by John W. Ritenbaugh
January 29, 2012
We learned in the previous article that the Bible is exceptionally clear about two things. The first is that God the Father, who created all things through Jesus Christ, is sovereign over all. His sovereignty reaches into every nook and cranny of His creation. Jesus Christ is often shown as equal with Him and is to be given the same respect and honor. His word is to be given the same dignity as if it came directly from the Father's mouth.
He Himself says, "I and My Father are one" (John 10:30), but He also clearly states, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). While this seems to be contradictory, it is easily understood. They are one in that They are in perfect agreement in regard to the purpose that They are accomplishing and to how it is to be accomplished. Thus, They work in perfect harmony. However, He still "looks up to" the Father, saying in John 8:29, "I always do those things that please Him."
The second item the Bible is exceptionally clear about is that angels and human beings are responsible to, answerable to, and accountable to both of Them. We must come to know Them and Their purpose and voluntarily submit to Their authority and creative activity in our lives.
However, Romans 8:7 introduces a major barrier to mankind following through with this responsibility: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." The carnal mind is the nature in which a person's conduct is based until God acts to convert or transform him; it is man's deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Once an individual is called, and the Father and Son have revealed Themselves and some of Their purpose to him, this verse succinctly describes the major impediment to our submitting to Them. This resisting influence from within each of us is the major barrier to perfect deference and compliance to Them.
Of course, Satan and the world also influence us, but the major impediment to our responsibly submitting is what is already part of our characters even as we are being converted. We quickly revert to carnality when confronted with something that we do not want to do.
What element in our carnality drives our resistance? Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 1:2, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Vanity implies something that is useless and impermanent, like vapor rising from a pot of boiling water, and therefore something of little or no value toward accomplishing God's purpose for mankind. The "all" in Solomon's statement includes us.
Notice this evidence regarding mankind's unconverted state from Psalm 39:5-6, where David writes:
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.
In Psalm 62:9, he adds, "Surely men of low degree are a vapor, men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed in the balances, they are altogether lighter than vapor."
These are blunt statements, showing that unless something is done to change the value of what we are in reality, what good reason does God have to work with us?
But there is more from God's Word that paints the picture of our unconverted value and the strength of our natural resistance to Him even more acutely. The aforementioned Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Above all things" implies all things considered evil. This by itself is a vivid comparison—and God does not lie—but He goes beyond that by adding that man's heart is not merely wicked but desperately wicked. This means our heart is without care for danger and recklessly, badly, extremely, furiously, impetuously wicked.
Jesus adds force to this word-picture by confirming in Matthew 15:17-20 that the heart is the place from which our evil resistance to God is generated. However, an irony comes into play because the heart is the same place that generates to us in our thoughts the belief that we are really something good! This is quite an effective combination in producing sin. It occurs because our hearts produce self-esteem with the result that our ideas and actions—our very lives—are focused on self-satisfaction. To meet that need, we will sin as a way of life. What generates that drive?
Ezekiel 28:14-17 says regarding Satan:
You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you.
Here is the original source of the internal, self-centered influence in mankind's hearts; this is where sin began in the distant past. From this being sin spread to other angels; and from them into mankind, beginning with Adam and Eve; and from them on to all of mankind. Notice how God clearly describes that his sins had their birth in his prideful feelings about himself, and in turn, this corrupted his wisdom.
Job 41:34 reveals his present position and location: "He beholds every high thing; he is king over all the children of pride." This verse portrays God speaking of Leviathan, which clearly represents a being of awesome power and influence over mankind. God's description of Leviathan must not be misunderstood by focusing merely on its monstrous physical appearance, but rather on its reality as a living being, possessing strong leadership qualities and powerful influence.
Leviathan strikes fear into men to bring about submission to him and thus control of them. He is the king of pride, and he rules "the children of pride," who are the overwhelming masses of unconverted people, those not submissive to God. They, like their king and spiritual father, are enemies of God. Whether his mass of followers is aware of it or not, they have been forcibly inducted into his service. He is named in II Corinthians 4:4 as "the god of this age." This is the same being of which Jesus informed the Jews in John 8:44:
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
The one who became Satan is a powerful and dominating creation of Almighty God. He was created, not as an enemy of God and His purpose, but as a powerful cherub to serve Him in His purpose by leading other angels in their service to God. Jude 6 discloses that the place of their service was on Planet Earth before mankind was created. But, as we saw in Ezekiel 28, he turned his heart against God to become an enemy, influencing the angels under his charge to rebel with him to fight against God (Revelation 12:9; Isaiah 14:12-14).
God defeated them, and they were cast back to earth. Satan and his minions are still here, continuing their war against God and His creation—man. Ephesians 2:1-3 informs us about how this warfare is being carried out:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Satan's influence is worldwide: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (I John 5:19). His ultimate object is to destroy God, but along the way he also strives to destroy any aspect of God's creation, most especially man. He is doing this through inducing human beings to sin in order to bring upon them the wages of sin—death.
