I’m a prideful man.
Seriously. I’m a leading expert in the field.
I am not trying to be pretentious. I want to be honest and transparent. I’ve experienced the problems that come with pride firsthand. I have far too often allowed the sin of pride to hold sway in my life, and never been the better for it. The concern for “self” has served only to frustrate me and, too often, ripped joy from my life.
Make no mistake, pride is perilous. The prideful person contends with God himself. That’s a battle you don’t want to wage and cannot win.
Fight the Good Fight
We have all heard about the dangers of pride. We know arrogance, self-centeredness, and self-exaltation are unbecoming of a Christian. If you haven’t heard it explicitly, you know it intuitively: we must steer clear of pride. Yet, for some reason, people like me far too often struggle with pride and arrogance.
We have been warned, yet we run headlong into danger. And all of us are in danger here.
Pride is tucked away in every single human heart. The need to prepare for an all-out war against pride is urgent. I simply want to help you fight the good fight.
Pride Runs in Our Blood
Charles Bridges said pride “contends for supremacy.” C. J. Mahaney writes, “Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.” And since “pride runs in our blood,” it is something that we all struggle with at some point and to varying degrees.
When we talk about the danger of pride, we’re talking about the danger of the desire in all of us to exalt ourselves to the place of God and prove to the world that we’re independent. When I look independent, big, powerful, and capable, I give the world reason to praise me. And when that happens, I get the joy that accompanies their praise.
That last sentence takes us deeper into the problem of pride. For the famous enlightenment philosopher Blaise Pascal, it was fundamental that “all men seek happiness. . . . This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
This is the principal promise of pride: “If I can garner the praise and adoration of those around me, I will be happy.”
Or so we think.
Fight Pride with Pleasure
John Owen once warned, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” That’s what pride will do. It’ll end up killing you and sending you to hell. Indeed, “pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). And make no mistake, destruction will come because the Lord “abundantly repays the one who acts in pride” (Psalm 31:23).
If we want to avoid the sure destruction that God renders to the prideful, we need to fight against it. But how do we lean away from pride and toward humility? There are a number of strategies for the fight, but let me focus on just one: consider fighting pride with pleasure. Let me explain.
The Wrecking Ball for Pride
First, our understanding of the gospel crushes our reasons for pride. The gospel of grace meets the god of Self and reminds us of our wickedness. The god of Self doesn’t look so god-like in the light of the news of a crucified Savior. In other words, when we come to see that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), our pride appears incredibly silly.
The gospel brings the god of Self down to the ground. God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to live and die and rise again in order to reconcile us to our heavenly Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:22). This is the only way we could be saved — this work of Jesus on our behalf was necessary (Acts 17:3).
The gospel reminds us that it took the Son of God dying in our place in order to save us from sin, death, and hell. The god of self is a weak god, unable to save even itself from destruction. It’s difficult to be prideful when the gospel tells us that we are sinful and wicked, even from birth (Psalm 51:5). Pride is insanity for those who know that they are unable to save themselves and must be helped by another.
In other words, the gospel of grace crushes the god of Self by showing how truly un-godlike we are and setting us free to praise the God of our salvation. But this in itself is not good news — a view of ourselves that leaves us humble but miserable may be accurate, but it is not compelling. We need to find the happiness we all seek. The gospel delivers.
Emptied of Pride, Filled with Pleasure
My heart used to seek happiness in the praises of men. But God gave me eyes to see that Jesus offers happiness in the presence of God, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Eternal pleasure is found in the ultimate treasure of God my Savior.
Again, pride is about pleasure. For me, it was about finding pleasure in the praises of men. Yet the pleasures of men are refuse in comparison to feeling the pleasure “of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). True, full, lasting pleasure is not found in receiving the praises of men, but in giving praise to Jesus, our greatest treasure.
Do you see? We all desire to be happy. We are all joy-seekers. Pride lies to us and says happiness is found in exalting ourselves to the place of God. If I could land in that spot, I’d receive the praises of men and find joy for my soul.
The gospel makes a better promise. Yes, the gospel tells us we’re wicked and not worthy of praise. It brings us low. But then, the gospel lifts us up. The gospel tells us Christ died for us while we were yet sinners in order to reconcile us to God. It lifts us up, not to make us “god,” but to free us to sing the praises of our Lord and our God.
Simply put, giving praise to God, not pridefully seeking and receiving the praises of men, is where lasting pleasure is found.