Prayer devoid of humility is presumption. That is why James warns us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Js. 4:6). Can you imagine anything more horrifying than being opposed by God?
As strange as it sounds, people are being told today that pride is more a virtue than a vice (although they typically use a synonym for “pride” lest they lose their audience from the get-go). It is tragic because this gospel of self-absorption is being preached even by those who claim to be “evangelical” in their convictions.
During the Protestant Reformation, Luther, Calvin, and others labored to defend an understanding of the gospel and of Christianity by using these slogans:
Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone
Sola Gratia – by grace alone
Sola Fide – by faith alone
Solo Christo – by Christ alone
Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone
Today, on the other hand, we all too often hear of the need for a “New Reformation,” built not upon the bedrock of sin and grace and the centrality of God and his glory, but upon the concept of self-absorption, self-fulfillment, self-importance, and self-promotion. Perhaps we should coin a new slogan, more appropriate to this new gospel:
Solo Selfo – by self alone!
The gospel of grace is being turned on its head. Man’s most fundamental vice is transformed into his most cherished virtue. The problem, human self-centeredness, is now the solution. The gospel, so we are told, is designed to satisfy man’s thirst for personal glory, not slay it. What the Bible says Jesus Christ came to conquer, he really came to sanctify. What the Bible says is man’s greatest barrier to fellowship with God, his Ego, is now the bridge.
Scripture declares that the reason men reject the gospel of grace is that they are consumd with themselves, caring little for anyone or anything that does not serve self. Pride, sinful self-love, spiritual arrogance, and a deliberate refusal to acknowledge that the only thing of which we are worthy is hell, are at the heart of why men and women reject Christ. In other words, people reject Christ because they think too highly of themselves. The new gospel, on the contrary, insists that they reject Christ because they don’t think highly enough of themselves.
The purveyors of pride would have us believe that the most pressing need is for people to celebrate their own worth. I contend that our most pressing need is to acknowledge God’s worth and to confess our rebellion and persistent failure to treat him accordingly. The core of sin is not our failure to adequately value ourselves but our refusal to adequately value God.
If this new “gospel” is received and believed, the consequences for prayer are devastating. Pride, to put it bluntly, is the mortal enemy of prayer. Therefore, wrote Calvin, “let anyone who stands before God to pray, in his humility giving glory completely to God, abandon all thought of his own worth, in fine, put away all self-assurance – lest if we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit, we should become vainly puffed up, and perish at his presence” (Institutes, III.xx.8).