Don't Turn Grace Into Pride
Total dependence on God should move us to humility.
If there is one consistent barrier that I have seen in D.C. when it comes to seeing people explore faith in Jesus, it is the barrier of Christian pride. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with a non-Christian in D.C. that circled around the basic theme of “Why are Christians such judgmental people?” In my experience, the perception of Christians from those outside our faith is that we are prideful and judgmental people. This keeps people from wanting to explore who Jesus is because they do not admire his followers.
Such perceptions should greatly alarm those of us who are Christians because we are people who adhere to a religion that is built upon the concept of grace. What we should not be is surprised, because we know that from the very beginning people have turned following Jesus into an occasion for pride.
Consider, for example, the actions of the disciples in Mark 10:13-16. Verse 13 says that when people were bringing their children to Jesus, the disciples sharply rebuked them. This caused Jesus to respond “indignantly,”, saying to them “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).
As Jesus’s rebuke of his disciples illustrates, it is possible to take the grace Jesus offers us and turn it into pride. Like the disciples, we can turn our status of being called by Christ to follow him into a license to look down upon and exclude others. In other words, it is easy for us to forget that, like a little child, we are completely dependent upon God’s action for our own calling and salvation.
What does it look like when grace gets turned into pride? Here are some examples:
We turn grace into pride when we forget that our own status as a Christian is only because of what Christ has done and not what we have done (Romans 3:23-24).
We turn grace into pride when we look down on people of other religions or worldviews, forgetting that it is God’s action within us that draws us to him, not our own ability or intellect (Ephesians 2:4-8).
We turn grace into pride when we avoid or exclude others, forgetting that we were ourselves once strangers and aliens (Ephesians 2:19).
We turn grace into pride when we judge other Christians by looking down upon them for differing views or practices, forgetting that those who are strong have an obligation to bear with the weak and that Christ bears with our own shortcomings (Romans 15:1-7).
We turn grace into pride when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3).
If we are to guard against these temptations, we must remember how much we actually are like little children. As far as salvation goes, we are completely dependent upon God’s action in our life in every way. Even our ability to follow Christ is dependent upon His work within us.
At the same time, we must recognize that, despite our helplessness, God has acted in order to save and sanctify us. He has not left us alone in our helplessness, but has received us with open arms. The gospel tells us that we are as helpless as babies yet at the same time it tells us that God still receives and cares for us.
If we are to be people marked by grace rather than pride, then we have got to allow God’s grace to wash over us. Because if we really understand the implications of God’s grace, then we will realize that we have nothing to boast of except for Christ. Only then will we be able to sincerely sing, "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
We must not turn such grace into an occasion for pride. Instead, let us respond to that grace with humility and thankfulness, resting fully in Jesus. Then, not only will grace guard us against pride, but we will also find the strength and the will to extend compassion, empathy, and patience to others.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.