Battling the Unbelief of a Haughty Spirit

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By John Piper About Sanctification & Growth
Part of the series Battling Unbelief

1 Corinthians 4:7

Defining Belief and Unbelief

Let me begin by defining belief and unbelief. Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."

I take it, then, that unbelief in Jesus (NOT believing in Jesus) is a turning away from Jesus in order to seek satisfaction in other things. And BELIEF in Jesus is coming to Jesus for the satisfaction of our needs and our longings.

Belief is not mainly an agreement with facts in the head; it is mainly an appetite in the heart which fastens on Jesus for satisfaction. "He who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst!"

Therefore eternal life is not given to people who merely think that Jesus is the Son of God. It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God. "The water that I shall give him shall become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). He is the bread of life for those who feed on him—who get their nourishment and satisfaction from him. That is what it means to believe on the only begotten Son of God and be saved.

The Deepest Form of Unbelief

One more form of unbelief that we need to talk about is the unbelief of a haughty spirit, or pride. There is a very close relationship between unbelief and pride. Here is how I would describe that relationship. Unbelief is a turning away from Jesus (or God) in order to seek satisfaction in other things. PRIDE is a turning away from God specifically to take satisfaction in self.

Covetousness is a turning away from God to find satisfaction in things. Impatience is turning away from God to find satisfaction in your own swift plan of action. Lust is turning away from God to find satisfaction in sex. Bitterness is turning away from God to find satisfaction in retaliation.

But deeper than all these forms of unbelief is the unbelief of pride, because self-determination and self-exaltation lie behind all these other sinful dispositions. So it is fitting that the last sin we take up in our series is the deepest one, namely, pride or an arrogant spirit. And it is especially fitting during advent, because the coming of the Son of God in the form of man was an extraordinary act of humility and self-denial.

When I call pride a form of unbelief, the practical implication is this: the battle against pride is the battle against unbelief; or to put it positively, the fight for humility is the fight of faith.

Several Biblical Passages About Pride

So what I want to do is to begin at 1 Corinthians 4:7 and then look at several other passages about pride. All these passages contrast pride with something. They show something that is the opposite of pride. And I want you to see that in each case what is the opposite of pride is of the essence of faith. In other words I want you to see from the Bible that pride is a form of unbelief, that its opposite is faith, and that the way to battle pride is to believe in all that God is for you through Jesus Christ.

And my prayer at every point is that your appetite for God be made insatiably strong.

1. 1 Corinthians 4:7

Who sees anything different in you? [Better: who makes you different from others? Or: who gives you your distinctives?] What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?

What is the opposite of boasting in this text? The opposite is recognizing the truth that our distinctive abilities are gifts of God. The Corinthians were caught up in playing one person's strengths off against another (1:12). Paul says, that kind of boasting in man would be impossible if you really savored the truth that abilities are the gift of God and no ground of boasting in man.

So the first way to battle the unbelief of pride is to get very clear this biblical truth and to rest in it and enjoy it: that God gives us our powers; so let him who boasts boast in the LORD not man.

2. James 4:6–8

[God] gives more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.

The opposite of pride here is submitting to God and drawing near to God. Pride wants to be independent, self-governing, autonomous. Therefore it inevitably comes into conflict with God. This is why people who do not love to submit to God's teachings stay as far from God as they can.

If they come to church and hear God confront their lifestyle, they will go away and not come back, because they enjoy calling the shots themselves and pulling their own strings.

But James says that such people should stop running and draw near. They should stop rebelling and submit. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (v. 6).

So the way to battle the unbelief of pride here is to stop delighting in self-determination and distance from God and start delighting in God's right to tell you what is best for you and in the close fellowship he offers those who will draw near in faith (Hebrews 10:22; 11:6).

3. James 4:13–16

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

The way boasting shows itself in this text is through unbelief in the sovereignty of God over the ordinary things of life. A man simply says, "I'm driving up to Duluth for Christmas." And James says, "Don't be so sure." Instead say (v. 15), "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall go to Duluth for Christmas."

