The Christian, and by that I mean the one who has been regenerated or born again by the Spirit of God, realizes that he was totally unable to come to Christ in his own strength (John 3:3; 6:44, 65). He was dead in sin (Eph. 2:1, 4; Col. 2:13) and opposed to God in his mind (Col. 1:21; Rom. 8:6-8). He came to grips with the truth that even his best efforts were filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6). The term for filthy garments or rags is the idea of used menstrual cloths. I know that is grotesque and repulsive. That is the idea. Before God, even our best efforts were tainted with sin and totally unacceptable!
When God, by His Spirit brings us to this realization, we are broken. We realize that we are totally bankrupt and mourn over our condition (Matt. 5:3-4). We then are drawn to Christ as our only Hope of being saved from sin. We cling to Christ in faith alone and realize that we have no ground for boasting (Rom. 4:4-6).
The Christian who walks or lives in light of the truth never forgets this fact. Our problem is that we, even as believers, do not consistently and perfectly walk in light of this truth. Our “default” position is self-centeredness. We easily revert back to our former way of thinking, and by doing this, we try to impress others by our efforts. We want others to know that we are changed, so that they will be impressed. This is why we must renew our minds to truth every day (Rom. 12:1-2).
Even our desire to show others we are changed can smack of pride. Think about it. In calling attention to our new lifestyle or other habits, we are calling attention to what we are doing or no longer doing. It is calling attention to us. We may claim it is pointing others to Christ, but it is simply a veiled act of arrogance that says, “Look at me.”
The truth is that we all have a tendency to become self-righteous Pharisees who are proud of themselves and want to flaunt their outward religiosity for others to see. Like the Pharisee who prayed in the temple (Luke 18:9-14), we cry, “I thank you God that I am not like other [sinful] people. I go to Church. I don’t do drugs. I have never been arrested. I have a job. I don’t vote Democrat (or Republican). I don’t…. I don’t…. I don’t….” Simply fill in the blanks.
Not only can we be proud of those bad things we don’t do, we can become full of ourselves over those good things that we do. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are penetrating. In Matthew 6:1, Jesus said that His followers are to beware of practicing their acts of righteousness before others. The temptation is to want to impress others by what we do and hear their praise or have them think we are spiritual. Instead, we are to desire only to please our Father in heaven and be content if only He sees what we do.
In verses 2-18, Jesus instructs His followers to do their acts of righteousness in such a way that they are only concerned about pleasing God. As a matter of fact, He tells them to do these acts in secret. In other words, don’t worry about impressing others but seek to please only God. He sees the true motives behind the acts, and He will see you even if no one else does.
Notice that Jesus is referring to giving, praying, and fasting. Now these disciplines are good, and when done properly, they are beneficial. However, when they are practiced in order to impress others, they do not profit at all.
For the sake of brevity, I will only comment on prayer. (These same applications could easily apply for giving and fasting, as well as attending church services, evangelistic witnessing, etc.)
Throughout the Bible, Christians are commanded and encouraged to pray. We are to intercede for others and offer supplications for our own needs. To not pray is to sin and ignore the example that Jesus set as well. If He, being the sinless Son of God, prayed, how much more should we?
However, we fail miserably when we abuse prayer and make it a means for promoting ourselves. If we seek to impress others by the eloquence, frequency, or “power” of our prayers, we are praying in a way that Jesus forbade. We are merely Pharisees that are full of themselves and full of arrogance and pride. What should be a matter of self-abasement has become a matter of self-exaltation.
While many Christians don’t feel that way about prayer, they still engage it in pridefully. Think about this. Do you pray and realize that you sometimes stumble, stutter, stammer, and not know what to pray? Do you find yourself not wanting to pray in front of others because you are scared that they’ll think you don’t pray very well? You worry that they will think you are unspiritual or some other less than flattering thought? You know what the problem is? You are full of yourself!
Both positions are full of pride and self. Both are concerned about impressing others and what other people think. One just masks it better with feigned humility. Trust me. I know this well because I am in the same boat.
Beloved, whether it is prayer, giving, engaging in evangelistic endeavors, what you wear, what you drive, where you live, or any other visible measurement, realize you don’t have to impress others. If you are a Christian, God has accepted you fully in Christ (Eph. 1:7). He loves you perfectly and completely and has promised to never leave you nor forsake you (John 10:27-29; Rom. 8:31-39; Hebrews 13:5-6).
All of these good things and blessings do not come to you because you deserve them. You don’t deserve them and could never earn them. The only thing you and I deserve is eternal condemnation. Nevertheless, God blesses us for His glory alone. It is because of His grace alone in Christ alone, and He provides us with the faith to trust Him and all of His promises. Faith alone is the only means we have for receiving these gifts of grace.
What legitimate reason do you have to be proud of yourself or your accomplishments if they are all given because of Christ alone and for God’s glory alone? If it is for God’s glory, alone, that means you and I get none of it (Is. 48:11). Don’t seek to rob God of His rightful glory by your attempt to boast.