As we continue through Revelation together, we ding ourselves in the part of the story where Christ is breaking the seals, preparing to declare judgment upon the world. He is the only one who is worthy because He is the only one who suffered the death penalty on our behalf. The seven trumpets are described as being part of the seventh seal, and with the seventh seal comes more severe preliminary judgments (more severe than those that come with the breaking of the first six seals). Since the seventh seal is the blasting of the seven trumpets, we can know that these trumpets serve the same purpose that the seals do: warning for those who do not know Christ and sanctification for those who do. There is one major difference, though, according to Revelation 7. Before the seventh seal is broken, the people of Israel (here to mean true Israel, not national or new Israel) will receive God’s seal of protection. There may still be hurt in the world, but God’s people will be protected from His direct, more severe preliminary judgments.
This time will be a time when God’s coming is imminent and the people of the earth will know that Christ is King and He is coming to restore His creation. There will be plagues on the earth that are reminiscent of the plagues in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh recognized God because of the plagues, but the people of Israel were protected from them. People will recognize God as these plagues are unleashed upon the world. What I fear, is that like Pharaoh, people will have hard hearts toward God and, in pride, will refuse to repent and turn to God. I fear that in our day, human pride causes us to ignore God in favor of our own convictions or our own priorities.
What place does pride have in our lives? How does our pridefulness keep us from God? Is there pride in the world that causes many to deny Christ? Might there even be a pride in the church that causes God’s people to be ineffective in the work of the Gospel?
After the six plagues described in chapters 8 and 9 within the breaking of the seventh seal, we might expect that the people of the earth respond by turning to God, but John makes an entirely different observation:
Revelation 9:20-21 HCSB
The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshiping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which are not able to see, hear, or walk. And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts.
Pride and worship in the world today
As John is writing to the seven churches, there is a whole lot going on culturally. The Roman Empire was diverse and perhaps as diverse as the United States is today. This cultural diversity brought with it moral diversity. Religion was encouraged and the state religion required emperor worship. Those who refused to worship the emperor were declared to be atheists and the law was brought against them. I find it interesting, here, that Christians at the time were designated as atheists by the Roman Empire. Temples were erected for emperors and sexual promiscuity became the norm. The morality of Rome was naturalistic, depended on human philosophy (particularly the Epicureans and the Stoics), and centered around the person. Some women were fighting to be considered not only equal but superior, parents had the authority to kill their children or let them live, modesty was absent, and sexuality was corrupt. This is what human pride led to and what we see human pride leading our own culture to in this world. Furthermore, I want to point out that the pride of Rome led to worship. The things that we have pride in lead to the things that we worship. Worship led to moral standard. We shape our moral standard after the things that we worship.
Here, I want to point out something that is very important for us to realize. Pride is not a new thing. Sexual immorality is not a new thing. Promiscuity is not a new thing. Human centered morality is not a new thing. Superiority movements are not a new thing. What John states as he describes the blasting of the trumpets is not that it is the church’s responsibility to condemn people for their pride and for what their pride has led them into. No, he specifically describes preliminary judgment coming from God to warn prideful people that He is about to judge the whole world. Still, even though God is the one convicting and warning people of their own pridefulness, there will be many people on the earth who will not repent, or admit that they are wrong in their pridefulness and turn to Christ.
In our culture today, I see the same sort of trends that were present in first-century Rome. There is a high level of sexual immorality. In fact, as a culture we worship the god of sexuality. We place the things that we want or desire before our honoring God’s design. This is pride, and we celebrate it. As a culture, we worship our politicians and our leaders, thinking that somehow they hold the keys to victory when they do not. This is pride leading us to ask what our leaders can do for us. We worship the gods of entertainment, intoxication, power, fame and money. This is pride. We see this tendency even in our text above. The people had pride in self and in the Emperor. Pride caused them to worship idols and idol worship led them into false morality. Thus, we arrive at this truth: pride leads to worship leads to moral conviction. If we have pride in self, then we will worship our own pleasure and our own happiness. If we worship these, then our morality will be based on convictions that lead to our own happiness and pleasure. If we have pride in someone else, then our moral conviction will reflect that pride and worship. If we have pride in our material possessions, our moral convictions will revolve around how we can get more stuff and protect the stuff we have. If, however, our pride is in God, this creates a humility of self. Our worship is directed toward God, and our moral convictions reflect what honors God instead of how we might gain materially or emotionally or hedonistically for ourselves.
