By Ben Swift
‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god” …But you are human and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god’ (Ez 28:1).
These are hard but inescapable words that speak to our understanding of who God is and who we are. The question is, do they cut us to the quick with their truth or do they escape our consciences like water off a duck’s back, surely relating to extreme narcissists and the like?
From the day we are born it seems we find ourselves riding high on the wake of Western civilization’s capitalist philosophy of dreaming big and chasing down those dreams at all costs. From childhood and beyond we are taught to seek out opportunities to have our pride nurtured and mollycoddled, built constantly on the affirmations of our mentors and those who have achieved greatness in the world’s eyes. Surely if they can make it, anything’s possible. And so, we dream of greatness, with eyes and minds convinced that all that glitters really is gold.
For Christians, this is where things have the potential to get a little confusing and dangerous, particularly when leaders within Christian churches encourage their flock to embrace Christ while simultaneously promoting the wisdom of the world. After all, there’s no easier way to entice new followers than with a theology that enables human pride to flourish. When it comes to pride, there’s certainly no more powerful a doctrine than that of human potential, endless blessings and ‘prosperity’.
So what’s the problem?
Pride is the problem! It’s always been the problem, one which the Scriptures highlight ceaselessly but perhaps never more bluntly than in Proverbs 16:18:
‘Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’.
Pride or arrogance is easily developed and expressed as it comes so naturally to our fallen nature. C.S. Lewis cleverly puts it in these words:
“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride…It was through pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
If pride is the complete anti-God state of mind then, and pride is found at the heart of worldly wisdom, a trait that develops naturally in all of us, then how can we escape the destruction that it brings?
The answer can be found in right theology, the Theology of the Cross, a theology that lies in stark contradiction to a theology that glories in worldly prosperity. But are we ready for it? Are we capable of embracing it? For the ultimate paradox at the heart of the cross is that we are called to die in order to live, becoming buried with Christ, only to be raised to new life with him.
‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14).
The cross of Christ must become central to our understanding of everything if we are to truly live in God’s grace. It is here that pride, embedded at the heart of worldly wisdom and therefore each of us, is destroyed through God’s paradoxical way of turning the world’s thinking on its head.
‘For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart”’ (1 Cor 1:18-19).
Pride has the self busily setting itself up as an idol, however subtle that may appear to be. Pride has us standing in opposition to God’s will because it always has us focusing on what we can do, human works, not on what Christ has done. Martin Luther called this incurvatus in se; being turned in upon ourselves. The nature of sin, feeding on pride, leads to the action of sins, actions bound to our human free will. This is why apart from God’s free gift of grace, which cannot be earned, the power of sin cannot be broken, pride cannot be replaced with dependence on God and a healthy fear of his control over all things.
What is it that we have to fear when it comes to fearing God and dying to our prideful selves? Is it that we fear amounting to nothing before the world, ourselves or even before God? The death of pride is surely a bitter pill to swallow for the self-assured person, but to the person living forgiven in God’s grace, it is everlasting joy.
May you know and live in this joy.
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast’ (Rom 2: 8-9).
 Lewis. C.S., Mere Christianity, (C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952) p. 69