There is no worse pride than self-righteous religious pride. It causes some people to have no sympathy or compassion for anyone whom they perceive to be weaker in the faith or more sinful. The hypocritical religious people can be so proud of their own successes and righteousness that they look down on others and thank God that they are not like them—just like the Pharisee did in his prayer, when he wrongly commended himself for being more righteous than the tax collector who was praying next to him (Luke 18:9-14). People who are steeped in self-righteousness are the hardest, most unmerciful, and intolerant people that you could ever encounter.
King David was an example of just such a person before the Lord changed him. He apparently had a lot of the wrong kind of pride. All his life he had been a champion. As a teenager he single-handedly killed a bear and a lion that were attacking his sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-36). Then all Israel regarded him as a great hero for killing the giant Goliath. The people even praised David above King Saul, declaring that “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). David received so much adulation that Saul lamented, “Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” (1 Samuel 18:8).
The Lord had to humble, disgrace, and abase David before he could become the truly broken and sympathetic person he needed to be in order to write the Psalms. There are many places in the Psalms where it is very clear that David was terribly discouraged, wondering if the Lord had given up on him and forsaken him. But then in each Psalm he cries out to the Lord for deliverance, and his faith is restored.
Some people actually use King David as their excuse for being bad. Others are encouraged by his mistakes and faults and think, “If King David could make it, I can make it. If God loved him and forgave and saved him, He can also forgive and save me.” So you can take him either as a good or a bad example. (Footnote: For the complete story of David’s life, read 1 Samuel chapter 16 through 1 Kings chapter 2.)
King David was one of the biggest sinners in the Bible. He plotted to have a man, Uriah, killed in battle so he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. He cheated, he lied, he was unmerciful to the handicapped, and he did all kinds of other terrible things. However, a marvelous change occurred in him when the Lord exposed and humbled him.
David seemed to succeed in covering up his crimes and was quite a hypocrite, sitting on his throne, pretending to be perfect and upright while passing judgment on other people. But his wickedness and sins were unmasked when the prophet Nathan confronted him publicly. Nathan as good as said, “You are the wicked one, the sinner! How can you sit here on the throne judging other people’s problems when you’re the biggest sinner of all?” (2 Samuel 11-12).
And then the judgments of God began to fall. David’s first child with Bathsheba died. Later his favorite son, Absalom, usurped the throne and David was disgraced and had to flee in the night. He lost his kingdom and even his family. Everyone deserted him except Bathsheba, a few friends, and a small army (1 Samuel chapter 15). His enemies cursed and railed against him, and gloated over his apparent demise. It would be hard to suffer a more ignominious downfall than King David did!
So David is a dandy bad example, yet also a good example of a man who came through God’s humbling process a better man—”a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Joseph is another person who was quite proud and self-righteous. His father loved him above his brothers and seemed to spoil him. Joseph knew that he was his father’s pet. His brothers knew it as well, and they hated him for it. And then he had those dreams about how his brothers were going to bow down to him. The Bible tells us that Joseph’s brothers hated him even more after that (Genesis 37:5). It sounds like Joseph was quite a spoiled teenager.
But look at what the Lord allowed Joseph to go through! When his father sent him to check on his brothers in the fields—being the youngest and his father’s favorite, apparently he didn’t have to work as hard as the others—they conspired to kill Joseph, to put an end to his dreams. “Look,” they said to each other, “this dreamer is coming! He thinks we’re going to bow down to him. We’ll show him!” And they probably would have killed him if his oldest brother, Reuben, hadn’t begged the others to spare Joseph’s life. Instead, they sold him to a group of traders that happened to pass by just then, and those merchants took him to Egypt where they sold him as a slave to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, Potiphar (Genesis 37:19-36).
Joseph took such good care of his master’s affairs that he was promoted to be the chief steward of the household. Potiphar’s wife then tried to seduce him, and when Joseph refused her advances, she became furious and accused him of trying to rape her. So Potiphar had Joseph sent to prison, where he languished for years (Genesis 39:1-20). That must have been quite a humiliating experience for Joseph. He was probably very discouraged at times and wondered why the Lord allowed all these things to happen to him.
Then, once Joseph had nothing left but the Lord and he was humbled and broken, God began to bless him by giving him the interpretations of different dreams. That eventually got him an audience with Pharaoh, who wanted Joseph to explain his dreams. Joseph knew that it was only the Lord who could reveal what the dream signified, and told
Pharaoh so. When Joseph interpreted the meaning of the dreams, Pharaoh freed him and made him ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh (Genesis chapter 40 and 41).
Apparently the Lord can’t trust people with an important responsibility or ministry or testimony—something that might cause them to become proud of themselves or their accomplishments—until they have been humbled and broken and know that it’s only the Lord’s doing. Then they will be sure to give God all the credit, and it won’t go to their head. This is why Paul warned that a novice should not have any position of great responsibility or leadership in the church, “lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the Devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).
Satan is the perfect bad example of someone who is so proud and self-righteous that he never yields to God. He fell because he became so proud that he wasn’t satisfied with just being Lucifer, the Light Bearer, God’s right-hand man. He wanted to be God—and look what God has had to do to try to humble him! He has suffered the greatest humiliation of any character in history, cast down, demoted, vilified, cursed, and stripped of most of the power that he used to have in helping God run the universe—yet he still hasn’t repented (Isaiah 14:12-17).
And by appealing to man’s pride, the Devil has caused most of the human race to follow him and do the same thing so that they have made a mess out of the world, almost wrecking God’s creation. The Devil has been trying to run the world for thousands of years, but he’s failed every time, showing that he can’t do it without God.
Sad to say, some people are like the Devil in that respect. In spite of all that the Lord does to try to get them to humble themselves and make them more dependent on Him, they are so self-righteous and so confident in themselves that they never give up trying to do things their way. They never humble themselves and admit that they cannot make it on their own, that they need God.
It’s a lot like salvation. None of us are saved because of our supposed goodness. Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s the gift of God!
If we could give ourselves even a little credit for salvation, then Jesus would not have done it all. He would have done most of it, but we would have saved ourselves a little bit and could therefore pat ourselves on the back and say, “Well, the Lord and I saved me.” The Lord won’t stand for that! He wants each of us to know that we can’t save ourselves, no matter how good and perfect we think we are. He has got to do it.
That same principle is true of everything in our daily lives as Christians: We have to keep reminding ourselves and others that if we do anything good, it is the Lord who has done it. Without Him, we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:4-5; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Galatians 6:3). If we don’t, the Lord may allow something to happen to humble us and show how weak we are without Him. When we can’t learn any other way, He knows how to put the pressure on as a reminder that we have to be utterly dependent on Him.
“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). The Lord wants to get the credit for all the good that He is doing through you. If you think in any way that you should get some credit and be able to brag about your accomplishments and great faith, He’s apt to bring you down a few notches to humble you and cause you to look to the Lord alone!
The crux of the matter is that everybody is bad. Everybody deserves spankings and punishments, even though some people don’t think so. We’re all sinners; we’ve all fallen “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5).
Contrary to what some people think, God does not really blame us for being sinners. However, once we have heard the Gospel, He does hold us accountable if we don’t repent and call on Him to help and change us. We cannot do it ourselves. He wants to change us, but He usually waits until we come to the realization that we cannot truly change on our own, and that we need His supernatural love, power, and forgiveness. When we finally get to that point where we give up and “let go and let God,” then He has a chance to step in and make wonderful changes in our lives!