Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16)
James is talking about pride and arrogance and how they show up in subtle ways. “You boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
When you take three categories of temptation to self-reliance — wisdom, power, and riches — they form a powerful inducement toward the ultimate form of pride; namely, atheism. The safest way for us to stay supreme in our own estimation is to deny anything above us.
This is why the proud preoccupy themselves with looking down on others. C.S. Lewis said, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you” (Mere Christianity).
But to preserve pride, it may be simpler to just proclaim that there is nothing above to look at. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 10:4). Ultimately, the proud must persuade themselves that there is no God.
One reason for this is that God’s reality is overwhelmingly intrusive in all the details of life. Pride cannot tolerate the intimate involvement of God in running the universe, let alone the detailed, ordinary affairs of life.
Pride does not like the sovereignty of God. Therefore, pride does not like the existence of God, because God is sovereign. It might express this by saying, “There is no God.” Or it might express it by saying, “I am driving to Atlanta for Christmas.”
James says, “Don’t be so sure.” Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live, and we will get to Atlanta for Christmas.”
James’s point is that God rules over whether you get to Atlanta, and whether you live to the end of this devotional. This is extremely offensive to the self-sufficiency of pride — not even to have control over whether you get to the end of the devotional without having a stroke!
James says that not believing in the sovereign rights of God to manage the details of your future is arrogance.
The way to battle this arrogance is to yield to the sovereignty of God in all the details of life, and rest in his infallible promises to show himself mighty on our behalf (2 Chronicles 16:9), to pursue us with goodness and mercy every day (Psalm 23:6), to work for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4), and to equip us with all we need to live for his glory (Hebrews 13:21).
In other words, the remedy for pride is unwavering faith in God’s sovereign future grace.