It has been said that pride is the original and underlying issue for any sin—a willful choosing of self over God, independence over dependence, “I got this” over humility. Indeed, it goes back to our first parents in the garden, with their lustful desire to be more than what they were created to be, to reject their very created-ness in lieu of a miserable self-sovereignty.
It is no surprise that if our fall from grace was due to arrogant, rebellious pride that the path to salvation in Christ would be through terms like repentance, faith and trust—all antonyms of our original sin.
The very identity of a believer in Jesus is the glaring opposite of pride—someone who was wrong, someone who was sinful and needy and without hope unless a Savior intervened.
And if that is true, then Christian leaders and pastors would ideally be the world’s foremost specialists in humility. We know we were wicked, wrong and wayward more than anyone else. The very gospel that our callings depend on serves as a constant reminder that because we are the “chief of sinners” we should be the chief repenters, the chief walkers-in-the-light, the chiefs of owning our own sin (1 Tim 1:15).
But it is startling how deceitful, how sneaky and belligerent pride can be even for us as Christian leaders, no? The gospel can seem clear when directed at others and cloudy when it’s pointed fingers are aimed at our hearts. A million reasons and justifications can cause dependence on self and distance from biblical community to grow while the flame of humble repentance fades.
It Doesn’t Happen Overnight
We’ve all seen it. The high-profile pastor has a moral failure. The church leader succumbs to some kind of temptation and suddenly they are disqualified from ministry. And people all around them are shocked—they say things like, “But he was such a good pastor. I had no idea this was an issue for him.”
It’s tempting to think that big moral failures are flukes—things that come out of nowhere and completely knock someone over. But the reality is that these big events don’t happen overnight. They grow slowly over time.
There’s an old sermon analogy that says if you put a frog in a pot of hot water he will jump out immediately, but if you put him in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, he’ll boil to death and not realize it.
I don’t know if that’s true (I’ve never had the urge to catch a frog and try), but I do know that a pastor doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to embezzle money. No—years before it started with a prideful “No” to the Holy Spirit’s prompting for him to confess his temptations towards greed and covetousness.
An affair doesn’t happen overnight—it starts with a small spark of self-interest and lust that does not get brought to the light in repentance. One unrepentant glance, one un-confessed thought.
These things happen when pastors decide that confession and repentance and walking in the light of aggressively honest Christian community do not apply to them, because they are pastors after all—they are far beyond all of that elementary stuff.
And five or ten or twenty years later, it hits the fan. The proverbial frog was boiled to death without even realizing the water was getting hotter and hotter.
So pastors and church leaders (and anyone else), where are the small seeds of pride, the ones you almost don’t notice, growing in your life? Don’t believe the lie that they are small and harmless, because there is no such thing as harmless pride.
Are you falling for the lie that you don’t need to confess and repent of your sin issues and walk deeply with other believers?
Where are you believing the lie that you’ve got this thing under control, that you can do this with your own intellect and your own two hands, neglecting the gifts God has given you to abide in and depend on Him?
Where might the water be getting hotter around you and you don’t see the destruction that’s looming?
The good news is that the same gospel that made us Christians is the same gospel that will keep us Christians.
Jesus calls us to repent no matter where we are, no matter how hot the water is getting or if the boil has already begun. He invites us to constantly return to dependence on Him, to turn our gaze back to our need for Him again and again and again. A daily lifestyle of gospel-centered humility and repentance.
Brothers I pray that we will constantly be reminded of our utter dependence on Him, of our need for a Savior. I pray that the idea of being the worst of sinners will not just be a thing we say or a sermon we preach, but a gospel reality our hearts walk with to keep us from the train wrecks pride will lead us to.
Published July 16, 2015