Everybody can relate to the words of a little kid playing or doing something in the presence of his parents: “Look, Mommy; look, Daddy!”

We were created to enjoy and find delight in the eyes of our Creator and in the eyes of other human beings. We were designed to be seen, to be known, and to be loved. What a pleasure it is to be celebrated, and what a joy it is to be praised for our achievements. What pride there is in knowing that people around us speak well of us.

But the fall turned a legitimate need into something dark and destructive. Our natural desire for attention became self-centeredness; the need to be appreciated gave birth to envy. We live in a fallen world where we struggle to balance our need for acceptance and our desires to win, to beat others, to be better than the rest, and to be recognized in public for our good deeds.

In the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus warning His listeners about practicing our righteousness to be seen by people. He says: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). What a temptation it is to do something good, something that is honorable, and to let others know about it in order to receive praise.

As a church planter, I have been writing many ministry reports to those supporting my work. It has been twenty-three years of sending pictures of people in need being served, people gathering for worship for the first time, facilities being remodeled, and new believers being baptized. All these things are exciting and good, but there is always a hidden feeling of being successful, a feeling of being able and capable. The worst part comes when my heart compares myself to others and I feel that I must be loved because of my accomplishments.

The desire to be adored is the sin that we find in Satan. He was the most beautiful creature ever created, but he wanted to take God’s place. He wanted to be loved and worshiped as God. Instead of being thankful to God, he decided to rebel against his creator and pursue his own glory (Ezek. 28:11–14; Isa. 14:12–14). The Apostle Paul warns Timothy not to appoint elders lightly, especially a man who is not mature in the Christian faith, so that he does not fall into the condemnation of the devil, which is pride (1 Tim. 3:6). These examples, sadly, express what happens when we promote ourselves to be exalted.

God has provided a wonderful remedy for our sin, and it is His loving grace.

Jesus continues His warning against pride over our good deeds by saying, “For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). The truth is that our good deeds please God, and He rewards what we do for His honor and glory. Every Christian must dedicate his or her life to the service and well-being of all in our spheres of influence. However, even in the midst of our best efforts, there is always a stain of sin on our good deeds. We are broken and we are selfish. It is inevitable that our motivations will still be polluted with sin. Jonathan Edwards describes the struggle between wanting to be holy and the sin under the surface of godliness:

Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul's peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.

We can try to be humble. We can try to obey God. We can try to be faithful. Yet, in all this, we will always fall short of a perfect heart that would seek not its own glory but rather the glory of God. If this is the human condition—even when we want to do good—what is the solution for such a broken nature?

God has provided a wonderful remedy for our sin, and it is His loving grace. As Christians, we understand that we cannot fulfill God’s command. We cannot love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. But in Jesus, we understand that we have been made just because He obeyed the law in our place. He lived the life that we cannot live, and He died the death we deserve to pay the price of our sin. Now, through faith in Christ, having put our trust in His redemptive work made on our behalf, we know that we are loved freely. This is not for any specific reason within us, not for our accomplishments or success, not even for our wonderful faith or our faithfulness. No, we are loved because it pleased God to love us, even before we were born (Rom. 8:28–30). The grace of the gospel liberates us from our empty efforts to be loved. We need to remember that because we are in Jesus, now we are seen, we are loved, we are adopted, we are embraced, and we have a Father who says, “I see you,” even when nobody else sees us doing good.

The next time that you feel sinfully proud for doing something good and nobody knows about it, glance toward heaven and be thankful that your pride has been forgiven. If for any reason other than pride you must tell others about it, do not feel guilty. Remember that God is pleased with you because you are in Christ.

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From the January 2021 Issue
Jan 2021 Issue