The contrast with God’s holiness
When I was little, I did something (I do not remember what it was) that required an apology. My mom asked me to apologize and I would not. Pride. My mom started counting, and we all know what that means. It means that there is some sort of punishment coming after the numeration is finished. My mom did not count backwards from 3 or 5. She started at 1 and began counting up. Each new number represented how many spankings I would receive. I would not apologize. My mom got up in the twenties and still I would not apologize for whatever it was that I did. I received more than twenty swats that day. My pride kept me from apologizing as a child. In the same way, our pride keeps us from repenting before the holy God of the universe. According to the text above, pride will keep people from repenting even when God’s judgment is imminent. In this text, it is because they saw something as morally acceptable when God did not.
I want to approach this subject with as much grace and love as possible, but there is something we have to know: God’s moral standard does not depend on human philosophy or human emotion. God’s moral standard is wrapped up in one thing and one thing alone: His own nature. This means that correct morality does not change and that it must be considered according to a word that God has provided and according to God’s design, not our own. There are things in the world today that seen as morally correct by society but are wrong according to God’s moral standard. Again, whatever our pride, it leads to worship and then to moral conviction.
If God created all things, then it is His standard according to which we must try and live if we want to be moral people. Our pride, though, causes us to do a few things:
- It can cause us to mask our sin. We want to do a certain thing or act a certain way so we find ways to justify what we do. We might say things like, “I was born this way,” or “God would not have created me this way if it wasn’t okay with Him.” The reality is that we are all creatures living in a fallen condition where we do not perfectly resemble God’s created order. God did not make us the way that we are regarding our sinfulness, the fallen condition of the world did.
- It can cause us to project our sin. Instead of looking at ourselves in a mirror and overcoming the difficulty to notice the sin that we have in our own lives, we project our sinfulness onto others and point out their sins so that we can ignore our own. I witness this a lot with homosexuality today. The church projects all of its energy onto people who struggle with this sexual sin and, in the process, fails to look at its own sin. We must make no mistake, homosexuality is a sin. If that is the sin that you struggle with, know that every other person also has a sin that they struggle with. When we point our finger, our pride causes us to be ignorant of the sin in our own lives. Make no mistake; every person must deny his or her own desires to follow Christ. For some reason we limit self-denial to a small group so that we don’t have to feel guilty about our own sin. This is pride, which causes us to project.
- It can cause us to reject God. Most atheists that I get to talk to say that they are atheists because evidence points to a naturalistic world. As I talk to them, I realize that most of the time they choose to reject God because they want to live in a manner that is immoral according to God. This is not a consequence of the atheist alone. Many religious people, though they claim God, have rejected God and only belong to a certain faith because it offers them something that they want. Here, I make another realization: becoming a Christian because we want to live forever or because we want to avoid Hell is a selfish christianity where people only want to gain for themselves rather than submit to the holy God of the universe. To trust in Christ in order to escape Hell is false salvation. To trust in Christ in order to experience eternal bliss is false salvation. This is why John, the author of Revelation, defines eternal life as knowing God (John 17:3).
As I think about my own salvation, then, I have to notice something important. I came to faith in Christ because I realized that I needed Christ in order to live in a way that mattered. My reason for beginning to follow Christ was selfish. I made the decision in my own pride. I wasn’t simply submitting to the king. I had some idea about what Christ would do for me. I have a feeling that we are all like this.
