In the 1980's there was a strong push to build the self-esteem of our children. This movement found many children mindlessly singing with their teachers,
I am special, I am special, look at me, look at me! (“Frere Jacques”)
However, this movement has had some negative consequences. Recent comprehensive studies by five psychologists reveal what many of you may have already suspected: Today’s college students, having sung the song, have bought the hype. They are decidedly more self-centered than their predecessors. From 1982 to 2006, 16,475 college students completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). The standard inventory asks for rated responses to such statements as, "If I ruled the world it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person," and "I can live my life the way I want to." The nationwide results were quite telling.
In fact, they were so negative that the study’s leading author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University said, “We need to stop endlessly (telling our kids) ‘You’re special’. Kids are self-centered enough already.” And this sentiment is setting them up for failure. The study asserts that our sophmoric narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.”
Current technology fuels the increase in self-centeredness. Just consider the names of our favorite online pass times: YouTube and MySpace. We may have a shortage of oil, a shortage of backbone in our politicians and a shortage of money to pay our debts, but there’s one thing we have a surplus of in this country: Pride.
And that’s not a good thing, especially if you want to be a joy-filled believer. You see, God hates pride. In fact, in several places in the New Testament we are told that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. That’s such a counter-cultural statement. In our social economy, pride is a virtue. Consequently, because of our self-centeredness, we suffer the fruit of our sin. In fact, you may be here today suffering, and you may not be aware of it. There are some tale-tell signs of this kind of arrogance. For one thing, there is a distance you don’t understand.. You want to be close to God, but He doesn’t seem to be close at all. You may even look at other believers who seem to have this really dynamic walk with the Lord, but you really don’t have that. There’s a distance you don’t understand
And the reason that there is a distance you don’t understand is because there’s a deception you don’t realize. Pride tricks you into believing that you have it all together. It distorts your perception of life to the point that you really begin to feel superior. You feel you have it together. No, you may not be perfect, but you’re better than most people you know. You feel approved by God, even though disobedience characterizes many areas of your life. Pride deceives you, often without you even realizing it. There’s a deception you don’t realize, a distance you don’t understand, but last of all,
There is a danger you do not appreciate. When I am distant from God and I am deceived about where I really stand with Him, you can be assured that I will be trusting in the wrong thing, and I may not even know it. That wrong thing is, well, YOU! Now this self-trust takes many forms. Some folks just out-and-out create their own little kingdom of me and sicken us with their self-promotion. Others are more subtle. Their pride may hide in their good works and the emphasis they put upon them. Their pride may hide in their religious activity where conformity to the rules causes them to think highly of themselves. No matter the disguise, pride is dangerous because of what it does to us. It destroys our joy, not by making us unhappy, but by making us self-sufficient. If joy is the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance made possible by the constant presence of God, then pride is the false confidence that flows from the false hope and selfish guidance, made possible by the constant focus on self. Pride destroys joy!
You might ask, “Why? Why is pride such an offensive thing to God?” Well, there’s a parable in the Bible that tells us why. Read that text with me (Luke 18:9-14) This parable gives us a couple of reasons that pride destroys joy. In the first place, pride destroys joy because:
DIV 1: PRIDE REDIRECTS YOUR CONFIDENCE.
This parable tells us the story of two men who place their confidence in two different directions. One of those directions leads to true confidence, the other to false. The one with false confidence represents the group Jesus talks about when he says in v 9, Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous . . . Notice the direction of their confidence: They trusted in themselves. One commentator said,
First, having become convinced of their own righteousness, they have come to depend on themselves. They are self-possessed, able, at least in their own minds, to live honorably before God quite apart from divine mercy. On the other hand, they disdain others,108 their concerns with holiness manifested in the exclusion of others from their circles.
You see, from this story, that pride does some bad things to you. First, it blocks your relationship. What I mean is, it blocks your relationship with God. There is an interesting phrase in v. 11 says that The Pharisee stood and prayed thus, with himself. That phrase literally says that this Pharisee “prayed these things to himself,” and that the prayer not even got beyond his own hearing, nor higher than the ceiling. And because he was focused on himself and prayed about himself, his relationship with God was blocked. That’s what pride does. It erects a barrier between you and God. It blocks your relationship, and then,
It distorts your reality. This Pharisee had a vision problem. He wasn’t seeing very well. In his world, reality was distorted. You know that by the evidence flowing from his life. For instance, he had a false superiority . Notice at the end of v 9, not only did the Pharisee trust in himself, he also despised others. You see, when you and I are seeing correctly, we find it impossible to despise others. We know that we are not superior to anyone. We see ourselves as the Apostle Paul saw himself–as the chief of sinners. When we are filled with pride, though, we walk around with a certain superiority that is deceptive. Our perception of reality and, especially of ourselves, is distorted.
