Written by Todd Mangum
Friday, 15 November 2013 00:00
In a number of ways, the Lord has been confronting me recently with the problem of pride. Probably any Christian seeking to love God and who knows themselves will eventually confront the unpleasant recognition of pride lurking in the corners of their own heart. Lately, I’ve run across pointed rebukes of pride in my devotional scriptural reading, it’s surfaced in some of the teaching and preaching I’ve been preparing; and then some personal life circumstances have forced me to peer into the matter more closely and more seriously than I expected or wanted.
I’ve come to believe that pride is at the center of the gospel. And by that I mean: overcoming pride and its toxic fruit is not just one of the things addressed by the gospel. It’s at the center of why there is a gospel at all.
Not once but twice, Paul presents the rationale of the gospel a being “so that no one can boast.”
In the first instance, this “anti-boasting” rationale is presented in Paul’s explanation of how election works! Beginning in 1 Corinthians 1:26, Paul says, “Consider your own calling, brethren. Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble . . .”. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Look around, people. Do you see what kind of people God reaches out to and brings to Himself? Not exactly the cream of the crop here.” Because (v. 27) “God has chosen the not-so-bright to shame the highly intelligent, He’s chosen the weak to shame the strong, God has chosen the base and the despised, raising up the things that are not to shame what is.” We might say, “He’s chosen the “have-nots” to shame the “haves.” And why does He do it this way? “So that no one should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:29).
Thinking through this passage has changed the way I talk about “unconditional election.” I still think the heart of the Reformed doctrine on this point is right: God doesn’t choose His “elect” based on some perceived quality in them that pleases Him more than others (such as would lead to a claim to superiority of being by those “chosen by grace” to come to faith). But it’s not purely arbitrary either. God has a design in His electing purposes, part of which He reveals here: He chooses the unlikely and despised; He chooses the “naturally unimpressive” to eliminate boasting and . . . pride.
And then, in Ephesians 2:8-9, we’re told in an all-too-familiar passage that we are saved by grace through faith (not by moral, ritualistic, or nationalistic accomplishment), “in order that no one can boast.”
The ORIGINAL “justified through faith” passage is put forth as an antidote to pride.
The whole Protestant Reformation was kicked off by Martin Luther’s engagement with Romans 1:17, “But the righteous will live by faith.” Contemplation of this passage led to his theologically deconstructing the entire system of justification advocated by the church at that time as something reached by accumulation of merit. Well and good.
There is even more to this passage that served as the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, though, than what Luther saw. Look more closely at where that passage comes from, not in Romans but in Habakkuk, the passage Paul is quoting from in Romans.
Habakkuk is a tough prophetic book. With Isaiah and Jeremiah, Habakkuk gives divinely prompted (and inspired) perspective on why God’s people are suffering the way they are. The Babylonians are overrunning Judah, plundering, pillaging, raping, enslaving, and starving out the Judeans with a brutal siege. All as Divine punishment for God’s people — catch that? God’s people! — responding to His blessing with selfishness, self-indulgence debauchery, idolatry, arrogance, and . . . pride.
In the context of Habakkuk’s lament at God’s judgment, questioning at times how God can be so hard on His people when the people He’s raising up to punish them are at least as sinful as they, this is what he says: “Look, a person who is prideful is deformed in their very soul, but a righteous person will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
Faith in God is an antidote to pride that puts the soul and all the priorities of one’s whole walk of life in proper sync.
Add to that the number of times the Bible talks about eliminating boasting, with the line, “If you want to boast about something, boast in God” or “your walk with God.” (See Psalm 34:2; 2 Chron. 17:6; Jer. 9;23-24; 1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14.)
The longer I live, the deeper I study these themes of Scripture, the more I am convinced that pride elimination is at the heart of the gospel. The gospel call is a call to humility; humbling oneself before God is an entrance requirement of the Kingdom.
What do you think?
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