“Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” ~Jesus, Matthew 23: 32-33
You’d think these words were said to a murderer, or a sexually perverted or promiscuous person, or a thief. But no, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders of the day.
Wait, did you catch that… Jesus’s harshest words of judgment are to the religious leaders of the day. This should cause the ears of this religious church girl to perk up and listen. Why such harsh words? And what did these religious people do to merit such severe judgment? And how do I make sure I am truly following Jesus and not the path of these anti-Jesus religious people? These are questions I should have asked in my early years of following Jesus.
Even though I fell in love with Jesus early in my life, there grew an inward bent of my soul, slowly and stealthily, that was hardly noticeable. I’m not sure exactly how it started. Maybe it was the subconscious joy I found in the acclaim of people in being such a “good Christian.” Maybe I couldn’t help but notice how much “better” I was than my peers. Somewhere along the way, I began to delight in my good works more than the work of Jesus. My heart started to reflect that of a Pharisee more than Jesus.
No matter how it started, a root of pride began to grow in my heart and for years it was watered with the praise of others and my own comparison to my peers. I became really good at “being a Christian.” In the morning, I trusted my ability to have a good quiet time and memorize scripture. In the evening, I found peace in my “maturity” to worship with hands raised. I no longer needed Jesus as my savior. My good deeds had become my functional savior. I knew the right words to say, the right things to do to look like the best Jesus-follower out there.
Like the Pharisees, I was completely blind to my sinful pride. It wasn’t until I got married that this slow-growing disease was made clear to me. Before saying “I do,” I thought I was pretty awesome and that Jimmy was pretty lucky to have such a godly wife. (Though I NEVER would have said that, obviously, because that is a pretty prideful thing to think and I wasn’t prideful… I was a humble, servant-hearted Christian.) But nonetheless, I thought I was awesome. So when I found myself, 2 weeks after our wedding, in Nashville surrounded by people who thought Jimmy was awesome, I grew angry, resentful, and insecure.
People were enthralled with his music and only knew me as his wife. “How lucky I must be to be married to such a wonderful man!” “Isn’t he awesome?” “God has greatly gifted this man!” I was surrounded by people who didn’t care about me and were telling me how wonderful my new husband was. This was a direct assault to that root of pride that had been growing in my heart.
“What about me?! I’m pretty awesome too! Have you seen how great of a Christian I am? How gifted I am? Hello! He’s the lucky one, not me!” This monstrous pride that had been lying dormant and growing for years suddenly reared its ugly head. And boy was it ugly. I began to lash out in the only place I could without losing my “awesome Christian girl” reputation: at my husband. I said hateful things. I found myself in anger I never knew I was capable of .
This lead to confusion and disillusionment: “I’m better than this! Why am I so angry, so hateful and unforgiving? So insecure and jealous? I am a good Christian!” Looking to my own ability to be good, I wondered why my idol of self wasn’t coming through for me. Why wasn’t my normal way of life working anymore? This was one circumstance where I couldn’t look to my own good works any more.
Thank God for this direct assault on my pride, this crushing of my idol of self. Without this challenging season I would have never been able to even see my pride. He used my circumstances to stir up the waters of my life and all that prideful sediment that was accumulating at the bottom swirled to the surface where I could see it for what it was: sin. Nasty, ugly sin.
The interesting thing about pride is that it is self-deceiving. Meaning, while walking in pride, you don’t even realize that you are prideful. You actually think you are right; not in any sin. (See Jer 49:16, Oba 1:3, 1 Cor 3:18, Gal 6:3) So for a while I was in denial that I had an issue with pride and love of self. I still thought the problem was my circumstance: my husband’s career choice, his lack of understanding of my situation, other people’s blindness to my plight, etc. And as long as I stayed in this denial with my focus on others, nothing changed.
A few months into marriage, things finally started to change. In the middle of an argument with Jimmy, God supernaturally opened the eyes of my heart to see clearly: I was full of pride and arrogance and had been trusting my own works above the work of Jesus. In brokenness and tears I fell to my face before God. I vividly remember my prayer on that night: “Dear Lord, I have never felt more ashamed of myself. I deserve the depths of hell for this pride and arrogance in my heart. Thank you for your saving grace that covers me.” I realized in that moment what I truly was: a closet Pharisee. Disguised in the outward adornment of good Christian behavior, my soul had cultivated the pride and self-sufficiency of a Pharisee. Of all those in scripture, I had become as those that Jesus most harshly condemns.
But, what a merciful God to show me the sin in my heart. He graciously and intentionally gave me a very gifted husband with a very public ministry. It was through this that God showed me my pride. It was through this that He began to cultivated a true heart of humility and Christ-likeness in me. (Let this also serve as a warning to those who think marriage will make them happy and satisfy their hearts. Marriage is often God’s chosen sanctification instrument, which means there are many times that it is not fun, but rather hard. Jesus alone must be the one we look to for fulfillment and joy. Only then can marriage have its proper place in our lives.)
Over the years, I have become more sensitive toward my pharisaical tendencies. I often study the characteristics of the Pharisees and the charges Jesus brings against them in an effort to rid my own heart of such things. Later this week, I will post about “The Marks of a Pharisee” and how I fight against those inclinations in my own life.