Pride: Sin’s Sinister Seed (Part V- Its Various Evidences)

Christian Living

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

I hope that at this point we have understood what pride is, where it leads, and the seriousness of the call to be fighting against it.  If we have, then surly we see that it is crucial that we be doing the work of self-examination, that we be discerning pride in our lives, that we be discovering previously unseen pockets of it and getting after it with Spirit empowered tenacity.

During this process we must remember that the battle against sin does not save us.  We are saved on the merits and by the works of Christ alone.  However, while the battle against sin does not save us, it is one of the Biblical traits that characterize a saved person.  We do this by the grace of God, in the shadow of the cross of Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is a battle which Christians must be engaged in and one which we must be gaining ground.

What I want to do is give you some self-diagnosis tools to aid you in this battle.  To kill pride, we have to first find it in ourselves.

Whenever I’m starting to feel sick, and it’s clearly not just a common cold, I usually go to WebMD and use their self-diagnosis tool.

They have this picture of the body and you click on the part that hurts or isn’t working right, and then you click boxes and eventually it tells you what might be wrong with you.

I want to give you eight evidences of pride for use in spiritual self-diagnosis.  These are things we can all take and check our own hearts and your own conduct with, so that by God’s grace and for his glory we might be fruitful in this fight against remaining sin.

1. Hypocrisy

Our hypocrisy manifests itself when the standards we apply to others do not apply personally.  Pride is quick to excuse itself, and so hypocritical disjunction between the ways we measure others and our own disciplines is a sire evidence of pride.  Most dangerous of all is when we harbor secret sins which we would be quick to condemn in others.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  Matthew 23: 27 

2.  Hyper-Sensitivity

Do you get the sense that people feel like talking to you is akin to trying to disarm a live bomb?  What is your reaction to criticism?  Are you appalled that anyone would dare to question you?

Pride is evidenced when we are unwilling to hear our own faults, while humility acknowledges its imperfections and is therefore willing to be corrected.  Our hyper-sensitivity betrays our prideful belief in our own impeccability.

Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,

and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;

reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Proverbs 9:7-8

3. Self-Justification

In addition to being hyper-sensitive, pride is always quick to make excuses for itself.

Take stock of your own conversations and ask yourself- are you a master of justifying your own actions, decisions, and intentions?

For me, this shows up in my marriage.  After a disagreement, I can meticulously self-justify: Yes I should not have done that… BUT let me self-justify it away and explain how it’s your fault.

We’re so quick to affirm an orthodox understanding of sin in mankind, but we’re so reluctant to admit to our own.  If we really believe that all have sinned and fallen short and that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked and that out of the heart flows all manner of evil then shouldn’t we be quick to own our own sin and to repent and seek forgiveness?

But our pride is evidenced in our constant self-justification

4. Elitism

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 10:10-14

Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

Have you got it all figured out?  Is your only interaction with others to teach them, never to learn from them?  Elitism can show up in any area of our lives, but far too often it is our interactions with and conversations about other Christians than reveal this evidence of pride.

Is there anything more distasteful than an elitist Christian?  Perhaps the only thing more distasteful and devastating than an elitist Christian is an elitist church.  Yet could there be more of an oxymoron that either of those?  An elitist Christian?  An elitist church?  The root of each is pride, and elitism is a clear evidence of its un-dealt with presence.

5. A Lack of Real Relationship and Accountability with Others

Pride also bears itself out in a sort of radical independence, in a “lone ranger” approach to the Christian life.

Stop and ask yourself this: who do you have that is really able to speak into your life?  Is there no one?  If there is, are you honest with them?  Do these other evidences we’ve been seeing rear their heads in that process?

There is nothing independent about the Christian life.  I would remind you that there are over forty verses in the New Testament speaking directly to either how we are to relate or not relate to one another.  Christianity is a contact sport.  Lack of real transparent relationships can be an evidence of pride.

6. A Critical Spirit

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

How very antithetical to Christian love it is to have a censorious, critical spirit.  I’m not talking about laying aside discernment or wisdom or discretion, but has your pride manifested itself in your constant criticism of your wife, your kids, your company, your boss, your school, the government, your church, your pastors, other Christians and their churches and their pastors?

