It was a day full of “feedback.” A lady approached me after the worship service and commented on my children’s behavior during the sermon. This was after a fellow teacher had disagreed with my plan to teach a weighty subject in Sunday School.
I wanted to find a hole and hide. Instead, I had to find the energy to explain God’s glory to a room of energetic elementary school kids.
I know the truth: My identity in Christ is not dependent on my works – and these people meant well. So why was my heart so thrown off by comments that were meant to be helpful?
My Passion for Man’s Praise
The answer is pride. My heart is inclined to grasp for man’s approval. I strive to get people to like me, and I’m constantly measuring myself up to others. I can receive 10 compliments and one criticism, and the criticism will haunt me for the rest of the day. My dread of losing someone’s admiration controls my heart.
This is a precarious way to live because my desire for admiration will never be satisfied by people. We are a fickle lot, we humans, and prone to judge one another. My passion for praise is a no-win situation. In fact, the desires of my sinful heart are at war within me and ultimately lead to death – death of relationships and ministry and joy in the Lord.
But our gracious God has a remedy.
James 4:1-6 says:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The War within My Heart
While I was not physically brawling on the floor with my critics that morning, my heart was certainly at war. I may not have plotted their murder, but I was enjoying the thought of how it might feel to egg their house. I was praying, but it was a prayer that I would be justified to these people, that the feelings of admiration they stole from me would be returned.
I was asking, and did not receive, because I asked with the wrong motives. While I was committed to serving and loving God, I was courting a friendship with the world and its value systems. This passage in James spoke directly to me, and I saw what I desperately needed. I needed God to give me more grace—
But I also saw the condition attached to this gift.
God’s Response to My Betrayal
God doesn’t tell me my sin isn’t a problem, simply because he gives more grace. He yearns jealously for his Spirit to dwell in me, and my grasping and clinging to other people’s praise is adultery against my Creator who saved me for himself.
However, God’s response to my betrayal isn’t condemnation (my greatest fear), but more humbling grace. To be honest, I don’t love grace like I should, nor do I love the God of grace like I should. My flesh resists the idea that I have no merit of my own before God. But there is great freedom in letting go of the passions of my flesh and embracing in humility the Spirit I’ve been given by grace alone.
The Daily Grace of God
Since that morning, the Lord has been opening my eyes afresh to see my constant dependence on his daily grace. We don’t have the strength to stand when our hearts want to flee, or hold back when our hearts want to lash out. We need grace daily:
- Grace to walk in the spirit, not in the flesh (Romans 8:4)
- Grace to submit to God (James 4:7)
- Grace to embrace weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- Grace to serve (Philippians 2:5-6)
- Grace to follow God’s wisdom (James 3:17)
- Grace to bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2-3)
- Grace to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2)
- Grace to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Timothy 6:12)
Those who daily receive more grace from God are those who are humble before him, recognizing their need and seeking him in meekness.
The Means of Grace
Regarding growth in grace, J.C. Ryle says, “When I speak of ‘means [of grace]’, I have in view Bible reading, private prayer, regular attendance on public worship, regular hearing of God’s Word and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper” (Holiness, pg. 20).
All of these good things – Bible reading, private prayer, worship attendance, etc. – are channels God uses to pour out more and more grace to us when we use them to seek him in humility.
And this was my experience.
- As I read God’s Word, I was convicted and strengthened by grace.
- As I confessed my pride to the Lord, he gave me grace to rest in the splendor of his gaze alone.
- As I prayed for grace to extend to the critics in my church family who meant well, he was faithful to give it.
- As I returned to worship the following week, I experienced his freedom and joy.
Freedom in God’s Grace
The words “God opposes the proud” have pierced me as I’ve meditated on them. My fixation with my own merit, and the accomplishments I’m so proud of, have not gained me one ounce of favor in God’s eyes. In fact, he opposes them. But he does not oppose me. The grace God gave me when I trusted in his saving work through Jesus is immovable and forever fixed on me.
But God wants to give more grace. He wants to give me grace that humbles me as I grow in meekness, grace that ultimately frees me from the sinful cravings that hijack my heart and lead to death.
Through this grace, I can stop striving to exalt myself and patiently wait for the day when the Father exalts me, not for the works I have done, but because of what my Lord and Savior, Jesus, has done in my place.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)