And that distortion causes us to compare ourselves to others. Now, that comparison is never fair. it is a biased comparison. For one thing it ELEVATES SELF. Now this self-elevation is not real, because he seems to pick out the faults of others while neglecting his own. One commentator said:
What is striking is (1) that the Pharisee’s prayer begins like a thanksgiving psalm, but never enumerates the divine actions for which one is thankful. For God’s acts, the Pharisee has substituted his own. (2) It is also telling that this Pharisee seems to place himself (and presumably those with similar practices) in one camp and all others in the category of thieves, rogues, and adulterers. With this list, he seems to have caricatured every form of possible sin—robbery, reprobation, and immorality—and declared all other humans as guilty of them
And since they are guilty, he elevates himself by JUDGING OTHERS. You see this in the way that he responds to the tax collector. He makes assumptions that this tax collector is bad. He says in v 11, The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. Can’t you hear the disgust in this verse when he says, or even this TAX COLLECTOR. This was one judgmental guy. You would have probably found him using the word “typical,” a lot. You know, when he saw a tax collector carrying around his money bag, he’d roll his eyes and say, “That’s typical—you know how those tsx-collectors are.” When he saw a prostitute walking the street, he’d say, “That’s typical—you know how those prostitutes are.” When he saw a thief being arrested for his dishonesty, he’d say, “That’s typical. You know I never trusted that guy from the first day I met him.” He judged others. You see, his pride blocked his relationship with God and distorted his reality.
But there is one other thing that his pride did to him. It encouraged false security. You see this Pharisee’s source of security in v 12. He says, I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess. Now this guy really was an over-achiever! The law only called for you to fast once a year, but this guy fasted twice a week. The law only required you to on certain parts of your produce, but this guy tithed on all of his food, and he was right proud of that. One wonders if, when he prayed, he might have been speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. His point was not to glorify God, however, it was to glorify himself. His favorite worship chorus was probably, Lord I lift MY Name, Lord I love to sing MY praises.
And here’s the point: Because of his false confidence, because of his self-trust, he had a distorted view of himself and others, and, even more critically, that wrong view of himself caused him to place his trust in a false foundation. He was setting himself up for a terrible disappointment and was placing himself in eternal danger.
It was 6:05 p.m., CDT on Wednesday, Aug 1, 2007. Heading home from a day at work were Minneapolis’ finest workers, all racing to get through the traffic to their homes. No one thought about it as the pavement they were driving on left solid ground and headed across the I-35 bridge. Here’s what it looked like then. An instant later it looked like this. In its aftermath, you can see the devastation that it caused. Approximately 100 vehicles and their occupants fell 115 feet to the river and its banks below. 13 people died. A school bus carrying 60 children ended up resting precariously against the guardrail of the collapsed bridge near a burning semi-trailor.Ten children were injured, one youth worker severely. It was a horrific scene. How could it happen?
It turns out that those people crossing that bridge were filled with false confidence. The road was open. The government was tacitly saying, “Everything’s fine. You can trust this bridge with your life.” There’s only one problem: That was a lie. Since 1990, a period of 17 years, the federal government had given the bridge a “structurally deficient” rating citing significant corrosion . (By the way, you might be interested to know that 75,000 other bridges also had this classification in 2007! Kinda makes you squeamish when you drive doesn’t it?) You see, these people had full confidence that this bridge would hold them up, but that confidence was misplaced.
It’s like that with the proud. They have a misdirected confidence, and that misdirected confidence will block their relationship with God and distort their view of their relationship with Him, because God always opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
But Jesus doesn’t just describe the one with false confidence in this parable. He also draws us a picture of what true confidence looks like. The picture of true confidence is found in the life of the tax collector. Now, the tax collector was a notorious figure in Jesus’ culture, and he wasn’t notorious in a good way. The Romans, who had conquered the country, were in charge of the tax system. They wanted a certain amount from the citizens of Israel. The tax collectors, however, didn’t just settle for collecting what was required. Many of them collected much more and made themselves rich, and they had the power of Roman authority to do it.
