At the root of many of our sins is an assumption that we are exceptional. I don’t mean “exceptional” as in extraordinarily gifted, like “she’s exceptionally good at math.” I mean exceptional as in what applies to most people doesn’t apply to me.
Do any of these ring familiar?
- I’m running late, and don’t want to be thought of as disorganized or inconsiderate, so I will make myself the exception to the speed limit instituted for the safety of everyone else (unless I spot a police car).
- Though I know the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and that we should be slow to anger (James 1:19), and answer softly (Proverbs 15:1), I’m angry right now, so I’ll speak harshly (and make myself the exception). Don’t take offense, but understand that this is just the way I am (but if you speak harshly to me, I will definitely take offense).
- I know that small/accountability group members should confess sin to each other in order to battle future sin and walk in humility, but this sin is too embarrassing to confess to anyone, and it really will make me look bad. So, I’ll make myself the exception and just try harder on my own. Maybe I’ll confess it when I can talk about it as something I have victory over.
- I know the law says I’m underage for drinking alcohol, but I’m a legal adult, I think it’s a stupid law, I’m not going to get drunk, and I just want to have some fun with my friends. So, I will make myself the exception.
- I know the Bible says we shouldn’t neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), but Sunday’s my only day to catch up on sleep and just relax (I mean, it’s the Sabbath, right?). I won’t get that much out of the singing or the sermon anyway, and besides, the early church didn’t have Spotify and podcasts. Therefore, I’ll make myself the exception to needing to be a regular active part of Christ’s body in a local church (1 Corinthians 12:27).
- Pornography may be dangerously addictive to some people and damage how they view others and destroy their ministries and contribute to the slavery of sex trafficking, and I know Jesus says lust is a sin (Matthew 5:28). But I will make myself the exception to these warnings because I won’t let any of those things happen to me. One more indulgent look isn’t going to affect the sex trade, and Jesus will forgive me, like he always does.
We could go on and on, couldn’t we? We could fill books, and perhaps we should. Writing them out and reading them helps expose these exceptional assumptions for what they really are: selfish pride.
Pride in Our Presumptions
Behind every willful sin, every conscious act of disobedience to God, is a presumption that what God, or his rightful authority (whether government, school, employer, or parent), says is best for the masses around us need not apply to us. We are born with a belief that we are the best arbiters of righteousness and justice for ourselves, and that we are the most reliable definers and appliers of love, honor, and respect.
We love to feed ourselves such baloney. But it’s far worse than baloney; it’s old-fashioned, Eden-birthed, sinful, self-centered pride.
We know this because we can see it clearly in others, especially when their presumptuous baloney directly affects us. We do not like when someone inconsiderately speeds past and cuts us off in traffic, or speaks harshly to us, or isn’t honest in our small group. We are unhappy when our child drinks illegally, someone in our church neglects everyone else, or someone we know is viewing pornography. When others behave this way, we can quickly call it exactly what it is: selfish — which is how pride behaves.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, how we feel indignant at others’ selfishness and yet indulge in our own?
But why does our selfishness not seem that bad? Because pride skews our self-perception. When we evaluate our own motives and actions, unless we are ruthlessly intentional, we will view ourselves through the rose-colored lenses of delusional pride.
Quick Diagnostic Check
This kind of pride weighs us down (Hebrews 12:1) more than we know, because it is a gateway sinful disposition. It opens our heart-door to innumerable sins with the rationalization that they really won’t affect us much or do much damage.
Meanwhile, just like one more cigarette, one more piece of pie, or one more lust-filled click, the weight grows a little heavier, our spiritual affections grow duller, our capacity for love grows smaller, and our tolerance for anything that interferes with our selfish desires grows thinner. Before we know it, we wake to some spiritual health crisis and wonder why this is happening.
If you want to do a quick diagnostic check, here are a few common symptoms of a ponderous exceptional pride:
- A lack of real gratitude (translate: Of course I should receive this good).
- Bitterness (I shouldn’t have to bear with adversity, conflict, suffering, pain, disappointment, or grief).
- Envy (I should be honored and admired like that).
- Impatience (I should not have to bear with this person’s foibles or sins).
- Irritability (I should not have to endure this inconvenience).
- Covetousness (I should have what they get to have).
- Indulgence (I should be able to have what I crave).
Lay Aside the Exceptional Weight
As heirs of original sin, we all pick up these close-clinging sin-weights and so must learn to lay them aside as quickly as possible (Hebrews 12:1). We pick them up because they look like keys to the freedom of self-determined autonomy. But they end up being heavy balls-and-chain of self-indulgence that drain the true joy that only comes when we give to others (Acts 20:35), serve others (Mark 10:43–45), honor others (Romans 12:10), and love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Jesus came to liberate us from exceptional pride so we can live in the glorious, humble, healthy freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
We begin to lay this pride aside by honestly confessing it to God, and repenting of what manifestations we do see, and asking for the Holy Spirit to expose what we don’t see. The more we wince at praying such a prayer, the more we need to pray it.
But we don’t stop there. God has already provided us some help in the form of our spiritual brothers and sisters in our church and family. Since our pride so skews our self-perception, we need their candid observations of us as mirrors, to help us see our blind spots. Often they will be hesitant to volunteer it, so we need to humbly ask them for it, and make it safe for them to answer honestly.
We are not exceptional. But that is very good news, for that kind of exceptional only leads to the myopic misery of the self-consumed. Those who are freed from the weight of thinking themselves above the law of love, or the law of the land, realize that they deserve nothing but wrath, and find in Christ everything to be only grace. Which makes every good a gift, and every burden light. They find the glorious open door to the expansive, wonder-filled, joyful life of humility. And there they discover why Jesus calls the meek blessed (Matthew 5:5).