary) issues to levels of primary importance, and determine levels of standing within the church based on our pet issues (our phylacteries), rather than our faithful love for and proclamation of the gospel.

What kinds of things do Christians make into phylacteries? How about new books that you’ve read / are reading? Understanding all issues of deep theology, or being the first to discover some hip ‘new’ theology that no one at church understands yet. For many in our day it is social justice or ‘ministering to the community at large.’ For some it is on-demand breast-feeding, while for others it could be scheduled feeding. Many Christians get caught up with new diets or types of food that they swear will make all the difference. Some Christians make a career out of arguing for home schooling, Christian schooling, or public schooling. The list could go on and on! All this is not to say that these are bad causes, but it is to say that we need to fight with everything in us to make sure we’re known first and foremost for loving the gospel (like we wear it on our foreheads!), not for being some social justice advocate, or some home-school promoter.

What Carson has said is true, that it is easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What is most concerning about this, however, is that Jesus says pride is living in these attitudes and working through them. Pride destroys opportunities to be workers for the kingdom, since Jesus himself says ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.’ God opposes the proud. You’re not working for the kingdom if you’re promoting another cause more than the gospel.

The second part of Carson’s quote is equally true: ‘What is most needed is to be prophetic from the centre.’ You can’t do that when you’re shouting from the peripheries. The gospel gets drowned out. If we’re always known for being passionate about secondary issues, how will we ever be able to express that we’re more passionate about the gospel?

So how about you? What are you known for? What do people see on your forehead and arms? Is it obvious to those who know you that the gospel is your first love and primary passion?

It is my prayer that my phylacteries would shrink; that I would speak boldly and passionately about the gospel, and never be more passionate about anything else than Christ and his love for me. I want to be slow to express my opinions on secondary matters. I want to be known for loving what all Christians are called to love: the gospel. Never some other cause.

Why we don’t see answers to prayer

Tim Challies recently posted some reasons why God will not answer our prayers. About the same time I was wondering about unanswered prayer and got to thinking that perhaps much of what we call unanswered prayer is really prayer that we simply don’t see answered. The reasons for this could be legion, but here’s one that stuck out to me: Many times we don’t know what we’re praying for, or what the answer will look like.

Our church recently held a ‘week of prayer.’ In one of the meetings we focused on prayers of contrition as a theme, emphasizing our absolute dependence on God for all things. In our last meeting we prayed prayers of dedication to God, committing our future plans and ministry hopes to him to do with as he sees fit. In both of these cases many prayers were offered to God, begging him to keep us humble and to demolish pride in all its subtle forms in our hearts.

That got me to thinking.

Those are wonderful and biblical things to pray! But how do we know when those prayers have been answered? Sometimes I think we expect God to answer those prayers by simply changing our hearts overnight so that we never are tempted to pride again. But that’s not a biblical expectation.

What is a more likely answer to that prayer? It’s more likely that God will bring hardships or persecution. He may allow me to fall into some sort of sin, or else have some secret sin in my heart exposed before others. It is in these types of ways that God strips us of our self-reliance and our sinful, blind desire for and pride in autonomy. Pride is too deeply ingrained in our personalities, thought processes, and decision-making capacities for us to deal with it any other way.

How can we put pride to death when we don’t know where it is?

Looking back over my life I can see that many times God has answered my prayers in ways that I have not expected. More often than not when I sincerely pray for humility and for the Lord to destroy sin in my life, that prayer is answered with suffering or the exposure of sin in my heart. The trouble is that since I wasn’t expecting this as an answer to prayer, I don’t see it as one at the time, and then I get upset and cry out, ‘Why would you let this happen to me, God?’

But it’s all grace. He gives grace in the trial, he gives grace for increased faith, he gives grace as he humbles us so that we might increasingly depend on him in love.

This is just one example, but I think it illustrates the point well. From our end prayers often seem to go unanswered. I wonder if often we are just looking for the wrong type of answer.

Just for fun, here’s an awesome hymn by John Newton that illustrates the same point:

I asked the LORD that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

LORD, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the LORD replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in me.”

A Sad Sort of Irony

Here’s a post that a few of you may remember. I posted it a while back on my old blog. I read it today though, and thought it might be worth revisiting. So here it is, with a few minor revisions.


Isn’t it interesting how God weaves themes together in the things we’re learning at given points in our life? At church my pastor has been preaching through Romans. In my biblical counselling course at school we’ve had to take a pretty in-depth look at Romans as well, along with Genesis 1-3.

Examining the ways of the heart of man and the origin of sin from those two books has been a fascinating study. Today I was reflecting on all that the Word of God has been teaching me and I couldn’t help but take notice of the wisdom of God together with the depravity of man in a sad sort of irony.

God created man noble and ‘very good.’ The world was created for his enjoyment, and enjoy it he did! Moreover, he treasured the wife of his youth–the woman God created from him, to be for him–flesh of his own flesh. They were naked–completely exposed, vulnerable, shown for all that they truly were–and they felt no shame.

But you know the story… along comes that crafty old serpent to mess everything up. He tempts the humans by saying that what they were wasn’t enough… they could be more. They should strive to know more and to be more. Though they had no sin or shame, he tempted them with pride, and they bought it.

They wanted to be what God was, to know what God knew… they had the commands of God, but thought, “We know better.” That was pride, and it did them in.

But where did pride lead?

No sooner had they become sinners then they sought coverings for shame. Pride had led to shame. And when God came looking for them, they were hidden. Why? They had become sinners, and had become what they were never meant to be. Their pride had led to a fall, and the fall meant shame.

Ever since then humans have been shame-driven creatures. Ever wonder what stops us from really getting close to other humans? We’re afraid they might get to know us. What stops us from confessing that we’re sinners? We don’t even want to admit to ourselves that we’re as sinful as we are, nevermind confessing it to someone else, or to God.

So we help each other out in this journey of deception by telling each other that what we really need is ‘self-confidence,’ which is in reality a justified pride. ‘Think good thoughts about yourself everyday,’ we say. The ‘little engine that could’ is somehow seen as a positive role model. The basic premise of course, is that there is something good inside of me that I should believe in… but there’s not. But we continually tell ourselves and each other that there is so that we can feel better about ourselves; we minimize the pain of our shame through pride.

Shame moves us to distract people from our real selves. We become someone we were never meant to be: we put on facades, we pretend we like things we don’t, we hang out with people we don’t like and we do things we never would, all so that no one will judge us for being who we really are, because we’re ashamed of who we really are.

Shame moves us to ambition. We pursue things we don’t want at costs higher than what we would like to pay just so we don’t look worse than anyone else… we cover our shame with pride. ‘Don’t fall behind or someone may figure out that you don’t measure up,’ we tell ourselves.

Shame moves us to religion. All the world religions continue to insist that if we work hard to do good, and if we just live like the good people we really are, whatever creator-being there is will be good to us as well. That’s pride… it’s not an honest evaluation of what’s in my heart. But that’s the wisdom of this world; the ‘wisdom’ God saw, when he said ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

How is it that Adam’s sin of pride led to shame for all mankind, only to have that shame end up resulting in pride? It pushes us further and further away from the God who said that he ‘opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

In other words, acknowledge your shame. Say, ‘Yeah, when I look inside my heart I see that I don’t desire what God desires, I only want what I want.’ Humble yourself before God and say, ‘God, I’m not all you’ve made me to be and I need your grace to change my heart.’ But that takes humility.

Remarkably, however, in the wisdom of God, that humility (the undoing of pride) is the first thing required for entrance into God’s eternal kingdom. That’s definitely not the ‘wisdom’ of man.

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