His basic tool for accomplishing this is by means of his spirit. The driving forces of his prideful, deceitful mind and those of his demon companions are deceit, hatred, anger, competition, and destruction, all encompassed within an overweening pride. People absorb them into their thinking processes, becoming like him in attitude and conduct. These characteristics lodge into human hearts and generate resistance to God, His law, and His purpose.
Satan's Spirit's Effects
Before baptizing anybody, the ministry almost invariably urges the person to "count the cost" of giving his life to Christ. While counseling the candidate, the minister expounds Luke 14:26-27: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."
The cross we bear may be any potentially long-lasting trial that persistently affects our liberty to submit to God. However, very often at the base of this chronic resistance to submission is our desperately wicked heart with its deeply engrained baggage of proud, self-centered, anti-God habits of thinking and conduct. Despite our being baptized and having God's Spirit, pride remains a fellow traveler, stirring resistance to the knowledge of God. Satan's pride separated him from the Creator, and if permitted, it has the power to separate us from Him as well.
Without really stopping to evaluate why, we are proud about what God describes as nothingness, vanity, a vapor. Pride resists the sovereign Almighty God and greatly hinders us from fulfilling our responsibility to submit.
What is pride, the subtle yet powerful influence that most commentators believe is the father of all other sins? Hebrew, Greek, and English share the sense of the word's basic meaning: to be lifted up; to have an undue sense of one's importance or superiority.
Pride motivates us to exaggerate the value of our thoughts. It causes us to elevate our opinions and raises the importance of the fulfillment of what we perceive as our needs even above God's and, of course, decidedly higher than our fellowman's.
To be even handed, the Bible shows that there is also a narrow, positive application of the word, and thus, depending on the context, it can be translated as "dignity" or "glory." For instance, Proverbs 16:31 reads, "The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness." This verse provides us with a slender sliver of insight that there is a natural pride to which God gives His approval. However, He qualifies it with "if it is found in the way of righteousness." Righteousness is the very thing pride sets itself to resist, making achieving a proper sense of pride more difficult. With God's own Word describing man at his best state being "altogether vanity" (Psalm 39:5 KJV), it certainly makes one wonder what we really have to be proud of!
In the context of the relationship between God and man, the overwhelming number of usages of the six Hebrew words and four Greek words translated as "pride" or its synonyms are negative and damning. These words are translated into such terms as "arrogance," "lifted up," "presumptuous," "loftiness," "proud," "proudly," "exalted," "overbearing," "condescending," "haughty," "superior," "disdainful," "scornful," "boasting," "self-esteem," and "contemptuous." Not all of these synonyms are in the King James or the New King James Versions, but various modern translations use them depending on the context.
Pride carries not only a lofty self-centeredness but also a lively competitiveness against others that easily becomes a lustful, destroying enmity. It is highly critical, envious, and impatient, and it can be effortlessly stirred to anger, possessiveness, and suspicion of being taken advantage of. These characteristics are part of Satan's spirit. Each of them is destructive to loving family unity within the church.
Isaiah 2 provides us with a detailed overview of the immorality that existed in Judah a few years before they fell to the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar. Isaiah reports what he witnessed the people being involved in, and he also foresaw the conclusion if no repentance occurred. It was a time not far different from what we observe in America today.
For You have forsaken Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with eastern ways; they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they are pleased with the children of foreigners. Their land is full of silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is also full of horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made. People bow down, and each man humbles himself; therefore do not forgive them.
Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust, from the terror of the Lord and the glory of His majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought down low—upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan; upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up; upon every high tower, and upon every fortified wall; upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all the beautiful sloops. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, but the idols He shall utterly abolish.
They shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, from the terror of the Lord and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily. In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which they made, each for himself to worship, to the moles and bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the crags of the rugged rocks, from the terror of the Lord and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily. Sever yourself from such a man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:6-22)
God is illustrating in His own picturesque way that pride (loftiness and haughtiness), emanating from within man and triggering his conduct, is heavily involved in human life—perhaps it is even the basis and foundation of all sin. He mentions the accumulation of wealth in the form of treasures, silver, gold, chariots, and horses. He speaks of manufacturing (the works of their own hands) and of religion (creating idols). He portrays things of sturdy power (oaks of Bashan) and things of grace and beauty (cedars of Lebanon). He mentions military power (high towers and fortified walls), large nations (high mountains) and small nations (hills that are lifted up), and commerce (beautiful sloops).
The Destructive Fruit of Pride
We get a sense of this in the original sin of Adam and Eve, when Satan held out to them the promise of attainments beyond what they had experienced to that point in the Garden of Eden. Tempting them, he said, "You will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). This helped motivate them to become greater than what God, their Creator, had assigned to them.
In Genesis 1:31, when God saw everything He had made, He declared it to be "very good." Pride is not "very good." It was not in them as God created them, but it entered into their thinking in Satan's presence. The very first exercise of that pride earned them death and ejection from God's presence and the Garden.
