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Am I Confident or Arrogant? - Ask Pastor John


Video from Desiring God


Am I Confident or Arrogant? - Ask Pastor John

Audio Transcript

Am I confident, or am I just arrogant? We get this question a lot, and we have to answer this question for ourselves. Lionheartedness and humility are not contradictions in God’s will, nor are they contradictions in the life of our Savior. He came to bring peace, and he came to bring a figurative sword too. But in our own lives, we must figure out the difference between confidence and arrogance, and that’s the challenge a listener named Max wants to figure out today.

“Hello, Pastor John!” Max writes in his email to us. “My question for you is this. Can we feel powerful or confident or have a high self-worth in who God has made us to be through Christ? How do you distinguish this from pride that leads to destruction? If so, how do we do this? How do we pursue the feeling of power or confidence or high self-worth in living out what God has created us to be, but humbly so? You seem like someone who does it well. Thank you!”

Well, I have to admit that I gag on the term “high self-worth.” The reason I do is because I have watched now for fifty years — yes, fifty years — that term (and its sister term “self-esteem”) be used by secular, godless culture as an explanation for most negative psychological conditions and as a remedy for how to make a person more useful and productive. Lack of self-esteem is the diagnosis for a thousand problems today. Higher self-esteem is the prescription for a thousand improvements.

And the reason for that, it seems to me, is pretty obvious. When God disappears, the next most likely focus for esteem and confidence and reliance and trust is me — self. I think that was exactly the temptation in the garden of Eden. I think that’s the biblical essence of sin — replacing God with self as our treasure, our trust, our esteem, our worth.

Okay, now I’ve got that off my chest.

‘Well Done’

The question is still valid, because I do know from the Bible that God intends for us to lead lives that are significant, effective, productive, joyful, confident, courageous, fearless, competent. The world would just default to interpret every one of those in terms of self-exaltation, and I don’t interpret any of them that way. The Bible worldview says all those words in a completely different view of things.

“Do you love to see Christ made much of above all things, whether you get any recognition or not?”

When our lives are done, and we have trusted him for his enabling grace for every good work, God wants us to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It’s not wrong to want to hear from Christ the words “Well done. You’ve been faithful.” The question is, Will he say, “Well done” to a person who had high self-worth, or to a person who has been a God-dependent, God-centered, God-reliant, Christ-exalting servant of others? That’s the question.

So, I would rephrase the question that I’m being asked to something like this: What’s the difference between acting in pride and acting so that our lives are significant, fruitful, fearless, competent, productive, happy, confident without pride?

Questions for Diagnosing Pride

Here are eight diagnostic questions to detect the rising of pride in our lives as we pursue those goals.

Question 1: Do I believe and happily embrace — and they’re both important, believing in your head and happily embracing in your heart, your will — the fact that my very existence and personality and gifting are owing to God, not me?

“By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).

“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

The question is not just “Do I believe this principle?” but “Do I love to have it so?” Do you delight and revel in the absolute dependence on God for who you are?

Question 2: Do you believe and happily embrace the fact that every one of your circumstances, in all of its details, is owing to God and not yourself?

“You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:15–16). In other words, if something happens in life that takes you up or takes you down, it’s from the Lord. Are you glad that he’s in charge to that extent in your life?

Question 3: Do you believe, and are you happy to embrace, the fact that all your hard work and your personal effort and your willpower to accomplish things are owing to God?

Some people say, “Well, yes, God is in charge of my circumstances, but what I make of them, yeah, that’s owing to me, and that’s why I can be proud and boast. I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, while other people are languishing down there.” That’s not true. Paul said, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). So, Paul attributed to God’s grace not only his existence and his salvation and his circumstances, but also his willpower to work hard.

Are you glad that, when your day’s work is done, you can say of all your efforts, “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me”? Are you glad? Or does that feel like God is robbing you of something?

Question 4: Do you make it your aim to be consciously dependent on God in all you are doing in such a way that, when your service is complete, God will get the glory rather than you?

I’m thinking of 1 Peter 4:11. It’s been just a hallmark of my prayer as I move toward any ministry — like I’ll move toward a ministry midday today that I need help with. “Whoever serves, [let him serve] by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory . . . forever and ever. Amen.” So, what that says is this: it’s not only true that God gives me what I need; I actively trust him in doing it. I’m conscious of the fact that I’m nothing here. I can’t do anything on my own.

Question 5: Are you hungry for the praise of man, and do you try to position yourself so that people will see your good works and give you praise?

Jesus warned against those who love the praise of man. “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11:43). Oh, how we need to test our hearts — when we’re 25 and 75. Do I love and crave and angle for the praises and recognition of other people?

Question 6: Do you associate with the lowly, or do you always need to be hanging around with important people?

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16).

Question 7: Do you feel entitled to recognition and comfort and respect so that you’re angry when you don’t get it instead of responding the way Jesus said to — namely, “Rejoice when people persecute you, speak evil of you, don’t give you the respect you deserve” (see Matthew 5:11–12)?

A sense of entitlement is one of the clearest signs of deeply rooted pride.

Question 8: Finally, and swimming among all the others, do you love to see Christ magnified? Do you love to see Christ made much of above all things, whether you get any recognition or not?

“God intends for us to lead lives that are significant, effective, productive, joyful, confident, courageous.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Paul said, “My eager expectation and hope [is] that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). I think that was one of the first sermons I preached when I came to Bethlehem. My goal, folks, my eager expectation, is that Christ be magnified. I want to preach in such a way, I want to write in such a way, I want to do podcasts in such a way so that Jesus looks great, and people come away saying, “Christ is great. God is great.”

To Him Be Glory

So, by all means — this is circling back now to the essence of the question that I think he was asking — use all your gifts and all your intelligence and all your circumstances and relationships and competence and courage to live the most productive, significant life possible. And do it all to make Christ look great and beautiful and precious by saying and by loving the truth that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36).


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