We love to think we are being wise and mature and discerning when we’re really just letting our pride run unchecked and puffing up our own heads.

7. No Discernment of Personal Pride

If we are at this point and you’ve not seen yourself in any of these points, I fear you may be in the worst position of all.  An earlier post in this series included this quote from Jonathon Edwards

The humble man sees his arrogance.  He sees it clearly, and as a result he aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn’t think of himself as humble.  The proud man is completely unaware of his pride.  Of all men he is convinced that he is humble.[1]

The discernment of personal pride is difficult because of the particular nature of this sin, because this is the sin which excuses itself like no other.

And we shouldn’t expect that our pride will always manifest itself like Nebuchadnezzar’s did –in grand statements of our own glory- but remember that he just had greater opportunity.  Yes, his sin found greater expression, but do we dare believe that ours would do any different in the same scenario, or that our more subtle pride is any less poisonous?  Anthrax is bad for you, whether in a teacup or a bucket.

Consider the standard by which you measure your own sin.  It must not be your relation to other men.  You must weigh yourself against the perfections of almighty God.  You must see that your pride is no less poisonous than the pride of Eden, Cain, Babel, Nebuchadnezzar, or the Pharisees.  It may be less open, it may be less public, but it is the same species and it springs from the same poison seed.

If you have not discerned any pride in your own soul, pray the Lord would open your eyes.  Because that is in and of itself an evidence that it has become so pervasive you can’t even see it anymore.

8. The Chief Evidence of Pride: Prayerlessness

There is no greater evidence of pride, and no more dangerous path for a Christian to be on, than to be living a life of prayerlessness.  A wise man once told me that prayer is to the Christian life what sleep is to the body.  You cannot go without it long and continue to function normally.

Yet in our pride, we cut ourselves off from the only means of grace to which we literally can avail ourselves at any waking moment, the one which we have greater access to than any other.  Our empty prayer closet, the silence of our hearts, and the dead formalism we muster up on Sunday is the chief evidence of pride in the Christian life.  It is saying to God, I do not need you.

It is pride’s chief evidence.

In a recent assignment for a Reformed Baptist Seminary course, I interviewed three men currently serving in Pastoral ministry.  Every one of them pointed out the dangers of pride for men in ministry, especially young men.  In fact, it was in one of those interviews that an experienced pastor told me that the chief evidence of pride is always prayerlessness.

I’m not going to turn this blog into a confessional, but I do want you the reader to know that this is a universal struggle from which the author of this post is not at all exempt.  We all fight this.  In fact, nothing would concern me more that a Christian who could look at these eight evidences of pride and come away thinking they are unscathed.

Personal examination can be a brutal process.  It leaves us feeling a bit bloodied and beaten down by the weight and the ugliness of our sin.  It leaves us in desperate need of hope.  That hope is found in the next post, which will conclude this series on pride.

[1] Edwards, The Religious Affections, p. 261.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

Pride: Sin’s Sinister Seed (Part IV- Its Devastating Effects)

Christian Living

Part I, Part II, Part III

Pride will either be fought against or it will rage in your heart unchecked.  If we let that happen, what will be the cost?  What are the devastating effects of pride?

I want to simply observe a few of the effects of unchecked pride which we read about in God’s Word.

It is sobering to reflect on the following string of verses and the devastating effects of pride we hear in them.

One’s pride will bring him low,

but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. Prov 29:23

“Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man

who acts with arrogant pride. Prov 21:24

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

but with the humble is wisdom. Prov 11:2

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;

all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” Psalm 10:4

In these texts we see that pride leads to lowness, scoffing, disgrace, and unbelief.  Truly, pride goes before destruction

We have to ask at this point, why it is that pride has such devastating effects?  Is it really true that the pride in my heart, if left unchecked, would eventually bloom into this sort of destruction and disgrace?  Even into unbelief?

The Biblical answer is an emphatic yes.  When we remember that pride is the swelling excellence of the self, that it is self-idolatry, that it pushes down everything and everyone else in order to exalt itself; then we see that pride is completely antithetical to the way God would have us live our lives in His world.

Pride is sin personified, and it will give rise to a multitude of other sinsIt is a declaration of war against the position of God as king over His creation.

