Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

How do I kill the pride inside me? Pride is a nefarious enemy — one of our great enemies, and one of God’s ancient enemies. Yet when the Lord gifts someone with natural skills and abilities beyond the norm, that struggle with pride can become even more intense. As we begin a new week on Ask Pastor John, our next question arrives from a young woman who listens to the podcast.

“A pleasant good day to you, Pastor John! I am a law student from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. I love the Lord with all my heart and desire to do many exploits for the kingdom of God. However, I have one big problem, and I think it is hindering my effectiveness as a disciple of Christ. I have a deep-rooted issue with pride. I know it is a sin, and I have tried many times to deal with this problem, but it always seems to hide and then resurface. I have been called condescending by my peers and family. I am verbally aggressive. What steps can I take daily to kill the sin of my expressive pride?”

Universal Struggle

I wish I knew you better. I don’t even know your name. I sure love your candor, and I think it’s a great work of grace that you can even see and identify those things about pride. You’re certainly not the only one. If I knew you better, I would try to tailor this response to your particular kind of pride, if I understood it better.

“Everybody deals with pride, but not everybody knows it because pride takes such subtle forms.”

Everybody deals with pride, but not everybody knows it because pride takes such subtle forms. But we all do. I wish I knew you better, but you have given me some clues, so let me make a stab at what might be helpful. I pray that God will use it to help you and others, because pride is universal.

How God Saved You

Let me commend this way of battling pride: a close look at the way God saved you — a close, repeated, regular attention to the way God saved you. He saved you in a way that no matter how you look at it, if you look at it biblically, it was designed to humble you and destroy your pride. That’s the way you were saved.

So what you need, and what all of us need, is not some teaching that comes later, like at a mature stage of Christianity. What you need is to know and to feel the implications of how God saved you. Millions of Christians do not know how God saved them. That might sound strange. You can be saved and not know how? That’s right.

Many people haven’t been taught accurately what the Bible says about what God did to save them, either in history or by the Spirit in their lives. Therefore, they have been deprived of the power of this truth to work deep humility and great boldness in their lives. Many Christians think that they themselves were the decisive cause of their own conversion to Christ. They’ve been taught that. They have been taught that God was merely a responder, not a sovereign Savior.

Hopeless Without Christ

Let’s look at reality. First, there’s the reality of sin that we have to be saved from. It’s more profound and more terrible than anyone realizes. And I mean anyone.

“Faith is what a child has or does when it is happy to be helpless and safe in Daddy’s arms.”

The entire Old Testament is written to show us the dreadful power of sin and the utter hopelessness of everyone, even the people of God. Without the omnipotence of God’s saving grace to convert them to Christ, they are hopeless. Here’s Romans 3:19: “Now we know that whatever the law says [I think he’s referring to the whole Old Testament, not just the first five books; you can read why in the context] it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”

We were utterly helpless to free ourselves from the blindness and the bondage of sin. We couldn’t see the glory of Christ. We could not bring ourselves to life from death (Romans 8:5–7; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Faith Kills Pride

God appointed faith as the only way of salvation. And the way of faith excludes pride. It does so in two ways: (1) Faith, by nature, looks away from ourselves to God. That’s what faith is — a looking away from ourselves to God. (2) Faith itself is a gift of God.

Here’s a text for the first way faith kills pride: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Romans 3:27). Faith excludes boasting. You are not trusting God when you are boasting, and you are not boasting when you are trusting God.

Faith is what a child does when it is happy to be helpless and safe in Daddy’s arms. Let me say that again. Faith is what a child has or does when it is happy to be helpless and safe in Daddy’s arms. The child doesn’t boast in its self-sufficiency: “Oh, look how smart I am to be in Daddy’s arms.” Boast in Daddy. Look at his arms. Look at his smile.

On top of that, faith is a gift. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). There’s a principle here that Paul expresses in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” God appointed faith as the way of salvation to doubly exclude boasting. Its nature is like a child calling attention to Daddy’s strength, not its own. And even that is a gift of God.

Consider Your Calling

Now why does God save us in this way, choosing to give faith to one person and not to another? Because it’s a gift. Some have it and some don’t. This is his election, God’s choosing. He gives it to one; he doesn’t give it to all. Why? Is it because he chooses us on the basis of some admirable quality so that we can boast in being chosen? No, he doesn’t.

“Pride is slain by election — free, sovereign, God-willed election, not man-determined election.”

This is probably the clearest text in the Bible about the relationship between election and humility, or election and the destruction of pride.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose [that’s the key word] what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)

Pride is slain by election — free, sovereign, God-willed election, not man-determined election. God chose. God chose so that no human being might boast. Then Paul continues like this: “And because of him [i.e., because of God] you are in Christ Jesus.” You didn’t do that. You didn’t jump into Christ. You didn’t raise yourself from the dead. “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).

Grace Alone

So the entire method of saving us is designed for this: negatively, that no human being might boast in the presence of the Lord; positively, so that the one who boasts would boast in the Lord. Let this sink in. Let us all pray that it would sink in.

We are saved in such a way that it makes God’s sovereign grace shine as glorious and makes us look utterly helpless in ourselves, utterly dependent on God. We were dead, blind, and helpless, which means that we were no more worthy of salvation than anyone else. You are like everybody that you will boast over — or worse than them — except for one thing: grace, grace, grace.

All self-exaltation is a re-crucifixion of Christ because he died to kill pride. Every boast, therefore, mocks the suffering of Jesus. And I end on this: every humble attitude, every humble act of faith, glorifies the grace of God in Christ.