The list of potential sins is far too long to list. If we were forced to try we would most certainly list things like murder, stealing, cheating, etc. They are the biggest and most obvious so they would make the list first. However there is a class of sin that is often far more destructive to our daily lives, walk with Christ, and fellowship with each other that often go unchecked. Amongst this clandestine group of sins is pride, possibly the most destructive one of all. Let’s look at what the Bible says about it as well as some Christian scholars in an effort to identify them in our own lives so that our desires may change to better align with the desires of our Creator.
I would like to begin with a quote from Andrew Murray’s book “Humility”, “Humility is often identified with penitence and contrition. As a consequence, there appears to be no way of fostering humility but by keeping the soul occupied with its sin” . Humility is the foremost goal in a Christian’s life. We are to be humble before God because we are fallen sinners in need of his grace, nothing else. We are lucky that God allowed us to fall to show us this truth and that Christ came to provide for our salvation (Mark 10:45) and example to live by (Philippians 2:8).
Pride is arguably the foremost sin we should be wary of since sin began with pride (Genesis 3:5) as the serpent appealed to man’s desire to be like God. In order to understand what pride is and what it looks like in our life we must have a working definition to go off of. Pride is defined in the dictionary as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements” and “the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance”. In short, pride is synonymous with a self-centric attitude. Adam and Eve looked at themselves and decided that their own common sense outweighed what God had told them. Instead of simply obeying and denying sin an entrance into the world, they concluded that the serpent was right; God was simply trying to keep them down and that they possessed the ability to become like him.
In his book “Holiness by Grace” Bryan Chapel explains that spiritual pride is the root cause for so many problems in our churches today. Allow me to quote him, “Spiritual pride dies when we realize that all of our comparisons with others based on relative levels of apparent goodness count for nothing in terms of gaining us standing with God. What we may want God to account to our credit has no currency with him, b/c the economy of good works is dead. Being better than the next guy, being a more astute observer of his sin, or being more insightful about scriptural truth does nothing to earn me status with God.
Party spirit, gossip, spiritual stratification, and social cliques die in the church when spiritual pride dies. It dies as a natural consequence among us who are crucified with Christ when we realize that our works in themselves count no more toward gaining us spiritual status than do the deeds of the dead. Of course, if no one’s performance gains him upper-class identity, then no one is second class in God’s family. When we treasure our mutual value, the tensions drain from among us because we no longer need to highlight the failings of others to prove our own worth to God.”
This has profound implications in today’s culture. So why does this happen? Why do we prioritize sins as ones to run from, ones to struggle with, and ones to ignore? The controversial (borderline theologically liberal) blog, Bad Christian, wrote on this topic recently. They point to the spectrum of legalism and explain that on end there are those that believe “grace abounds” so they have “freedom in Christ” completely ignoring Paul’s charge in 2 Timothy 2:15 to “present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed”. (To be fair one can argue who the addressee is in this verse, however I contend if we are all called to make disciples then we are all his workman in one way or another.) On the other end of the spectrum, there is the judgmental rule followers that whittled the Gospel down to not cussing, having sex, doing drugs, drinking beer, and going to church every Sunday despite Jesus himself warning against “vain repetitions” in Matthew 6:7. (Once again, Jesus did say this in the context of prayer but I argue that the spirit of the matter can carry over to different actions.) Bad Christian summarizes it this way, “The heart of legalism is really dark and insidious and it is anti-gospel. You should take it seriously. It is to be prideful, self-focused, and mistrusting of God. At every level it is false teaching, which I’d argue is always worse than smoking pot for instance. As in, perhaps someone wrongly believes it’s okay to smoke pot (and it might actually be ok, not my point), but even if that person is “over-indulging in freedom” and “cheap grace”, or “sinning so that grace may abound”, or whatever you want to call it, I am certain that they are doing LESS damage than those who even passively teach through their actions that you must be holy so that you will be accepted. And although I know that isn't your official position, think about it. Many of your actions do in fact communicate this belief.”
Another great thinker on this subject is Bob Thune, pastor of Coram Deo Church Community in Omaha. He spoke recently on this subject at an Acts 29 leadership conference in a talk titled “Deconstructing Discipleship”. Thune explains that the desires of the heart are what must change in a Christian if they are to live godly lives rather than changing the way they think about the matter. He explains that since we are post enlightenment thinkers, we idolize information above all while Christ was primarily concerned with changing the desires of his followers. Thune says, “If you really loved God with everything in you all the time you would keep all of the other commandments. What causes you to sin is the fact that something else grabs your desire, something else moves you, something else gets a hold of your heart and that is what causes you to sin in any number of ways. So, the Bible’s anthropology is not primarily the anthropology of the mind but of the heart. Which includes the mind, it includes the will, but it is much fuller than that. The functional issue in the Bible’s understanding of humanity is desire.”
I would like to caution any reader behavior modification. All that behavior modification can result in is mere legalism (Galatians 2:16; Micah 6:7-8) or spiritually crushing depression. We must first realize that we can do nothing to change our own hearts (therefore leading to changed actions) rather we must seek God first and foremost and he will change us from our innermost being out (Matt 6:33; Psalms 51:6-8).
To conclude, there is no true merit in finding temptations that we do not see as sins or have explained them away to ourselves so that we don’t feel guilty about them anymore. Instead, we should “seek first the Kingdom of God” and over time “all of these things will be added” as God brings into submission our desires. We will go from self-loathing, prideful sinners to true servants of the Most High and will have no way to boast for this transformation since it is God that has changed our hearts, minds, and souls.
Carter, M. (2014, December 1). What is Legalism? Retrieved from BadChristian.com: http://badchristian.com/logical-legalism/
Chapell, B. (2011). Holiness By Grace. Memphis: Crossway.
Murray, A. (2005). Humility. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.
Thune, B. (2011). Deconstructing Discipleship Part 2. Omaha: Acts 29.