Every one of us is susceptible to falling into pride. But it is the Pharisee’s religious pride that is the most dangerous because it doesn’t appear prideful on the outside, instead it has the external appearance of holiness. As Andrew Murray said: “There is no pride so dangerous, because none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness. [There can grow], all unconsciously, a hidden habit of soul, which feels complacency its attainments, and cannot help seeing how far it is in advance of others.”
As I wrote in my last post, Four Marks of a Pharisee, I believe the first and most important response we can have when fighting this type of pride (or any sin) is one of brokenness and repentance. It is a lowly and contrite spirit that God loves and we need Him walking along side us to see any victory in this area.
With that in mind, I want to share four practical ways I regularly choose to fight this religious pride in my own heart.
Be aware of your sickness.
Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32
The first way we can humble ourselves is to remind ourselves of our need for Jesus. Jesus said He came for the sick and the sinners. So it doesn’t do much good for us to convince ourselves, through good deeds, that we aren’t that bad. On the contrary, it actually benefits us to be made aware of our sin because this will help us see our great need for Jesus.
What I am not advocating is a self-piteous, woe-is-me, self-bashing attitude. This is actually a form of pride because it is still SELF-focused. Instead, with our eyes on our God and a heart that longs to honor Him with our whole being, it is good to ask Him to reveal the hidden corners of our heart and expose any sin so that we might be more useful and more glorifying to Him.
This is the heart of David in Psalm 139: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” And in Psalm 26: “Examine me, O Lord, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.” Jesus also pointed us to personal repentance as a way to fight self-exalting pride. In response to those who were pointing the finger at “worse sinners” than themselves Jesus said twice: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
I have often set aside times for personal repentance based on these verses, asking God to reveal sin in my heart that I can’t see. This has become a kind of “heart-tune up” for me. Just as we check for unseen problems in cars, appliances, and computers to keep them running efficiently, my heart needs to be regularly checked for underlying sin that I cannot see so I can be more efficient for God’s purposes for my life. (If you are interested, I did 10 days of repentance in 2010 and blogged through the whole process. Check it out here: 10 Days of Prayer and Repentance.)
Know that you can do NOTHING good on your own.
Even more than an awareness of our sin, which is good, true humility is simply the absence of self. I remember the exact moment I read the chapter ‘Nice People or New Men’ from C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity. I was on an elliptical machine at my mom’s gym during my first summer home from college when God gave me this huge wake-up call: my “niceness” and good external behavior were not mine to boast about, they were gifts from God that I have no right to take credit for. In this chapter Lewis writes:
If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. … A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. … If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous.
Until that moment, I had assumed my good external behaviors were somehow a product of my own efforts. Never once had I considered that my ease in resisting certain temptations, my good deeds, and even the young age of my salvation were gifts from God through the upbringing I had. Rather, I had taken these as my own and prided myself in how “good” of a Christian I was. As a result, it was hard to see myself as sick and in need of Jesus, as deserving of hell apart of Jesus’s work on the cross. But when I view these things as gifts from God, I can see my great need for Him.
Now, when I sense that prideful boasting rising in my heart now, I am quick to recite Jesus words in John 15:5: “For apart from Me you can do nothing.” If needed, I am will lower myself to my knees in the middle of the day and ask Him for the grace to remember that any good I see in my life is HIS grace and HIS work in my life, it is not of myself.
Resist the urge to justify yourself.
“You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts.” Luke 16:15
One of the marks of a Pharisee I listed in my last post was that they feel compelled to justify themselves to others. Simply resisting the urge to do this is a way to fight pride. I shared that for me personally, I don’t want others to see me as an extravagant spender or as ungenerous since I assume this hurts my image as a “good Christian.” So when situations arise where others may see me as such, I am quick to justify and explain my actions to them. I gave the example of the nice jewelry my dad gave me as a wedding gift. When I am complemented on this necklace, I used to say, “Thank you! It was a gift from my dad.” While there is nothing inherently wrong with this statement, when done out of a desire to ensure that my good Christian image isn’t distorted it is sin. So to fight this type of sin, I will now often bite my tongue in those moments and instead simply say “thank you” and move on.
Maybe you don’t want others to think you don’t waste time on a long beauty regimen for fear they will think you are vain. Therefore when others compliment how good you look (“Your hair looks great!” “I love your makeup!”), you are probably quick to explain, “Thank you! I don’t know why since I just woke up and put it in a pony tail,” or “This is actually just yesterday’s makeup that I touched up.”
Wherever your tendency is to justify in order to defend your “good” image, simply choosing not to do so will help crucify that pride in your heart.
Be a servant.
Of all the antidotes that Jesus gave to avoid a prideful, pharasaical heart, it was servanthood. Over and over again, when speaking of the Pharisees or responding to the disciples’ arguments of who would be the greatest, Jesus responds with: “Be a servant.” And He doesn’t just give us this command alone, He also models it for us. Jesus, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the One who actually deserves all honor and glory forever, lowered Himself to take the form of a bond-servant.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for man.” Matthew 20:26-28
I shared recently that I have seen this season of motherhood as my opportunity to choose servanthood (see post Servanthood: the Path to Greatness). But regardless of the season of life we are in, we can choose to be a servant. This could be choosing to serve those in your household (doing chores no one else wants without looking for recognition, putting your spouses needs and wants before yours), choosing to serve in your church (coming early to help set up before services, serving the nursery, setting aside time to babysit for your pastor for free), or simply looking for ways to put our own needs last throughout the day (letting your friend have that last piece of cake you really wanted). The point is not to end the day feeling good about yourself and how spiritual you are for being so servant-like. Instead, servanthood can be a strategic weapon in which we fight against pride in our hearts. Wherever it is the hardest for you to serve and it is least likely others will notice is probably the best place to do it.
And when choosing servanthood is hard, we should look to Jesus. If it is hard for us to give up our rights (even though we don’t actually have any) to serve, how much harder was it for Jesus, who actually deserved all honor and glory, to give that up His rights and serve sinful men? As He said after washing the disciples feet: “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” (John 13:14-15)
Humility and lowliness should continually be the state of heart we aim for. For God “dwells on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit.” (Isaiah 57:15) In a culture that is all about self-exaltation, with a flesh that continually desires recognition, let us daily take seriously this battle with sinful pride. And may it begin with us on our knees before God, who alone has the power to grant us freedom from it.