“In reality, there is, perhaps, not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself…even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” – Benjamin Franklin
I think self-deception is directly linked with pride. We have too high of an opinion of ourselves. I have a “topical Bible” (this is a book where they group together Bible verses by topic), and the section on pride is lengthy – almost 8 pages! And if you include other similar topics, such as self-exultation and presumption, the list of verses is even longer! The Bible is filled with warnings about pride. Pride seems to be the underlying cause of a variety of sins. We all need to be wary and on guard.
While some sins can be overcome, I think pride is a sin that we will never completely conquer in this life. An article I highly recommend, takes note of how social science research shows that most people think they are better than others—more ethical, considerate, industrious, cooperative, fair, and loyal. One polling expert notes:
“It’s the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.”
I think biblical theology can shed light on this as well. When Adam and Eve rebelled in Genesis 3, man and earth alike were cursed by sin. Every aspect of our humanity was corrupted – our physical bodies, our hearts, and our minds. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our hearts are deceitful. Romans 12:2 states that believers need to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Our minds have been corrupted by sin, and need renewal.
Due to our fallen state, we can’t see ourselves clearly. Pride and self-deception seem an integral part of our fallen psyche. A book I have states it this way:
“Self deception is a shadowy phenomenon by which we pull the wool over some part of our own psyche….We become our own dupes…We know the truth – and yet we do not know it, because we persuade ourselves of its opposite.”
A few pages later, the book suggests that we adopt an attitude of self-suspicion. The apostle Paul suggests something similar in 1 Corinthians 10:12, when he states “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Proverbs (16:18), remind us that pride comes before a fall or destruction. We may have been given a new heart when we came to Christ, but vestiges of our old deceitful heart remain.
Yes, we have received salvation but not in its fullness. We still live in a fallen world awaiting the return of Christ. We are saints, but we deceive ourselves if we think we are above sin (I John 1:8). We need to remain alert, and realize we are prone to pride and self-deception. A realistic and cautious view of ourselves is imperative.
Christians should be people who are the most able to see themselves clearly. Yet, this does not seem to be the case far too much of the time. We have pulled the wool over our own eyes. I know many non-believers who perceive Christians as arrogant and prideful. (And, unfortunately, I think this perception is too often accurate.) Why are we failing in this area? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was the epitome of humility. How can we, his followers, so often have the opposite reputation?
What’s the Problem? (part 3)
I think part of the problem has already been touched on…We forget that we have begun a process of life-long transformation that will not be complete until Heaven. We have not “arrived” yet, and we are still fallen creatures living in a fallen world.
I think we also fail to live “gospel centered” lives. Reading the book “Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing” by CJ Mahaney had a big impact on me a couple years ago. Somehow we think the Gospel is for the unconverted only, and once we come to Christ we can “move on” from the Cross. “We already took care of that!”
Perhaps we don’t overtly do that, but I think our actions reveal a subtle shift. We shift into works or rule based living, instead of grace based living. We seem prone to turn inward and focus on our personal righteousness or spiritual success. But we should continue to look to Christ as we live the Christian life. We are still sinful people who should walk by faith in light of the grace and mercy of God. Our only hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not in our own righteousness.
A “gospel centered” life keeps us from the unhealthy extremes of self-deception and self-condemnation. As we look to Christ, this frees us to be honest with ourselves! We are secure in Christ (Romans 8:1). We can face our sin and brokenness, yet without fear and without feeling condemned. I appreciate how Blaise Pascal words it:
Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride.
Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.
Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.
Remember that much of the Christian life is one of paradox. To be first, you must be last. To be great, you must be the least. To be strong, you must acknowledge your weakness. To gain confidence, you must acknowledge how much you fall short.
Implied with the concept of “looking to Christ” is that we need to regularly be in the Scriptures! As Hebrews 4:12 states: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” – But the Scriptures can’t be that powerful weapon if we are neglecting them.
We need to regularly pray with the Psalmist (139:23-24):
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
We also need to be in close relationships with other believers, where we can encourage one another in the faith. This includes gently and kindly letting each other know when we notice spiritual blind-spots in each other. The church of Laodicea should be a warning of how easy it is to be self-deceived, and breed humility in each of us. We need to be open to critique, not only from fellow believers but from our opponents as well. An “enemy” has no interest in sparing our feelings (as our friends might do) and their unbridled critique might be exactly what we need to hear!
Remember that being open to critique and acknowledging our failures, does not mean despair and deprecation! Rather, it reminds us to look to Christ, and this restores our spirits and gives us spiritual strength! Our hope for becoming Christ-like is not in trying harder or thinking more positively about ourselves, but in trusting and leaning more on Christ’s provision. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:10)