Thursday, March 15, 2012

To Be or Not To Be...Proud

My theoretical philosophy of life, as I often share it, is simple and Biblical: my life is not about me; it is about Christ working in me and through me. I am, to my very core, the product of God’s glorious and purposeful workmanship. My value rests in Christ’s finished work on my behalf. I need not earn anything or prove anything. Although the Day of Judgment is coming, I need not fear a performance review. The obedience I offer enables me to partake in the very nature of Christ and participate in His kingdom’s work. Success comes not from working harder and longer but from abiding in Christ and bearing the fruit He enables me to produce.

In Matthew 11, we read that Jesus proclaims that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Why, then, do I sometimes approach church life and ministry with reluctance, and if I’m honest, outright dread? The answer is both easy and painful: I will not be able to experience the easy yoke and light burden of a life in Christ as long as I am living for myself and by my own strength. My negative emotions are most often linked to a fear of not meeting expectations. Although this makes hiding in a hole quite attractive, the solution favored by God is rather more demanding: I need to live with my identity and value grounded firmly in Christ, which in turn requires me to give up my pride.

Back in the Garden of Eden, we see Eve as the quintessential do-it-yourselfer. As she engaged in the discussion with the serpent about God and His rules, she ignored the option of including her mate or even God Himself in the conversation. At least part of the appeal of the forbidden fruit—to become wise like God—was that it would make dependence on God unnecessary. She could do it herself. Pride.

Pride, by its nature, creates a focus on self at the expense of everything and everyone. Once Adam and Eve took the fruit and ate, they experienced fear and shame and became preoccupied with covering themselves—at the expense of the nearby fig tree. When confronted by God, they were quick to protect themselves by denying responsibility and shifting blame to someone else. Their pride—our sin nature—has created a fallen world in which identity and value are measured by how our performance compares to that of someone else. C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, puts it this way: “Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature.”

It is my pride that makes me uncomfortable when my picture is taken for the church newsletter. It is my pride that makes a writing opportunity feel like a pop quiz. It is my pride that encourages me to “do-it-myself” in my Christian life. A do-it-yourself Christian is unable to abide in Christ and live as a contented bond-servant. When I choose that mode, I worry about being good enough and meeting expectations, both of which are contingent on the opinions of others. And I can improve my chances for success by being sure to be better than the person beside me. Before long, I find that I am serving a tyrant—me—and looking at others with a spirit of competition rather than love.

The do-it-yourself Christian life follows the law of diminishing returns: the more we do and the harder we try, the less we will know Christ and the less we will be able to love. The only antidote is that offered by Christ: to deny self and follow Him. Making that choice means that I see my life wholly in the context of Christ’s Lordship. My life becomes one that is about Him, working in me and through me. Not only does that bring me genuine peace and joy, it equips me to love others and participate deeply in relationship. It enables me to offer enthusiastic encouragement and receive help as I need it. Please consider this an invitation to join me in the lifelong struggle to relinquish pride and abide in Christ. May we encourage one another in this endeavor.