Perhaps the fiercest and most hostile arch-nemesis to joy is Pride. It may be no surprise to us when we often hear that pride is the root of all sin. You can trace Pride’s evil touch in everything else, after all. It is, as one called it, “the chief vice.”
It may also not surprise you that pride was working to steal joy from the beginning of humanity. The story of Adam and Eve’s sinful decision to eat of the forbidden fruit goes to show just how joyful man before the Fall was, and how swiftly the enemy came to steal and kill and destroy that joy. Before going right to Genesis 3, it will be beneficial to note that in Genesis 1-2 we witness God granting a significant amount of authority to mankind.
“And God blessed [man]. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit… There was no man to work the ground…And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Gen 1:28-30, 2:5, 8)
What an overwhelming sense of man’s responsibility and authority! The Sovereign Lord of all, not needing anything, formed a universe, formed Earth, and then formed mankind whom He would give the high privilege to become kings, gardeners, and governors over the land He prepared. This was like a king knighting a young subject, or a business owner handing over the CEO position, but far greater and more magnificent. This human authority was meant to be a reflection of God’s authority – “Let them have dominion” lay at the core of what it means to bear God’s image.
One might wonder how God will reinforce His ultimate authority, so as not to make man full of themselves. “Give us a sign!” we may say. And He does.
The Forbidden Tree.
What is its purpose? I’ve been asked this multiple times. I’m not God, so my answer may not be right. But if I had to guess, I would say it was God’s visible reminder that it is He alone who is truly “in authority.” Only God is sovereign. Only God may sit on the throne. Every time Adam or Eve passed by this tree, this truth was recalled to memory.
But alas, the serpent approaches Eve with an unassuming lie. The serpent essentially tells Eve, “God is holding out on you. He’s acting like He’s got the corner on the market of authority…He’s not sharing with you what’s rightfully yours!”
Eve should have known better. She should have known that she had been entrusted with so much and that she could have authority in a way that submitted itself to joyful obedience to God’s ultimate rule. I say should have known, knowing myself that I often fall into the same kind of trap. We are prone to wander from our post, rejecting submission to God’s authority (and rejecting the authority we’ve been given!) in pursuit of what doesn’t belong to us: self-sovereignty.
Pride is the Anthesis of Everything Jesus Was and Did
This is where pride enters in. To play on C.S. Lewis’ famous pseudo-quote, pride is thinking of ourselves more and thinking more of ourselves, than we ought to. Pride is the antithesis of everything Jesus was and did. Consider His life. The Son of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped and therefore emptied Himself by becoming a baby, laid in a manger, became a carpenter, rode into town on a donkey, and was publicly crucified. He was poor in spirit, a Man of Sorrows, who led with meekness.
Gospel-soaked humility is a catalyst to Christian joy. It reminds us of our place – in charge of stewarding God’s good gifts, but not the King of our own heart.
Pride Robs Christians of Joy
Pride robs Christian joy of its joyfulness by convincing us of what we deserve or may earn. Christian joy in contrast to this often flows out of the understanding of what we don’t deserve or earn. Do a simple diagnostic test: does it make you joyful when you consider the grace of God, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)? That brings me great joy, true joy that does not stick its nose high in the air and asks people to look at me, but rather, to look at Christ. The more I am reminded of my impotence and His power, my rebellion and His grace, the more I find pride being filed away in my life. As Spurgeon once remarked, “You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.”[i]
If you are experiencing difficulty finding Christian joy in this season of life, consider if pride is robbing your joy. Repent of trying to be your own sovereign. Trust in the Lord alone to do what only He can do, and remember His grace. When we preach the gospel to ourselves, pride will not last very long, and our joy will increase.
[i] [i] Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 20: 1874, accessed April 8, 2017, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons20.xxix.html