Do you believe that God is sovereign over whether you get home from church today? Do you believe he is sovereign over your business and your travels and your health? "If the Lord wills, we shall LIVE . . . " (v. 15).

James says that not believing in the sovereign rights of God to run your life and take your life results in a life of arrogance. The way to battle this pride is to yield to the sovereignty of God in all the details of your life, and rest in his awesome ability to work for those who wait for him.

4. 1 Peter 5:5–7

Likewise you who are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.

Here Peter says that all of us should be clothed with humility. And then he says that one of the things we will do in that humility is cast our anxieties on the Lord.

Why is this casting of our anxieties on the Lord the opposite of pride? Because pride does not like to admit that it has any anxieties, and it especially does not like to admit that it needs help from someone else to cope with them.

So here we are right at the nub of what faith really is. Faith admits the need for help. Pride won't. Faith banks on God to give that help. Pride won't. Faith casts anxieties on God. Pride won't.

Therefore one way to battle the unbelief of pride is to admit freely that you have anxieties, and to cherish the privilege of being invited to cast them on God.

One very practical way to cultivate the atmosphere of humility and faith in the family and the church is to express personal need for God when you pray.

You may say that you pray that way in secret. I thank God if you do. But I appeal to you for the sake of love and for the sake of truth that in your prayers with others you not conceal the very heart of faith. If we don't hear each other pray brokenhearted prayers of personal need and desperation, our fellowship will be superficial, the humility of faith will be stifled, pride will lurk at the door, and we will become a self-deceived, sick church.

O what a ministry to my spirit when I pray with saints who express with words their earnest need for God, and their longing for his help in their own lives.

How many there are who have convinced themselves that to pray out loud for others is loving and to pray out loud for themselves is selfish. I believe the truth is just the opposite: it's pride not selflessness that takes the beautiful aroma of brokenhearted faith out of our prayer meetings. So I plead with you, if for no other reason than the ministry to my heart, let your desires for God's help and God's fullness be heard when we pray together!

5. Jeremiah 13:15–16

Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings darkness.

"Be not proud, give glory to the Lord your God." The opposite of pride is giving glory to God.

But what does that mean? You can't give God glory in the sense of making him glorious. You can give him glory doing things that show his glory. Like what? Well, listen to Romans 4:20, "Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God." Faith gives glory to God, because faith shows that God is gloriously trustworthy.

Faith loves to show off the glory of God's grace and the glory of God's strength and the glory of his wisdom. Faith looks for ways to act that maximize the joy of seeing God show off his glory. Which simply means that faith loves for God to be God.

And that is the very opposite of pride. Pride loves being made much of for its own glory. Jesus said in John 5:44, "How can you believe who receive glory from one another?" In other words, you can't. You can't come to Jesus for satisfaction if you mean to go on getting your satisfaction from the praise of men.

6. Jeremiah 9:23–24

Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord."

What a battle we have on our hands. The enemy of pride comes at us on every front.

But Jeremiah says, Defeat the enemy of pride by making much of God. Glory in this, that you know God. Do you want to boast in intellect? Boast in God's. Do you want to glory in strength and beauty? Glory in God's. Do you want to brag on an estate? Brag on God's.

How to Best Fight Against Pride

When all is said and done, what is the rock bottom biblical answer to the question how to best fight against pride?

On December 6, I made the following entry in my journal. It's my own confession of need and my answer to that question.

Is not the most effective way of bridling my delight in being made much of, to focus on making much of God? Self-denial and crucifixion of the flesh are essential, but O how easy it is to be made much of even for my self-denial! How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of God!

Christian Hedonism is the final solution. It is deeper than death to self. You have to go down deeper into the grave of the flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes you with the taste of God's glory. Only in that speechless, all satisfying admiration is the end of self.

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