It is, in effect, saying to God you will not receive all the glory because I will have some for myself.

The devastating effect of pride is ultimately the rejection of God as Creator and Lord, a trajectory which leads away from Him and runs headlong into an eternity of pain, loss, and torment.

This is what we are playing with when we play with pride.  This is what we dabble in when we treat it lightly.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

Pride: Sin’s Sinister Seed (Part III- Its Biblical Dimensions)

Christian Living

Part I, Part II

Although we can only really scratch the surface, I want to look at a few Scriptural episodes which are particularly representative of what the Bible has to say about pride.

To see the Biblical dimensions of pride we must of course begin at the beginning itself, in the Garden of Eden.  How did the Serpent entice Adam and Eve to rebel against God?  By an appeal to pride.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 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.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

(Genesis 3:1-6 ESV)

Satan, that master of temptation, knew to target his appeal to man’s pride.  He knew exactly how to bait the hook.  It is here that the language of pride as “sin’s sinister seed” is most appropriate.  Pride was the root of the first sin, that desire to push ourselves up while pushing all others below us.

Let’s jump forward quite a bit.  Daniel 4 is a fascinating record of an interaction between Daniel himself and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar was at this point probably the most powerful man in all the world.  He had a dream, which was interpreted to him as a warning about his own unchecked pride bringing him to ruin.  Yet in verse 30 the King is walking in his palace, and he says

 …and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
(Daniel 4:30-33 ESV)

There is just one more text I want to look at, and that is Mark 7:20-23.

What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men proceed…

Let me just stop there.  In these verses Christ teaches something which turns the way most people think about the world and themselves completely on its head.  We like to think of ourselves as victims of circumstance.  We like to place the blame for our shortcomings and our sins on our environment and on the various stimuli which come from outside ourselves.

And it is certainly true that many people struggle with horrendous circumstances, and that the world is full of provocation and temptation.

But Christ is saying something here that rips down our house of pride.  He is saying the issue is you.  There are many things you can put into your body which are bad for you.  Too much of the wrong sort of food.  Too much alcohol.   Harmful drugs.  But the putting of these things into yourself is a symptom, not a root causes of your issue.  The issue is your own heart.  The issue is the sinful desire for these things which came from you and which reaches out and grabs them and brings them in to satisfy itself.  The issue is the heart.

And in this verse Christ lists several sins which flow from the heart.

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man.

Christ calls pride an evil thing and he lists it side by side with murder and blasphemy.  And the soil in which this sinister, poison seed is cultivated, is the soil of our own hearts.

That is just a sliver of what the Bible has to say about pride.  Truly, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

A T.U.L.I.P. by any other name…

The Church

When I was in Elementary School my family packed up our Winnebago and took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park.  This was before the days of digital photography, and every so often I come across some old stuck together 4×6 prints from that trip.  To call them amateurish would be complimentary.  Old Faithful looks like one of those under-pressurized drinking fountains  you have to practically cup your mouth over to get a drink from (usually found in churches-why is that?), and I actually took a picture of a trash can.

This is not a post about Yellowstone, drinking fountains, or trash cans.  I only mention that trip and those photos to give myself an excuse to talk about the bubbling sulfur hot-springs found in that particular park.  And I only mention those by way of metaphor.

Something about those stinky, gurgling hot-springs must have captured my Elementary school heart, because I took about fifty pictures of them.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, they are pools of mud that bubble and churn, occasionally burping up sulfur gas.  Like this:

They are therefore an apt metaphor for Evangelicalism (a movement I consider myself a part of, so this is self-deprecating, not snarky.  OK, it’s a little snarky).  Leaving aside for the moment the very difficult question of defining ‘Evangelicalism’ (hopefully a topic of a future post), it is striking to notice the many similarities that movement has to those hot-springs which so captured my attention.  When first looked at, there is the appearance of a calmly unified whole.  Yet there is constant activity below the surface, as things churn about and elements slam into one another.  Occasionally something bubbles up to the surface and pops, leaving a slight stink in the air.

