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On February 16, 1992, Jerry Adler wrote an article for Newsweek, called “Hey, I’m Terrific!”: Psychologist Harold Stevenson of the University of Michigan found that American schoolchildren ranked far ahead of students in Japan, Taiwan and China in self-confidence about their abilities in math. Unfortunately, this achievement was marred by the fact that Americans were far behind in actual performance in math. A new comparison of math and science achievement by schoolchildren in 20 countries, released last week, also showed Americans ranking near the bottom. In other words, American school children – who ranked near the bottom on actual performance in math – considered themselves terrific at math. That makes too much sense, right? And what was quirky, idiosyncratic, and eye-roll-inducing 30 years ago, has now become the official dogma of the modern age.
More than 20 years, in 1997, Cornelius Plantinga observed that we’ve become a people of “competing autobiographies,” where the autonomous self steps into the foreground all else recedes. That is to say, we are the main character in our story – not just ours, but in all stories. I am the central character in the story, where the point is to find and express myself apart from and against any sort of external duties or obligations. The modern narrative is to find, create, and pursue our own meaning, our own destiny with no regard for any sort of external corrupting influence. I am the center of this story.
So, what do Christians say to that? How do Christians respond to this over-confident age of the autobiography? Well I’d imagine our minds run first to Jesus’ words in the Gospels, where He says that to find one’s life, one must lose it, right? Consider Jesus’ own example: He did not pursue freedom as we conceive of it; discovering self, making His meaning – but rather He embraced a call from His heavenly Father, obediently giving Himself away for the sake of His enemies. What Christians would say about our modern era – from Jesus’ teaching and example – is that it’s – well - proud. We are a prideful people.
But it’s not that the modern age has cornered the market on pride. Pride’s always been a thing for us, right? We are a proud race. And this is one of the reasons why pride is considered the essential vice, the capital vice of the capital vices, the head, root, foundation, source, the grandfather of all other sin. Pride has been man’s issue – this sense that I alone am the center of the universe has been man’s issue since the beginning.
Today we’re beginning a series on the 7 Deadly Sins. We’ll begin with that essential vice, pride. Before we get there, let’s ask a few questions. Two questions: first - what are the seven deadly sins? And second - why study them?
What are the Seven Deadly Sins?
We’re starting with a major assumption - sin is a thing. If we did a survey of all the ways “sin” is used today, we’d probably find sin is primarily applied to dessert and adult clothing stores. Of course, that’s not not sin. The word sin feels antiquated to modern ears. It feels out of place in modern dialogue – it carries necessarily religious connotations, things that some God deems out of bounds. For us today, that’s nonsense. If God exists, you don’t speak on behalf of him. And you most certainly aren't privileged enough to tell me what he/she says about me. That’s not to say we don’t have categories of wrongdoing – we most certainly do. It’s simply saying that to call something sin is to call something an offense against God and well – you have no business talking bout that sort of thing here.
Yet Christians make a big deal out of sin, don’t we? It’s right there at the center of faith. If you’re not a Christian, maybe you find it bizarre how often we speak about sin. The Christian religion is based on the fact that humans are sinners, but can be pardoned by the death of Jesus. So, instead of receiving the wages of sin (which is death, separation from God and all goodness), we’ve been given eternal life, that is to say, God’s own life invades ours and uproots and puts to death sin within us.
But what is sin? How can we define it? Scriptures use different ways to define it – folly (stupidity), missing the mark, transgressing a line, falling short of a standard, corruption, or most powerfully rebellion.
Cornelius Plantinga wrote the following in his book Not the Way its Supposed to Be, “Even when sin is depressingly familiar, it is never normal. It is finally unknown, irrational, alien. Sin was always a departure from the norm and is assessed accordingly. Sin is deviant and perverse, an injustice or iniquity or ingratitude. Sin…is disorder and disobedience. Sin is faithlessness, lawless, godlessness. Sin is both overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it - both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a missing of the mark, a spoiling of goods, a staining of garments, a hitch in one’s gait, a wandering from the path, a fragmenting of the whole. Sin is what culpably disturbs shalom (Hebrew word for peace, wholeness in the beginning). Sinful human life is a caricature of proper human life.”
Later on the book, Plantinga describes sin like a tick, only existing by sucking on and corrupting the good. Sin is only destructive, it does not construct, so it twists, warps, mutates God’s good world. Each of these is the perversion of something good. Sin in every instance is a deviation, an aberration from God’s design for things. It’s a grotesque mutation of God’s good design. (Have you seen the Renaissance art of the 7 sins? It’s weird.) Greed is holy ambition – mutated, warped, made grotesque. Lust is marital love – mutated, made perverse. Wrath is righteous anger – unhinged, warped, misapplied. Plantinga goes on to define sin as “vandalism of shalom” – in other words, a sort of culpable, willful individual vandalism of God’s good world. A vandalism for which we are held personally responsible, and made liable to judgment, that originates in the human heart.
At the end of the day… all sins are killjoys! Sin promises joy and fullness but it hollows us out. This is actually articulated really well by singer Alan Jackson – “Everything I love is killing me.” In reality, because they are an aberration from God’s design for us and His world, sin allures us, enslaves us, and kills us. Have you read the children’s book, Sneezy the Snowman? Sneezy, a magical come-to-life snowman, tries to join in on activities with the children that make him - like drinking hot chocolate, making S’mores around a campfire, sitting in a hot tub, and you can imagine how that ends for him. I don’t know what the actual point of the book is, but I had this realization: we’re like Sneezy. We are strangely bent on our own destruction from things we love.
But the real crime here isn’t that sin is just a violation of a utopian vision. It’s not even the fact that sin deadens us and hollows us out, and caves us in on ourselves. The real crime is that sin is an affront to God. Turn to Genesis 3.
Genesis 3: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden,  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
In this passage we see that God’s goodness is doubted, His word is twisted, His authority is undermined. The real tragedy of sin – is that it’s anti-God. Man, made in God’s image, isn’t content simply to live life with God and like God, but the serpent exploits his desire to BE God. So we see here, that right from the start, human pride is the root.
Now, let’s talk about the Seven Deadly Sins ---- where did they come from?
If you Google them, you’ll find anime characters, comic book villains, even which Spongebob character corresponds to which sin. They’re clearly something that’s not taken especially seriously. But the Seven Deadly Sins are the product of centuries of reflection, both on the human heart and the Scriptures, as well as centuries of moral and ethical reasoning. The first signs of this codified list begin as early as the desert fathers – men who would retreat to the desert to reflect on God and life before God. They began identifying “classes” or “species” of sin systemic across all mankind. They were further developed by the likes of Thomas Aquinas in the middle ages and they’re all over medieval and Renaissance art and literature.
Now don’t think of them as the only sins one can commit, but rather “species” of sin - lots of other sins have roots from these . Geoffrey Chaucer compared them to the trunks of seven trees with branches flowing out. Pride, anger, etc. All lead to other sins. For example, greed leads to theft. Anger to violence. The brilliance of this categorization is that they catch all of us in the net. If I’ve never offended you, chances are high that it’s coming in this series.
So, why study them?
It’s not from a morbid fascination, or an obsession with the lurid and titillating. It’s not because we are saved or can earn salvation by overcoming them or “arrive” when we’ve overcome them in this life. It’s not
to develop our toolkit for judging and condemning our neighbor. Stated most simply, for our joy. Sin is boring. Sin is a killjoy. Sin is a rot of the heart. Sin is an enemy to the good life. Sin destroys us just like Sneezy the Snowman. For the same reason we study cancer, or opposing armies, or the play-calling tendencies of the other team’s offensive coordinator, w’re going to study these sins. Because sin destroys the soul, and families, and cities, and nations, and empires, we intend to mortify it. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Puritan John Owen once said. We’re studying these to defeat them and become whole, joyful followers of Christ.
Today, we begin with pride. We’ll define it, explore the problem with it, indict ourselves, and find out where we go from there. First, what is pride? Pride is the most obvious of the sins because it’s so ubiquitous. It’s the one sin that I could either preach no sermon on – because we all so fundamentally understand it on such a deep and personal level – and it’s the sin that we could preach sermons and sermons and sermons on because it so deeply affects every area of life.
So how might we define it? I think we could say something like this: Pride is the inordinate pre-occupation with one’s self. It results in a clamoring for glory and supremacy that belongs to God alone, that obsesses with its image, that prioritizes meeting its needs, that has no space for anyone else. Earlier Christians would speak of vainglory – excessive desire of attention, notoriety, or approval. It’s being overly concerned with myself, or my image, or my reputation. It’s not wanting to read the book, it’s want to be seen reading that book. It’s not wanting to be good, it’s wanting to be thought of as good. It’s not enjoying something – that dish, that movie, that song – for what it is, it’s only enjoying that thing for what sort of attention it garners from on-lookers. It’s the sin of the Pharisees, who pray extravagant, jaw-droppingly spiritual prayers on the street corner; who make a show of giving LOUDLY in the temple and making it known how disciplined they were in fasting. It’s the fundamental issue with the human race: We are glory-thieves. We want glory and supremacy that belong to God alone.
Let’s return to Genesis 3 - what desire did the serpent appeal to? Adam and Eve didn’t want to be with God – but BE GOD. What did the serpent outright deny? God’s authority to judge you.
1 Peter 5:5 - Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God opposes the proud. I went to the children’s museum with my family and they have this exhibit on magnets. Ever tried to put two positive ends of magnet together? It’s not possible. It’s as much a fact of reality as gravity. The way red is red, water is wet, gravity is gravity, two positive magnets oppose one another, and God opposes pride.
But why does God oppose it? If the two commands are love God and love neighbor, the proud are too full of love of self to love anything else. Pride is anti-neighbor – it disregards others for the sake of gratifying self. It’s so caught up in self that it just doesn’t have the space for anyone else. Our neighbors, spouses, kids, parents, friends – become side characters, or worse even tools to be duped and used for our personal enjoyment and gain. They aren’t real, actual others outside of me there with real pains, hurts, concerns, loves – it’s just me and then the background extras. In Genesis 3, remember, when God calls Adam to court for man’s sin. How does Adam respond? He throws Eve under the bus and even implies that God is at fault for giving her to him. Pride is very much anti-others.
But even more problematic is that pride is anti-God – a proud man or woman wants the glory and status and attention that only God deserves. He/she wants the world to bow to our whims and desires, it expects you to bow to ME. It clamors for supremacy that belongs to God alone. Genesis 3 shows us that humanity didn’t want to be with, like God – but BE GOD. But God says, “my glory I will not share with another.”
So I know what you’re thinking. I bet you hear that and you think that all sounds pretty ugly, right? And you’ve seen ugly vain, pride. But you think, how am I guilty of that? Sure, I probably think of myself a little too much. but a glory thief? That sounds a little much! So what might glory-theiving look like in real time? How do we see pride in daily life?
Before I answer that – I’ll say this. I don’t really need to answer that. You know what pride looks like because you see it instantly in others, and loathe it in others. That’s also kind of the sneaky part about pride, right? What we’re so quick at spotting in others, we seem to possess a willful blindness to it in ourselves.
Here are a few diagnostic questions…
Can you acknowledge faults and limits without valorizing them?
Are you teachable? Can someone tell you something new without you acting like you knew it or acting like you’re disinterested in it?
Are you easily offended? Are you dramatic? Is everything the end of the world because you’re the center of all things? How dare you cross me!
Are you fixated on receiving notoriety & recognition?
Can you acknowledge the success of others? Are you willing/able to see it in the first place?
Are you willing to honor others, especially to them? Can you genuinely express appreciation, or even admiration for someone to others or to them Or does it challenge your need to feel superior?
Are you a one-upper? [Comedian Brian Regan calls this being a “me-monster.”] Can you have a conversation that doesn’t always spin back to you? Can you sustain a conversation with someone by asking them questions about them? Or is it always, “You went to Europe – I love Europe, been there so many times. Bored with it now.”
Can you have a conversation with someone and actually listen to them? Or do you just wait for your turn to talk or are you obsessing over that thing you just said?
·Do you trust yourself too much? Proverbs 26:12 – There is more hope for a fool than one who is wise in his own eyes.
Do you put on a front to conceal your true self? (out of fear, insecurity)
Do you boast? Few of us would be so obvious, right, so instead of outright boasting (like a toddler!) we humble brag. We shift and sort of position the conversation to expose our best qualities – we change topics to something related to us, sort of leave a trail of crumbs and hope someone bites so you can jump in with news about your latest read or your promotion or your kids most recent milestone.
Lastly - Do you ever repent? Before God and others? Is all of your repentance and are all of your apologies qualified to death with excuse-making? Can you ever say, zero qualifications, zero excuses, zero explanations – I’m wrong!
Pride makes you a fool – all over the Proverbs. “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18) Pride is anti-neighbor. It vandalizes God’s good design for community and relationships. Most egregious of all, pride is anti-God. It clamors after glory reserved only for God. It says God – YOU are not worthy of worship, I AM. YOU are not the One who deserves all praise honor and glory, I AM. God you are not the one who dictates how things ought to be, I AM. God you are not the center of the universe, I AM. And God – righteously, justly, graciously, opposes this. And we were guilty, all of us, in our own ways. We are a proud race.
So what’s the answer to pride?
1 Peter 5 -  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Humble yourselves before God. What does this mean? It means realizing God is bigger and more glorious than you. God made me. I don’t deserve anything. Anything I have is more than I deserve. All is grace. It means realizing that even in spite of this amazing grace, I have rebelled against Him. I deserve only judgment.
We have to get there, with no qualifications...bowing before Him, destitute, laid low, humble. Yet here’s the thing: God does not crush the humble. God does not smash the weak. A bruised reed He does not break. When we get there – true humility – when that hits home and we really internalize this, that’s when the news of the gospel becomes good. Because God gives grace to the humble…and exalts them.
John Stott wrote the following in his book, The Cross of Christ: "The essence of [pride] is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be, God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone".
My pride is so heinous it took God’s own Son to deal with it. We must be moved by the enormity of our sin, sickened by it – the stupidity of our pride; how asinine could I really be? We’re even more moved and astounded by His kindness to do something about it – the cross.
What does it mean to allow God to exalt us? Paul addresses this pretty straight-forwardly in Philippians 2. Paul links Jesus’ own humility with ours. Paul ties a direct line from Jesus’ selflessness to us, and says be like that. Humility = self-forgetfulness, a kind of taking up the cause of someone else. Self-forgetfulness is radiant, to learn to step out of the center of attention – not just others attention, but MY attention as well. For some of us, this may require getting rid of social media and getting a dumb phone. This amazing thing happens when we are unfolded out from ourselves and place our attention elsewhere. We grow in gratitude and love and amazement of God. How could you do something so kind to someone like me? It’s like there’s finally enough room in our hearts for us to really see God’s goodness and grace.
We grow in enjoyment of other people for what they are. How could I ever think this person – this miracle standing before me – was unworthy of my attention? How absurd of me to be too obsessed with me to see and get to know this amazing creature, hand-crafted by God-himself. Again, It’s like there’s finally enough room in our hearts for us to really others.
This is the path, Peter says, to exaltation. That’s how we get glory, glory from God. God’s own glory given to us as we learn to be glorious as He is glorious. That is to say, we learn the goodness and beauty of humility and tragic stupidity of pride. What pride offer us – love, glory, regard – is actually found in losing ourselves in Christ, for Christ’s sake. The irony of this we wanted to be like God – proud! Yet, when we humble ourselves and own this, He makes us like God – gloriously, radiantly self-forgetful, like Christ our Savior!
I pray that this teaching series, by God’s grace, would humble us so that God can exalt us. For our joy!