Now you have to get the picture. Let’s say our country was taken over by China. The Chinese conquered us and set up tax collectors. They hired your neighbor to collect taxes. Now, you know that your required amount is $100 per month, but your neighbor insists that you pay $200 per month and you know that he is pocketing the extra money. He is not only ripping you off, he is using the authority of a country who has become your enemy to do it. Can you understand why the tax collectors were absolutely hated?
Jesus picks this group of people to demonstrate humility for a reason. He knew that tax collectors were hated, yet he also knew that until we considered ourselves on the same level with the most hated and despised, we would never truly understand our own sinfulness. Now this tax collector fully understood his position. He recognized the reality of his situation. you know that because of his position. V13 says that he stood afar off. He knew he was unworthy to come into the presence of God. You see it with his position and also through his posture. v 13 further says that he would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven. Averting the eyes was a demonstration of humility and shame. And you also see his recognition of his sinfulness with his penitence. The Bible says that he beat on his breast. The breast or heart was regarded in that day as the seat of sin, the physical location of guilt. Beating on the breast was an act of repentance. This tax collector sees himself as he really is, and then, HE ACTUALLY DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
He confesses his need. He confesses Who it is that he needs. He says God. By the way, when you truly come to the place that you do not trust yourself anymore, you’ll have only one way to look: UP. This tax collector calls out to the only one who could possibly help him. He knows Who he needs and then he knows What he needs. He says God, be merciful. This expresses this poor tax collector’s desire for forgiveness. Which brings us to the Why of his need. He says, God, be merciful to me A SINNER. That’s the why. And we know he received this mercy because Jesus says that he went down to his house “justified.” That’s an interesting use of that term. Paul would later use it in his letters when he spoke of the forgiveness we have in Christ. Literally, the word contains the idea of being “propitiated.” The idea is that the wrath of God, which is his righteous judgment on sin, is completely satisfied. Jesus is saying that this tax collector, though he may have been dishonest, was made completely right with God. He may have arrived at the temple as a sinner, but he left “justified.”
So where are you in this story? Are you a tax collector? O, I know you don’t have anything to do with the IRS, but you are a lot like the guy in this story, perhaps. You are far away from God, you are filled with guilt whenever you think about God. You know you don’t measure up and you never will. Let me tell you, You’re in a good place! You’re closer to justification than the other people in this room who may think that their background, their church attendance, or their good works make them right with God. Listen, when it comes to your relationship with God, the tax collector is a good person to be. I invite you today to turn to the Lord, just like this tax collector and cry out for His mercy.
But perhaps you’re more like the pharisee. You’ve never been saved because you’re just too good for God. Now understand, the reality is that you are not good, but in your current condition, you’ll never see that. Satan will make sure that you stay falsely confident in your own self-righteousness. The problem is not that you’re that good, its that you think you are. In fact, the Bible calls all your good works nothing but filthy rags. Regardless of whether you see yourself as the tax collector or as the pharisee, the remedy is the same. God, the Holy Spirit, must move upon your heart to give you the grace to fully trust Him and Him alone.
But maybe you have trusted Christ for salvation, but you are still exhibiting some of the pride of this foolish pharisee. Maybe you’ve developed a false superiority to those you consider “more sinful” than you. Maybe you look down your nose at those who are deceived by the homosexual lifestyle. Thinking about them makes you feel more holy somehow. Perhaps you look down your spiritual nose at those who run abortion clinics. Maybe you feel smug when you see someone covered in tatoos, or you meet someone who has done time in prison
Or maybe you have a false security. This one is the most frightening. I’m afraid that there are a large number, perhaps even a majority of people who claim to be believers, but who are trusting in their religious activity. They take pride in their ministry or in their sacrifice, and, if you really get around to the nitty gritty of their hearts, you’ll find that their security is wrapped up in themselves. Like the pharisee, they may say a prayer, but God’s not listening. Is that you?
