“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23, ESV)
Grace isn’t easy. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. It requires something of me that I am normally unwilling to give. It requires I give up on myself. It requires I look myself squarely in the face and admit that I will not pull myself up by my bootstraps. I won’t be master of my destiny. It requires I acknowledge openly and honestly that I am a bum.
Some time ago, I sat on our back porch and had a long talk with man struggling to raise his two children alone. He was angry. Angry with God, with Christians, and with the church. He was looking for the comfort of a woman, and a stout paycheck. He figured this was all he needed, and everything would be OK. If he could just work out those two details, he could fix his life.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, ESV)
I have a lot of respect for this dad. Things have not been easy, and money sure isn’t flowing like water. He has to work a lot to make ends meet, and he is in desperate need of childcare. Now, here’s the thing, I know for a fact that I can make a few phone calls and find a group of families willing to help him watch his children for free, but he would have none of it. He insisted that he had to be able to pay whoever was watching his children, “I don’t want people to think I’m a bum.”
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, ESV)
I get it. Most of us want the dignity of knowing that we’re pulling our own weight. Most of us don’t want to be known as people who take advantage of others. But…what if I can’t pay? What if, in all of my bravado and bluster about how I don’t want to be a bum, my children go hungry? What if, in my pride, I lose that which I desperately need, and that which is freely offered? What happens to this man if he can’t pay to care for his children? Will they be taken from him? What disaster will his pride bring on him?
“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13, ESV)
The scriptural sin of pride is not about having confidence in our abilities, or in being excited about accomplishments. Pride is the sin of having confidence in ourselves when real credit goes to God, or when we have an empty and exaggerated view of ourselves when we have no right to have such. It isn’t wrong to acknowledge our giftedness or our blessings. It is wrong to take credit for them. Pride is an empty boasting meant to puff ourselves up in the eyes of others, or to put ourselves in a position of perceived superiority over others.
That dad sitting on my back porch is like me, and I am like him. My pride doesn’t want to accept that I am a bum. I have a need to prove myself to others. I need to show that I’m put together. Grace isn’t easy. It requires that I say out loud, “I can’t be good. I can’t fix myself, and I don’t care if anyone knows it.” Grace is given freely and generously to all those who can put down the bravado.
I am a bum. You are a bum. We can’t pay.