If you are a Christian, you know what it feels like to live with a madman. “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). If we feel prone to doubt such a bleak judgment, one sin in particular should convince us that Solomon was right: pride.
We are, every one of us, creatures of the dust. Yet we somehow find a way, overtly or subtly, to strut through the streets of the earth as if our strength were not fragile, our knowledge not narrow, our lungs not rising only because God gives us breath. Madness is the right word.
“Eventually, we must come back to saying, ‘I am a Christian because God made me one.’”
To be sure, every Christian has received a new heart — clean and pure, rather than evil and insane (Ezekiel 36:25–27). But we are not yet through with the madman. Pride, though forgiven, defeated, and doomed, still follows at the elbow. We wake, work, talk, play, and sleep with madness in our flesh.
Lately, the apostle Paul has been helping me to argue with my pride. In 1 Corinthians 1–4, he reminds us again and again of the madness of pride and the happy sanity of humility.
1. The pride of man murdered God’s Son.
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7–8)
Paul would have us remember, first, that the pride of man murdered God’s Son. The “rulers of this age” include not only Herod and Pilate, but also those Paul calls the “wise,” the “scribe,” and the “debater of this age” — in a word, the proud (1 Corinthians 1:20). When people like this meet a Savior like Jesus and a message like the gospel, they reach for wood and nails.
If we would see pride rightly, we need to remember the body count in its wake. Once fully grown, pride does not balk at murder — in the heart, if not with the hand (Matthew 5:21–22). Those who nurture and relish their own pride follow Cain into the field (Genesis 4:8); they ask Jezebel to advise them (1 Kings 21:5–14); they dine with Herod the Great (Mark 6:25–27).
The beginnings of pride look harmless enough — a posed shot on social media, a hidden hunger for approval, a contemptuous thought toward those whose opinions differ from our own. But here Paul shows us the beast all grown up, unable to recognize the Lord of glory though he stands before our face.
Perhaps, then, we will not begrudge the bluntness of this Puritan prayer:
Destroy in me every lofty thought,
Break pride to pieces and scatter it
to the winds,
Annihilate each clinging shred of
self-righteousness. . . .
Open in me a fount of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up.
2. Pride cannot survive the cross.
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified. (1 Corinthians 1:22–23)
“Pride reigns only where the cross has been forgotten or distorted. Pride cannot breathe Golgotha’s air.”
Prideful men may have murdered Christ, but they accomplished only what God’s “hand and . . . plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). In God’s wise providence, pride crucified Christ — and the crucifixion of Christ destroys all pride.
Throughout 1 Corinthians 1–4, Paul takes us to the cross, bidding us to feel the splinters of the wood and the steel of the nails. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” he says (1 Corinthians 2:2). He knows that pride reigns only where the cross has been forgotten or distorted. Pride cannot breathe Golgotha’s air.
But how does the cross destroy pride? First, by reminding us that ours was the sin that nailed him to the tree. “Christ died for our sins” — our toxic mouths, our secret lusts, our strutting shoulders, our lofty eyes (1 Corinthians 15:3). John Stott writes, “Before we can see the cross as something done for us, we must see it as something done by us” (The Cross of Christ, 63).
Second, the cross destroys pride by putting a better boast in our mouths. Christ crucified does not remove our boasting, but rather redirects it from ourselves to him. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 1:31). Make your boast in sins forgiven, devils defeated, death undone, wrath removed, righteousness given, heaven opened. Breathe in the love of Jesus Christ, and breathe out the sanity of praise.
Christ was crucified for me; therefore, I cannot boast in myself. Christ was crucified for me; therefore, I have every reason to boast in him.
3. You are a Christian because God made you one.
Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Once, Jesus was just another name from history, the gospel just another memory from Sunday school, salvation just another religious idea. Until I became a Christian. Then, Jesus became the sweetest sound, the gospel the best news, salvation a gift better than all the world’s wealth. How did that happen?
“Pride offers us something, only in exchange for all things.”
We are in Christ Jesus, Paul reminds us, not ultimately because we were born into a believing family, nor because we were smart enough to discern Jesus’s true identity, nor even because we were self-aware enough to see our need for a Savior, but rather “because of him.” Behind any outward circumstance that led us to repentance and faith is the Father who called us, the Son who sought us, the Spirit who claimed us. Eventually, we must come back to saying, “I am a Christian because God made me one.”
And, as Paul goes on to say, the middle and the end of the Christian life follow the beginning. We plant and water in ministry, but “only God . . . gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We labor for holiness, but every exertion comes from “the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). We believe because God gives us new birth; we mature because God grows us; we reach the end because he keeps us (1 Corinthians 1:7–9).
When pride deludes us into thinking we are the author of some gift or victory, one question can snap us back to reality: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). When we cannot take ultimate credit for anything, we can finally give thanks for everything. All of life becomes a gift of grace, a reason for praise.
4. All things are already yours.
All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)
We find pride persuasive for a reason. For a moment at least, pride gives us what we’ve grasped for: the admiration of our peers, the eyes of passing admirers, the laughter of the crowd, the pleasure of being part of the in-group. But the purchase is costlier than it appears, for pride offers us something only in exchange for all things.
D.A. Carson explains the startling logic behind Paul’s simple statement “all things are yours”: “If we truly belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, then we belong to God. . . . Everything belongs to our heavenly Father, and we are his children; so everything belongs to us” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, 87).
When pride tells us that we are deprived of some good thing, Christians remember that our Father owns all things, and will so arrange our circumstances so that we can say with David, “I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). When Christians indulge their pride, we are like a prince who scrambles for a two-acre lot in his father’s kingdom, forgetting all that his father owns is already his.
Pride offers us something, but only for a moment. God offers to work all things now for our good and, in the end, to give us the whole earth (Matthew 5:5; Romans 8:16–17). For we belong to Christ. Christ, as the Son of the Father, belongs to God. And God owns the world. “Let the humble hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).