July 31, 2012

Escaping spiritual pride

Spiritual pride takes my eyes off the One who gave me whatever I am proud about, and as soon as that happens, I lose that gift of grace and crash into my own strength. There is no sadder place to be.
For instance, loving others is the grace of God to selfish sinners. Loving others, in the strength of Jesus Christ, is a delight. But as soon as I start thinking about the virtue of loving others and that I have it, and that this is a blessing, that introspection is in danger of becoming spiritual pride. Who is loved when I say, “Look at me, look at how much I love others”?

Doing acts of kindness in the grace and power that God gives is another example. Whenever I am engaged in godly ministry to anyone in need, as soon as I begin looking at myself and what I am doing, even patting myself on the back and thinking I am some sort of spiritual hotshot, the kindness dissolves into inflated ego and I fall off my pedestal. 

The Bible is filled with warnings about spiritual pride and the need to humble myself lest pride overcomes me. Pride begins in the mind so I need to fill my mind with better thoughts. One way to do that is reading the stories of God’s people in the Old Testament. Paul explains how these events “took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). When I see what happened to those God chose as His people, I know that the same things could happen to me. 

Paul knew that too, so after he points to them and my need to avoid the same mistakes, he warns,
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12–13)
I notice two things. One is that the fall from spiritual strength to looking inward and losing that strength does not have to happen. With every temptation, God provides a way of escape. I do not need to gloat in any gift from Him, then become a pain in the experience of those around me. I do not need to yield to that temptation to pat myself on the back as if I am the source and sustainer of my own spiritual life. God does offer a way of escape.

His way of escape from the temptation of pride is the way of humility. While verbally exalting and thanking the Savior for all good things in my life is an important habit, humility goes beyond words. I cannot respond to success or the praises from others by just mouthing the words, “Give God the glory.” I must know deep in my heart that He is God and I am mere mortal, sinner and totally dependent on Him and His grace. 

The note in today’s devotional is short, but it is a humble-reminder. These words put into perspective the ease at which anyone, especially me, can fall into spiritual pride. The reading says only this:
Angels fell in Heaven, Adam in paradise, Peter in Christ’s presence.
No matter what place I am in or how close to God I am, temptation can knock me from that into the mire of self-reliance, or worse, into the muck of more blatant sin. Every day, every moment of every day, I need to remember who God is and who I am.

Lord, You often say that Your people are to “humble” ourselves. Life often does that for us as we stumble through it. I learn from falling on my ego that I am nothing and You are everything. Please keep my focus on You today. No matter what happens, I want to remember that You are the Savior and I am merely the saved sinner.

No comments: