While working on my most recent book, Good News About Satan: A Gospel Look at Spiritual Warfare, I discovered the vital role of humility in dealing with our spiritual enemy.
Since I struggle with pride more than any other sin, I looked to my mentor and friend, Jerry Bridges, for direction. He sent me to The Beatitudes, which his next book will describe as “humility in action.” And we had further discussion which led to me writing this blog post for Cruciform Press. If you, too, struggle with the sin of pride, I hope this helps.
Prideful sin is no small matter. The biblical warnings against it are bone-chilling. And none is more frightening than this: “God is opposed to the proud” (James 1:6).
We’ve been told over and over: Pride is the root of all sin. Kill pride and your other sins will topple, too. Sounds easy but it isn’t. Pride is slippery. As soon as you think you’ve got a grip on it, it pops up somewhere else nearby—usually closer to your heart than it was in the first place.
Frontal attacks against pride usually fizzle out. Have you noticed that, too? If so, try the indirect approach I learned while working on a recent book on spiritual warfare.
Roots Grow in Soil
There are two sins that actually run deeper than pride. Picture them as the soil from which the root of pride draws its nourishment and support.
Thankfully, these are two sins you can easily battle head-on. In fact, you can “condition” these two soils (that is, poison them) every day. Do this long enough and consistently enough and you will find the root of your sinful pride withering, thus weakening the whole malignant ecosystem of sin in your life.
The Soil Called Ungodliness
Jerry Bridges is my friend, mentor, and sometimes co-author. In The Bookends of the Christian Life we wrote, “the opposite of godliness is ungodliness, the disregarding of God. All expressions of pride are rooted in ungodliness, because you must first disregard God before you can be prideful.”
Sinful pride requires disregarding God—that is, behaving as if he does not matter. When you realize this, it becomes much simpler to battle ungodliness. How? By remembering that God does matter, infinitely above and beyond everything else. In practical terms, you can do this by deliberately recognizing God, for who he truly is, in all things, and doing so until this kind of God-honoring becomes habitual. Try it, and I think you’ll soon discover this is a powerful, if indirect, way to poison a root of pride.
This approach amounts to an intentional, content-specific version of what some have called “practicing the presence of God.” The best way to do this is to study, memorize, and regularly recall Scriptures about who God is and what he has done for us in his Son.
The Soil Called Unbelief
Deeper still, below pride and below the disregarding of God, is unbelief, the deepest sin of all. If ungodliness behaves as if God does not matter, unbelief behaves as if God does not exist.
The opposite of this unbelief is biblical faith. Genuine faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit necessarily results in humility. Battling unbelief, therefore, is our second indirect yet powerful means of battling pride.
An excellent way to engage in this battle is simply to ask Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jerry and I have made it a habit to pray this nearly every day.
Next, remember that when sin was about to strike, Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Then, remember that Jesus prays for you, too (Romans 8:34).
Jesus is concerned about your faith in him. Ask him to pray for you the way he prayed for Peter—that your faith may not fail!
My life is far from a picture of humility.
In fact, I’ve been aware of pride mustering its forces within me even as I write this. But I will not approach this battle head-on (except to take my sin to the cross and repent from it). Instead, I will deliberately regard God, by remembering where every good thing comes from (James 1:16-18). And I will pray, asking ask him to help my unbelief, so that I might see his unseen hand at work in me.
I’ll pray the same for you, too. By the time you read this, know that I already have.