And you might say, “Rusty, I disagree. I thought God always heard and responded to the prayers of His children. On what basis, then, do you say that God’s not listening?” Well, what I say is what the Bible says. There are some people whom God resists. James 4 tells us that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble There are some people who are refused the grace of God. And why is it that He resists them? Well it’s because not only because pride redirects your confidence,
DIV 2 PRIDE REMOVES GOD’S GRACE
In his book Humilitas, pastor John Dickson illustrates the beauty of humility in the life of Sir Edmund Hillary. In 1953 Hillary conquered Mount Everest with his Sherpa friend and guide, Tenzin Norgay. Consequently, in that same year Hillary was knighted; in 1985 he was made New Zealand's highest commissioner to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh; and in 1995 he received the British realm's highest award, the Order of the Gater (membership of which is limited to just twenty-four individuals). But despite Hilary's achievements and rewards, he maintained a humble outlook and a readiness to serve others.
John Dickson captures one story that reveals Sir Edmund's profound humility:
On one of his many trips back to the Himalayas he was spotted by a group of tourist climbers. They begged for a photo with the great man, and Hillary obliged. They handed him an ice pick so he would look the part and set up for the photograph. Just then another climber passed the group and, not recognizing the man at the centre, strode up to Hillary saying, "Excuse me, that's not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you."
Everyone stood around in amazed silence as Hillary thanked the man, let him adjust the pick, and happily went on with the photograph.
It doesn't matter how experienced that other climber was; his greatness was diminished by this intrusive presumption. We are repelled by pride. Edmund Hillary's greatness, however, is somehow enhanced by this humility.
God looks at this whole pride thing the same way. In fact, pride really removes God’s grace. Jesus’ summary of the meaning of this little parable is found in v 14: ...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This little statement gets at what we’ve been talking about in this series. You see, pride is a joykiller because of the relationship between joy and pride. In the first place, pride brings false joy. You see the false joy in that first phrase, for everyone WHO EXALTS HIMSELF. This is joy by false pretense. It is the perpetual lie told since the Garden of Eden. It basically goes like this. “You can find your own joy. Who needs God? You don’t need to humble yourself before God, you need to exalt yourself so that you can become God. That is pride at it’s worst and Satan will try to manufacture a surface level, inauthentic joy in those who seek to exalt themselves.
But the opposite is also true. Pride may bring false joy, but humility brings spiritual joy. Jesus says, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and HE WHO HUMBLES HIMSELF SHALL BE EXALTED. In other words, when we come to Christ, renouncing our self-trust, and trusting in Him alone, fully submitting ourselves to Him, He gives us grace.
Let me show you how this works. This whole connection between pride and joy comes into play when a believer is confronted with some opportunity of obedience to God. A couple of weeks ago, those of you who were in the first service when I preached on guilt heard me talk about the top ten ways to know that you were having a bad day. One of those was something which, while I thought it was appropriate when I included it, really bothered me when I said it from the pulpit. Almost immediately, the Holy Spirit said to me, “You should not have said that.” But I was right in the middle of my sermon. I’ll have to tell you that the whole time I preached the rest of that sermon, there was this conflict going on inside of me. The Holy Spirit was saying, “Rusty, you need to apologize.” but I was resisting. Let me show you what was happening.
First, because I said something that was a bit inappropriate a response was needed. I needed to apologize. And at that point, I had a choice: I could choose pride, or I could choose humility. For that whole sermon, I basically chose pride. I made excuses in my mind. “If I apologize, I’ll look stupid. I’ll feel stupid. People will think I’m crazy or overly sensitive. I’ll take away from the message.” All those things were running through my mind and almost every excuse could be traced back to pride.
Now, had I continued without confession, I would have experienced no grace. In fact, I didn’t even feel as if I did a very good job on that first message because I was not walking in the full grace of God. The lack of grace was leading me to disobedience, and to becoming ungodly.
But, the other track was also open to me. I could choose humility and, if I did, I would receive God’s grace, I would obey, and I would be godly. I knew that if I didn’t say something at the end of that service it would rob me of my joy. Why? Because I would have been walking around in pride and not in humility and God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
So where are you with all of this? Are you reacting to God with pride or humility. Is your joy false or is it true? Is there anything that God is convicting you of that, in your pride, you are refusing to humble yourself in obedience?
You see, when pride redirects my confidence from God to myself, I am robbed of His grace, and the power to walk with Him leaves me. On the other hand, when humility directs my confidence to God, I receive His grace and I am enabled to walk with Him. And what is the result? Well, I receive the current confidence which flows from future hope and practical guidance made possible through the constant presence of God.