As long as you are proud you cannot know God. – C. S. Lewis
Last year around this time, I preached a message in Midwestern Chapel I called “The Most Important Doctrine I Learned in Seminary” and building from Hebrews 2:17 talked about central and vital role the doctrine of propitiation played in my life, and still plays.
This year, I wanted to return to the theme and, this time focus on “The Most Important Discipline I Learned in Seminary.” For that discipline proved (and still proves) to be one of the most life-giving and freeing disciplines I have found for living the Christian life.
In brief, using Ephesians 2:11-13 that discipline is the conquering of pride by remembering and reminding.
The Problem Discovered
While seminary is where I discovered how effectively to put pride to death, I knew of my need for this discipline soon after I became a Christian while in college. In my cinder block walled dorm room, at the age of 19, I read with devouring interest C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. When I arrived at chapter 8, entitled “The Great Sin,” however, it was as if someone yanked back the curtains that had covered my life and all my clouded thinking to that point and revealed it for what it was–stained and shaped by pride.
Here is what I read:
“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, every imagine they are guilty of themselves …. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others …. [T]he essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” (109)
After reading this chapter, I felt overwhelmed and even started to sweat under the realization of the weight of my sin. As a young Christian it hit me – though freed from the penalty of sin by the blood of Christ, my struggle with and the remaining presence of even “canceled sin” was bigger and deeper than I knew.
I asked, How can I escape this Great Sin when it hinders everything? Everywhere I turned, every thought I had, every analysis of true motive, there it was – and what is more, I realized if left there it would destroy everything.
The Discipline Learned
Over the next few years as I completed college and headed to seminary, as I grew in my faith and walked with the Lord, I continued to discover pride and the depths of this Great Sin more and more.
For, as C. S. Lewis helps us diagnose it, the way we find pride in our lives is when we realize that “Each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride …. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only having more of it than the next man” (109).
What he means is that pride is not just being proud because you are clever, pretty, or wealthy. It is thinking that you are cleverer, prettier, and wealthier than someone else (109-110). Indeed, when we become aware of pride, we discover how much we love ourselves more than anything or anyone else. Even more than God.
Agreeing with C. S. Lewis and discovering that it was true that pride is the Great Sin and the root of all other sin–and finding it increasing areas in my life–I wanted and needed to find a sanctifying and daily way to conquer it.
My desire was not merely to become a “better” person (as there might be pride in wanting to conquer pride). No, it was more fundamental than that for to see ultimate greatness or ability in anything other than God is idolatry. Or, As Lewis says, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God.” (111). And I wanted (and want) to know God.
In God’s kindness, while in seminary I was helped greatly by my local church pastor, seminary professors, seminary chapel, and the reading of good (and old) books. From these means of grace, I found the most important discipline I would learn in seminary: conquering pride by remembering and reminding.
Ephesians 2:11-13 is a wonderful passage to help grasp this discipline:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
From this, we are taught simultaneously to (1) remember who we are apart from Christ (v.11-12) and (2) remind ourselves who we are in Christ (v.13).
When we practice this discipline with regularity we come to a place of humble joy realizing that we had nothing before Christ and, in Christ, we have nothing but Christ!
And when we live there, with Christ, pride dies.
To hear the entire message with further explanation along with my 5 ways to put this discipline into practice, you can watch this recording from earlier this semester at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: