I recently had a conversation with someone who is not a believer in Jesus Christ as I am. He charged Christians with being smug, implying that all Christians are the same. They have this confidence which he described as smugness. At that stage in our conversation, I became offended and repulsed.
I was offended because he seemed to be lumping me in with “those smug Christians”. He was making the conversation personal instead of sticking with the merits of the arguments. I was repulsed because pride is the root of all sin, and I was horrified that I might be characterized as prideful.
Of course, I am prideful. That is the condition of the human heart. We naturally trust ourselves above all others, and even above God. We don’t seem to have a lot of it when we are infants and young children, but it creeps in, and it grows as we get older. We learn to keep it under wraps if we value friendship and relationships, because the pride in me conflicts with the pride in you. Sometimes we learn a false humility, but pride lurks there beneath the surface in all of us.
When I first read the Bible in college in a world religion class it was this theme of pride in people, among other things, that jumped off the pages at me. It was like looking in a mirror and acknowledging, as difficult as it was, the pridefulness of people and the pridefulness in me. If God was God, and I believed that there was a God, that we did not create ourselves, then pride in people is an ugly thing.
These things resonated in me because I saw the pride in people, and I saw the pride in myself, and it repulsed me, just as I was repulsed in my recent conversation to think that I might be considered prideful. I have been thinking about those things for several days, and these are the thoughts I have today as I reflect on these things.
I didn’t become a Christian right away when I read the Bible in that world religion class. It would be a process that would take a couple of years before I became a believer, putting my trust and faith in God and committing myself to Jesus Christ. Along the way, I came face-to-face with how abjectly sinful and prideful I was. As I became painfully aware of my condition reading the Bible, it was the Gospel that offered me relief.
Salvation is the gift of God. No one can earn it lest any man boast. (Ephesians 2:8) This surely was the cure for deadly pride, I thought as I heard those words for the first time.
I was well acquainted with my own pride. As an illustration, one evening I had drunk too much at a party, the room was starting to spin, and I was feeling sick. I left a party to go throw up somewhere else because I was too prideful and ashamed to throw up in the bathroom at someone else’s house. When I could hold it no longer, I stopped my car where I thought no one was looking, and I got out, only to see a car come around the corner. At that moment, filled with pride, not wanting to be seen by anyone, not even a stranger, succumbing to the excess of my drinking, I stepped back into the car, shut the door, and threw up all over the dashboard and myself.
I was a teenager. I was in high school. I was a reckless self-destructive drinker. I was an angry young man. I was angry at my father. I was angry at people who had the upper hand on me in any way. I was angry at myself for not being the person who I thought I was, the person I wanted to be, the person who was always in control and good at everything.
When I first heard the words that “salvation is a free gift” and “no one can earn it lest any man boast”, I was floored. I thought I had to earn my way. Though I fell far short even of my own standards, I thought there was no other way. When I learned that God offered salvation as a gift, and the reason He offered salvation as a gift is that our fundamental problem is pride, I knew I had found something real, and I knew I had found my salvation from that ugly pride that threatened to undo me.
On that day, I freely acknowledged to God my sinfulness. I prayed with everything in me and with every ounce of sincerity I had for God to forgive me for that pride. Though I did not know what journey lay ahead of me, I submitted myself to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
Everything has been different since then. The sharp edge of pride that I had in my younger years had already been filed away to a large extent by failures, pain, near-death experiences and humiliating circumstances. Maybe God needed to get me into a position where his gift of salvation could be received by me. I don’t know. What I do know is that any confidence that I have today is not in me but in Christ.
It’s kind of like wandering around in a cave with my fellow human beings. We are all in the dark. We don’t know the way out of the cave. Some of us keep moving, and some of us simply find a place to set down and remain there. When I came out of the darkness of that cave into the light, my life was changed.
Imagine the confidence that might build up in a person after coming into the light after being in a cave.
It isn’t that I have anything to boast about. I happened to go right when others went left, and I went left when others went right, none of us knew where we were going. My right or left hand turn may have taken me to danger and ruin, a dead end or simply a different room in the dark cave. I just as well could have gone left with everyone else or right with everyone else, and I might have remained as lost and in the dark as I had always been.
I did come to a realization in that darkness, that all of us are lost. We are all in the dark together – like the blind leading the blind. I had an intuition that the only way out of the darkness in which I found myself had to come from beyond me and beyond others who languished in the same darkness. If others went left, I went right, sometimes for no reason other than following that intuition that the answer had to lie outside of all of us.
Still, I had no map. It was nothing of my own doing. I realize this more and more as time goes on – that God “found” me. I didn’t find him. I just kept going. I kept looking. And that motivation to keep going was to escape the darkness and find whatever light existed.
I still live in relative darkness. I see through a glass darkly, as the King James Version of the Bible says. (A more literal translation of 1 Corinthians 13:12 is “in a mirror dimly”.) But, “then” we shall see face to face! The then that is referenced is after this life. And the promise implicit in that verse is that we shall be face to face with God “then” – no murky haze of this finite, earthly life to cloud our view
If I have any confidence, my confidence is in. It is in Christ. I have no confidence in myself. I can’t live up to my own standards, and I can live up to God’s standards even less. I might as well be a swimmer in a race across the ocean. I might make it farther than some, and not as far as others, but none of us are going to swim the length of the ocean. It’s humanly impossible.
And that is exactly the point! I have learned that this was God’s intention when he gave Moses the law: The law was meant to reveal to us that we are incapable of living up to God’s standard. Frankly, we don’t even live up to the standards we set for ourselves.
As I first read the Bible, these things seemed clear to me, though I would not have put them into the same words I now use to describe them. Pride is what separates us from God. Sin, which is basically just going our own way, instead of submitting to God and his way, is our problem. God brings us to the edge of ourselves where we can see that we will never measure up, and then He offers us something we cannot earn. He offers us the free gift of salvation.
Because God is perfectly just He requires that all sin, all injustice must be addressed. But, He only held the standard up to us to establish that we are incapable of meeting it. He satisfied the requirements of justice Himself by becoming one of us and submitting Himself to judgment and death in our place. In this way He also showed perfect mercy. He offered Himself up to set us free from the judgment we deserved and to open the way for us to have relationship with Him.
Only we have to let go of everything else to have this salvation. We have to let go of our very selves to grab hold of it.
To the extent that I have any pride left in myself, and I most certainly do, I offer it up to God. May he root it out of me completely because I know it stands in the way of a closer relationship with Him. It stands in the way of any fulfillment of the purpose for which He created me. It stands in the way of who I was created to be.