“It was pride that turned angels into devils; it is humility that makes man as angels.”
–St. Augustine of Hippo
Pride was at the core of the first great schism between creation and God. Satan and his fallen angels thought that they could lead, create, and govern better than God Himself.
I believe that pride, in its purest and most destructive form, still looks very much like that. It’s the notion that we can somehow lead, discern, and choose better than our Creator. When you say it out loud, it just sounds ridiculous. But at our center there is still this whispering, nudging voice that says, “I can do it better. And for doing it better, I deserve the glory.”
Perhaps pride can most simply be defined as a longing for glory that doesn’t really belong to us. Instead of desiring a moment of worship and adoration directed towards God, we try to redirect that glory and praise to ourselves.
Conversely, humility was at the center of our reconciliation with God. Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, in order to restore the brokenness our collective pride had established. Think about that: the humility of God heals, covers, and restores the prideful destruction of humanity.
In the quote above, Augustine was speaking figuratively about men being turned into angels, but the heart of his message is clear. Humility, and not pride, is the posture true Christ followers should seek to adopt.
It’s no wonder that James harps on humility so much. He knew it to be the core redemptive posture of his brother and our Lord. James challenges his readers: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (4:7-8). If we don’t pay careful attention, we miss the fact that this statement is sandwiched between verses exhorting the reader to choose humility as a way of life. This is a spiritual discipline that takes effort, but James knows it to be the way forward.
You want to flee from the devil? Live a humble, God-centered life.
You want to draw near to God? Mirror the posture that He has perfectly imaged in Jesus, humility.
Pride always seeks personal glory, but leaves you feeling empty and lacking. It promises to make your name powerful, but all it really does is puff you up so that the deflation aches all the more.
James calls on us all to walk in the way of Jesus, and to choose humility. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it brings a sense of wholeness and unity with God. It may seem counterintuitive, but then again, so is nearly the entire gospel and Jesus’ reverse economy of the Kingdom.
To borrow language from Eugene Peterson: live a life of a long obedience in the same direction, a humble life; this is the way of Jesus.
Written by Andrew Stoddard