Jesus Saves Us From the Worst of Sins

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : James 4:6-10

But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

James 4:6-10 rsv

What is the worst of sins, the most heinous of evils? I’ve heard several candidates proposed. Some say it’s lying because of the way in which some form of deceit seems to be a part of every other sin. Is it adultery, as some say? The betrayal of the most solemn covenant we ever make with another person? Is it murder, willfully destroying the life of another person? Or is it the heartless abuse of a little child? Or is it greed, the monster that devours so many? A case can be made, I suppose, for each of these, as a crowning crime against God and our fellows.

It may come as something of a shock to us to learn that the teachers of the Christian church, throughout its history, have identified something else as the worst of sins. They called it the chief among the “seven deadly sins.” Its name is pride. Why? we wonder. On what basis is pride viewed with such seriousness and abhorrence? Let’s think about that together. Why is pride the worst of all?

WHAT PRIDE IS

Let’s understand first what we mean by that. The pride of which the Bible speaks is not the same thing as self-respect. Self-esteem is a positive good. Nor is it the legitimate satisfaction a man or woman finds in accomplishments, as when we say, “She takes pride in her work.” That’s a very different thing. Again, the pride which God is said to resist is not the fond sense of elation we experience when our loved ones become successful or receive recognition. There’s something good and wholesome about that.

Pride, as the Bible describes it, is essentially a God-ignoring, God-defying attitude. We are proud when we claim for ourselves the credit that belongs to God, when we rob Him of the honor and thanks that are His due. We are proud when we do not acknowledge that God is the Lord and presume to act in willful independence of Him. We’re proud when we forget our creatureliness, when we pretend to be self-made people, when we become, as the Bible says, “wise in our own conceits.” Pride makes us arrogant and defiant. We say, as the ancient Pharaoh did, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” (Exod. 5:2).

Pride reveals itself also in the way we relate to other people. The proud imagine that they are especially significant and deserving. With lofty self-importance, they look down on others as less righteous, less wise, less competent. Remember the story Jesus told about the Pharisee and the publican praying in the temple? The Pharisee’s prayer was the self-flattery of a proud man, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). Look at me, he seems to say in effect, I obviously outshine all the rest. When we are proud, we are apt to suspect others, to find fault with them, and take careful note of their deficiencies. Pride makes us stiff and inflexible in our judgments, set on our own way. We’re unwilling to defer to the opinions of others, slow to admit any wrong in ourselves. The proud, however brilliantly they may seem to shine, are not fun to live with.

C. S. Lewis points out how pride is essentially competitive. “The other vices,” he writes, “are competitive only so to speak by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer or cleverer or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich or clever or good looking, there would be nothing to be proud about.”

That’s why pride pits us against everyone else, and against God. If I’m proud, as long as there’s anyone in all the world more powerful or richer, or brighter than I, he becomes my rival and my enemy.

Lewis believes that the Christians are right. He says, “It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” He calls it “spiritual cancer.” It “eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.”

Elton Trueblood calls pride the most deadly form that sin can take. John Ruskin sees it as at the bottom of all great mistakes. Another views pride as “the master sin of the devil.”

However we may view this matter of pride, the Bible makes it plain what God’s attitude is toward it. Listen to these words from James, chapter 4, beginning at verse 6:

But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.

God, we read, resists the proud. It’s apparently a basic principle of His rule. He ranges Himself against the haughty and the arrogant and showers His favor upon the lowly.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Let’s suppose now that we have begun to recognize something of this evil in ourselves. We’ve become aware of a deep self-centeredness, a lurking “God-complex” in us. What does James counsel us to do? We’re to humble ourselves before the Lord. How do we do that? The first word is, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” That is, place yourself under His lordship, because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Surrender your life to Him. Renounce your self-will, your insistence on having your own way, and yield yourselves up to His service.

Sometimes we forget that this is an essential part of faith. We’ve imagined that to believe was to give assent to certain doctrines, to identify ourselves with a religious group, to participate in various rites and ceremonies. But all of that has no religious value without what the Bible calls “the obedience of faith.” To believe is to entrust ourselves to God, to commit our lives to His rule, to acknowledge that we’re not our own but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

If the main characteristic of our lives thus far has been that of ignoring God’s claim on us and doing as we please, our first and most significant step toward self-humbling is the active recognition of Jesus’ lordship. The One who died for us and rose again is the king of glory. All authority is His in heaven and on earth. God has given Him everything in the universe to do with as He pleases. What will you say to Him today? “Lord, I trust You. I offer myself to You. I commit my life to Your service.” That’s what it means to submit yourself to God.

In connection with that commitment of faith, we’re also called to “resist the devil.” Satan, the enemy of our souls, is the prince of the kingdom of pride. He fell from favor, the Bible tells us, because he chose to set himself up as his own god, to take the place of the Almighty. Every invitation to haughtiness and rebellion originates with him. Resist him, says James, and he will flee from you. In the strong name of Christ, command him to be gone. In saying a great Yes to the one who is meek and lowly in heart, let’s say No to the evil one.

James calls also for a repentance that runs deep. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, purify your hearts, you men of double mind.” Because of your vain ways, he says, because of your proud affronts to God, let there be inward feelings of misery and outward expressions of heart-sorrow. Let all unclean ways and unworthy motives be renounced. Let your life be characterized by that joyful kind of seriousness which is such a significant part of New Testament faith. Bow before the Lord and prize the honor which only He can give.

So there’s much we can do to humble ourselves. There are steps we can take to try to counteract the workings of pride in us: submitting ourselves to God, resisting the devil, renouncing everything that grieves God’s Spirit. But that can never be the whole story. To be free from any sin and from the worst of sins, we need a Savior.

WHAT JESUS DOES

All our efforts to battle against pride are unavailing apart from His grace. How do people become humble? The humble are not necessarily people who run themselves down, denying their abilities or belittling their accomplishments. That kind of self-deprecation may be a peculiar form of pride. People who employ it may be waiting for us to say in response, “O no, you’re not really like that” or “You really do quite well.” Even shyness and timidity don’t always indicate a humble spirit. Pride can make us desperately fearful of others. A humble man is characterized chiefly by a thankful sense of dependence on God. He knows, or she knows, that there’s nothing which they did not receive as a gift and a trust. They look on others with patience and forbearance, defer to them, esteem them at least as highly as they esteem themselves. They can be reasoned with, entreated, corrected. They can laugh at their own pretensions. Their self-awareness and their hope are both expressed in the prayer of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

We only come to that brokenness, that contrition, that self-humbling in the presence of grace. People are proud, essentially, because they do not know God. As long as we’re proud, we cannot. A proud woman is always looking down on things and people. And as long as we’re looking down, we can’t possibly see something or someone who is above us. We can’t glimpse the God of mercy. The most humbling thing in the world for us to become aware of is God’s marvelous stooping in love to redeem us. Look at Jesus Christ who, as Paul says, though He was in the form of God, didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped. He emptied Himself. He took on Him the form of a servant. He was made in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Paul appeals for humility on this basis: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus,” in that marvelous, stooping love for our sakes.

Our hope for deliverance from the worst of sins is in this One, the One who is meek and lowly in heart. That’s why the greatest word here in James is “draw near to God and he will draw near to you . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” In other words, recognize that your hope of growth in the Christian life, of progress in humility, as well as in other graces, lies in fellowship with the living Lord, Jesus Christ. Make it your daily quest to live close to Him, to walk in communion with Him. Make use of what we call “the means of grace.” Read His Word. Call on His name. Cleave to His people. Keep seeking the Lord with all your heart. He satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness. Your search will never be disappointed. In every step you take toward Him, you’ll find Him already coming to meet you. Let the witness of the psalmist be more and more the motto of your life. “It is good for me to be near God” (Ps. 73:28).

All our self-engendered efforts to be humble may end by making us proud of our contrition. We see ourselves as we are only when we look away from ourselves and become conscious of God’s overwhelming grace in Jesus Christ. The words of the moving old hymn still say it best, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” It is this prince of glory, this suffering Savior, who can redeem us from the worst of sins.