Here is some of what the Bible had to say about pride:
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate. (Proverbs 8:13)
These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look… (Proverbs 6:16,17)
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (I John 2:16)
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Evangelicals are frequently warned about the dangers of pride — of thinking more highly of self than one ought to. We owe everything to Jesus, Evangelical preachers say, and without him we have no power to do anything good. Readers who are on Facebook and have Evangelical friends likely see regular reports in their news feed of how awesome Jesus is. Something good happens in the lives of Evangelicals and their status report reads, ALL PRAISE TO JESUS for ____________________. Last night, I watched the thrilling North Carolina vs Villanova college basketball championship game — a contest which Villanova won on a last second jump shot. One of the sideline reporters interviewed one of the heroes of the game and the first words out of his mouth were I THANK MY LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST! Earlier in the day I had read report about a nanny saving a baby in a stroller from being hit by a car — giving up her body to bear the brunt of the accident. Nearby witnesses rushed to her aid, lifting the car off of her body and giving her emergency medical treatment. The local sheriff considered the story to be a miracle of God!
Where, oh were was God or his son Jesus? As I watched the basketball game, I didn’t see any dunk shots by J.C. I didn’t see God setting picks or making fouls shots. The same goes for the accident. If what happened was a miracle from God, exactly where was God? From what I can tell, it was PEOPLE not God who helped the nanny — likely saving her life. Despite there being no evidence for God doing anything, Christians continue to give God praise, honor, and glory that he does not deserve.
Evangelicals are taught that is always wrong to take credit for doing anything; and yes I mean ANYTHING. According to the Bible, Christians have no power of their own. According to the last part of John 15:5, Jesus told his followers: for without me ye can do nothing. Why, without God, we wouldn’t even be able to draw the next breath. No matter how much hard work Evangelicals put into something, the praise always goes to Jesus. He alone is the reason Evangelicals do good works. I could spend hours studying for a sermon, yet if my sermon was well received and well delivered it was all because of Jesus. Simply put, Evangelicals believe that they are a conduit through which God does his work on earth. According to the Casting Crowns song, If We are the Body, Christians are supposed to be the words, hands, and feet of God.
Evangelicals are frequently reminded of the importance of self-denial. Jesus first, others second, yourself last, goes the Evangelical acronym for JOY. How this works out in real life is that serving Jesus and others is ALL that matters. Self is a hindrance that keeps Christians from fully and resolutely living according to the teachings of the Bible and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (Please see I Did it All for Jesus: My Life of Self-Denial and Learning to Be Human Again After a Lifetime of Self-Denial) I have been accused over the years of taking Christianity too seriously. The reason, according to these critics, that I left the ministry and Christianity is because I didn’t have a balanced life. If I had just learned to balance my Evangelical beliefs with my personal and family wants, needs, and desires, all would have been well. Are these critics right? Consider these verses:
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24,25)
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:15,16)
For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (James 4:14,15)
Who is it, then, that takes these verses seriously and attempts to pattern their lives after them? The balanced Christian? Or Evangelicals who push their pots into the center of the table and say, “We are all in”? Are these Evangelicals to be faulted for taking God at his word? Are they to be faulted for desiring to pattern their lives after Jesus and his disciples? Shouldn’t Evangelical preachers see in the Apostle Paul the epitome of what it means to be a man led by God?
The book of Revelation speaks of those who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. That was the kind of follower I wanted to be. Blinkered like an Amish horse, all I saw was Jesus ahead of me leading the way. While I failed many times, my goal was always to, without reservation, follow and serve Jesus. The only way to do this was to get self out of the way.
Living this way brought much heartache, suffering, and economic deprivation. (Please see How Fundamentalist Christianity Affected My View of Money and Material Things) I now know that self (and family) does matter. I now know that it is healthy to put self first. I have spent countless hours in counseling trying to reconnect with Bruce Gerencser. I spent the bulk of my adult life burying self. When I deconverted, I had no clue as to who I really was. Even today, I am not at all certain that I have reached a place where I am free of the damage wrought by a lifetime of self-denial, metaphorical self-flagellation, and prostrating myself before God and his son Jesus. Having spent most of my life on my knees, I still find it hard to stand up and walk by my own power.
One area that I need to work on is accepting the praise and approbation of others. When I take a photograph that I know is pretty good, I find it hard to accept the praise others heap upon this example of my photographic skills. Polly has taken to getting after me about this, reminding me of the fact that I put hard work into improving my photography skills. I have the same problem when readers complement me over something I have written. I know that my writing has helped thousands of people over the years, but I have a hard time accepting praise and gratitude from those I have helped. There is still deep within me the feeling that I do not deserve anything. Even when I come into some sort of economic windfall, I find myself thinking, I do not deserve this. Try as I might, I have been unable to shake the notion of self-denial. Certainly, I have come a long way and I am in a much better place psychologically that I once was, but I know God and his demand of personal sacrifice still lurk in the shadows. Perhaps someday I will be able to accept the kind words of others without feeling some sort of shame for accepting what should only be given to God.
As many former Evangelicals know, God can still lurk in the shadows of our lives. I am almost eight years removed from the day I walked away in the Christian church, yet I still battle with what I call an Evangelical hangover. I suppose this is inevitable. After all, I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I spent the vast majority of my adult life praising and worshiping Jesus. I preached thousands of sermons and read countless Christian books. I immersed myself in the pages of the Bible, and rarely did a day go by that I did not spend time reading it. While I can point to the date when I attended a Christian church for the last time and the date when I said to myself, I am no longer a Christian, flushing my life of residual religiosity and faith is a day by day process that continues to this very moment.
How about you? Do you still have some sort of Evangelical hangover? Do you have a hard time accepting the praise and approbation of others? Has it been difficult for you to regain a sense of self after years of denial? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.