It takes a lot for me to admit this. I was not saved because of the words that I prayed or because I saw that I could benefit from Christ. I am saved because Christ chose to save me. My salvation did not depend on me at all. After I received Christ, Christ began to increase my humility and bring me to a place where I realized that my salvation was not for me, but for God. It is true that we benefit from knowing God. I am saved, not for the purpose of my own benefit, but for God’s glory.
This idea is reflected in the text above. If God Himself will warn people and they still will not turn to Him, then there must be a sense in which God calls a people for Himself according to His foreknowledge and predestines them to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29). While we may start the relationship that we have with God selfishly, God conforms those He foreknew to the image of His Son, and begins removing their own pridefulness for His own glory. If we maintain our own pride, then, it may be the case that we do not belong to God.
If human pride is so powerful, it amazes me that anyone is able to come to God. Left to our own devices, we would all reject God outright in favor of a multitude of other options. In our pride, not one of us would come genuinely to God. We are completely and utterly depraved, and this is one of the most humbling truths to realize. It is God who draws us, God who saves us, God who sanctifies us, God who calls us and God who glorifies us. There is no other way. Thank God for His grace.
We must remember that our misplaced pride leads to idol worship leads to false morality. If I worship myself, if I worship money, if I worship power, riches, relationships, material possessions, or even pleasure; it will come out in my moral judgment. If in my moral judgment I am able to, by some miracle, deny self, then I show my worship to God. This, though, is only possible with God. We get so surprised when people who don’t belong to Christ act like sinners. Without God, people are unable to honor God. The only morality for godless people is a godless morality. This should not surprise us and should certainly help us to show more understanding as we engage people who do not belong to Christ. Sinners will act like sinners and will come to Christ in their prideful condition. It is Christ who does the work of salvation and of sanctification in all of our lives.
A call to humility
As we consider human pride, especially in the church, I do not want to say that every Christian who has some pride issues has experienced a false salvation. Some have, but some have not. It may be the case that we have been saved by God, yet in our fallen condition return to our pridefulness. After all, God does not depend on us. We must repent and turn back to God. Pride leads to ignorance, to sin against God, and ultimately to our destruction. There will come a day when human pride causes people to receive the judgments of God and ultimately be separated from God forever. A temporary time of happiness and pleasure on this earth is not worth eternal damnation. For those who have not given authority over their lives to Christ, it is time to, in humility, repent and turn to Christ. In giving our lives to Christ, we cannot do so for the selfish reason of escaping Hell or making it into the bliss of heaven. Christ is not a fire-insurance policy, He is Lord. The ultimate act of humility for us is this: that we would actually admit that we are wrong, give our lives to Christ and trust Him with the rest. When I gave my life to Christ, it was out of selfishness and Christ quickly showed me that it was not about me. He emptied me of me and saved me for His glory. If there were no rewards it would be worth it, but God still promises us an eternal existence in His glory. Romans 10:9 states that if we believe in our hearts that Christ was raised from the dead and confess with our mouths that He is Lord, we will be saved. That is the promise given in Scripture.
For those of us who do know Christ, human pride is something that we must stand against, and we must do it in a manner that itself is not prideful. We seek to understand others. We humbly practice forgiveness. We don’t have to have our way. We examine the sin in our own lives and strive to overcome it. In those moments when I realize that there are still traces of pride left in me, I am so thankful that God does not depend on us. To assume that God depends on our ability to overcome pride is itself prideful. We tend to think much too highly of ourselves. The truth is that Christ has saved us, Christ has made us a kingdom of priests, and Christ will raise us up. For me to think that I have much to do with it at all is another act of pride. The only thing I did was receive God’s grace and submit to His authority. What else can we do? Nothing else is worthwhile. Nothing else satisfies. Nothing else causes us to overcome ourselves. Christ is the only one who has the words of eternal life. Where else can we go? In our pride, God calls us to repentance so that He can deliver us for His glory and take pride in us. It is a miracle that anyone is able to come to God. He is so good, even as He warns of the coming judgment. It kills me to know that even when God warns people, people still reject Him and refuse to repent. We must struggle against our own pride, which is a constant battle for us on this earth throughout every stage of life and in every arena of life.