Evangelicals are children of conflict.  Whatever else it may be, Evangelicalism is certainly an effort to band together across various Christian traditions and denominations to find common ground and fight the good fight, wherever it is found.  Much of that cooperative conflict is good and helpful- standing true against such foes as the depreciation of Scripture, theological liberalism, and various counterfeits such as the social and prosperity gospels.  Yet the result of this trans-denominational cooperation is the creation of a movement which is on the one hand combative by definition and in the other diverse by nature.  The result is predictable: an inter-denominational campaign of co-belligerency begets an intra-evangelical proclivity towards instability.  To put it another way: we bicker a lot.

Recently, it seems that much of the in-fighting amongst evangelicals has surrounded the emergence of what has been called at times the ‘New Calvinism’ or the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement (henceforth YRR).  Organizing this movement into any sort of simple definition or explanation is at least an equal challenge to defining ‘Evangelicalism,’ and is again not the point of this post (but is again perhaps a topic for later).   And it is also not my purpose at this point to evaluate this movement (ditto the other future post parenthetical comments). Rather, I want to start a discussion about vocabulary.  Yes, it took a while to get there, but that is what this post is actually about.

As I said, the YRR movement has produced a fair amount of conflict and consternation in various quarters.  There are some who are alarmed that something they see as dangerous (Calvinistic soteriology and its suspected implications) has so captured the hearts and minds of many younger Evangelicals.  Yet there is another negative reaction which has occurred- this time from within established Calvinistic and Reformed pockets of Evangelicalsim.  This objection seems to be at its root based on vocabulary.  Carl Trueman recently addressed this issue over at the Reformation21 blog, writing

Reformed’ as a term has expanded its meaning over the years to the point where it is no longer a given.  In the context of the Gospel Coalition (perhaps a bellwether for the contemporary evangelical scene), it seems to mean something akin to ‘broadly Calvinistic in soteriology’.  Thus, adherence to all or a subset of the Five Points of Calvinism qualifies one as Reformed.  Used in this way, it includes Baptists and Charismatics.  Some object strongly to this. I cannot summon any emotional energy to combat it: it seems to me that as long as one knows the term is being used somewhat equivocally, no real harm is done.

Yet not all share Trueman’s impassibility.  I don’t need to provide all the links, because if you are plugged in enough to the blog scene to be reading The Decablog you’ve most likely come across some of the various complaints which have been leveled in recent years regarding this very issue- the allegedly sloppy use of the words Calvinism and/or Reformed.

Reformed Baptists find themselves in an interesting place in this whole debate.  Before Apple took over the world, kids used to go outside play a game called ‘pickle,’ where you simulated a run down on the base paths between first and second, with two fielders trying to catch a base runner in the middle and tag him out.  That’s sort of the position Reformed Baptists are in, looking to the YRR crown on the one side and seeing much that falls short of our own use of the term Reformed, yet trying to avoid being tagged on the other side by those who see our ecclesiology and other Baptist convictions as making us something less than what that term historically represents to them.

I basically agree with Dr. Trueman on this one.  Words change over time, people use them differently in different contexts, and in the end it’s difficult to get too excited about the whole thing. Plus, to return to the original metaphor, much of the conflict which has bubbled to the surface on these issues (on all sides) has been accompanied by a tribalism and persnicketyness which has been distasteful.  Like those Yellowstone sulfur burps- it’s all a bit smelly.

Yet the whole situation does raise some interesting questions which are not without merit.  Are we nearing a time when the meaning of words like ‘Calvinist’ or ‘Reformed’ have changed so much that they are no longer useful in the ways they were once utilized?  The fact is that time both changes the meaning and wears out the usefulness of many words we use.  When was the last time you visited a Particular Baptist church?

I’m still comfortable using the term Reformed Baptist to describe myself, but I am troubled by the fact that there is virtually no one outside of my own circles who understand exactly what I’m talking about.  Yet somehow I don’t think that telling people I’m a 1689 BCF subscribing, regulative principle practicing, Lord’s day observing, law and gospel distinguishing, cessionistic, covenantal, Calvinistic, preaching centric, means of grace focused, evangelistic  Baptist is a long term fix either.

Christians who believe the same things I do and who went to the same sort of churches I’m a part of used to have a different vocabulary to identify themselves with.  Perhaps a similar change will take place in my own life time.  After all, a T.U.L.I.P. by any other name…