At some time following his creation by God, pride arose in Satan, and he uttered this desire, as written in Isaiah 14:13-14:
For you have said in your heart: "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High."
His devious offer to Adam and Eve in the Garden is an echo of his challenge against God. This exercise of his pride separated him from God.
Pride, Satan's lofty feelings of superiority regarding his beauty, corrupted him. It deceived him into wanting even greater power to complement his splendor. After all, he deserved it, did he not? Notice how great he was in his own eyes!
In Daniel 5:18-23, we find another example of rising pride, in this case involving a man. Daniel says to King Belshazzar of Babylon:
O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.
We see that pride has the power to create evil ambition in a man, persuading him to rise above what he is to something greater—to become something that he thinks he deserves, even though he should have known better. Belshazzar lost his life and his kingdom.
I John 2:15-16 warns us not to love the world of Satan's creation because it is a huge reservoir of influences to the budding kernel of pride in each of us. It can lead us from that sin to others in order to accomplish our ambitions. What other kinds of sin? The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector provides an example, showing how destructive it can be to relationships: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'" (Luke 18:11-12). Pride can make a person become condescending and self-righteous, so that he sees himself as greater than others, which can lead to misusing them.
At the same time, it blinded the Pharisee to his spiritual condition. Jeremiah 49:16 is spoken against Edom. "'Your fierceness has deceived you, the pride of your heart, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill! Though you make your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there,' says the Lord." One of pride's most destructive fruits is self-deception, blindness to one's own spiritual condition. It strongly tends to produce a sense of infallibility.
Hosea 7:8-12 confirms the fruit of self-deception using Ephraim as the example:
Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples; Ephraim is a cake unturned. Aliens have devoured his strength, but he does not know it; yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, yet he does not know it. And the pride of Israel testifies to his face, but they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this. Ephraim is also like a silly dove, without sense—they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria. Wherever they go, I will spread My net on them; I will bring them down like birds of the air; I will chastise them according to what their congregation has heard.
The signs of a spiritual cancer are everywhere for all to see, but the proud person or nation is oblivious. Unless change occurs, they will fall.
Jeremiah 43:1-2 records another example of pride:
Now it happened, when Jeremiah had stopped speaking to all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, all these words, that Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men spoke, saying to Jeremiah, "You speak falsely! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, 'Do not go to Egypt to dwell there.'"
What fruit does this show us? Pride's deceptive, blinding power motivates people to reject God's Word, whether it is given through His servants or through His Book.
Two more proverbs will provide a clear picture of the fruit of pride. Proverbs 26:12 asks an important question and then succinctly answers it: "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." The way of pride is hopeless because it keeps the proud one from real progress, for he will not be corrected. Proverbs 16:18 makes the clinching statement: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Unless a person recognizes his pride and repents, the inevitable result is destruction.
The psalmist Asaph writes in Psalm 73:1-9:
Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak loftily, they set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth.
He mentions pride directly, as well as boasting among men and speaking loftily, arrogantly against the very God of heaven, as evidence of the driving force of the wicked person's life. Pride and wickedness fit together like hand and glove—so much so that God describes pride as the wicked person's ornament, as if it were displayed as a necklace.
In short, pride identifies the wicked; evil people are always proud. They scoff at God's Word, speak against Him, and gossip against fellow man. What we see on the outside is evil attitude and conduct, but what is motivating from the inside is pride. The proud person offends against God by self-exaltation, and he offends others by haughty preoccupation with himself, leading him to rudeness, impatience, and gossip. And all the while, he ignores the instruction from God that would correct him.
All of this is based on a vain delusion of grandeur that, if allowed, can lead to what God prophesies in Obadiah 2-4, 18:
"Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down," says the Lord. . . . "The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau. For the Lord has spoken."
He pronounces this against the nation of Edom, but it could be pronounced in principle against anyone who comes to believe and act as though he is invulnerable by ignoring the reality of God and the consequences of sin. II Corinthians 5:7, 9-10 reminds us of this:
For we walk by faith, not by sight. . . . Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
These verses state a reality we all face: We are accountable to the Creator for our conduct. We know that standing between us and God is an internally generated pride that, if allowed, will greatly hinder our desire to please Him by submitting.
We must understand that God's calling of us, His granting of repentance to us, and His providing us with His Spirit have given us a valuable power, an "edge." He has not given us an impossible challenge. Receiving the Holy Spirit has given us the wherewithal, the powers, to meet our responsibility to submit voluntarily to Him. What is the solution? In short, it is to exercise humility before the Holy One of Israel. Humility can defuse pride's power.
There is a major difference between pride and humility. Because of exposure to Satan and the world, pride is within us almost from birth. Humility, though, is not part of us from birth. Spiritual humility is most definitely a developed characteristic, derived because of contact with God and our choosing to be so before Him. God willing, we will address this extraordinary quality in the next issue.