Two Prideful Responses to the Gospel

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:31)

There are two ways to respond wrongly to the good news of the gospel: the self-righteous response that refuses to see a need for Christ and the self-deprecating response that refuses to see Christ’s ability to forgive. Both issue from the common root of pride.

The self-righteous response says, “I’m actually a pretty good person. I’m not sure I need forgiveness. Maybe it’s good for some other people, but to be honest I don’t need it.” People who respond this way perhaps sense slight deficiencies in themselves and try to make up for them with good behavior. Maybe they even go to church to get some more “frequent attender miles” so that they’ll get better seats in heaven. But still, their place in eternity will be, they think, secured by themselves—their goodness, their efforts. The pride at the heart of this response is obvious: it is to think we are too good to need the gospel. Christ’s sacrifice is a nice example of love to us but unnecessary for us as a way to be saved.

The self-deprecating response says, “I’m such a mess that I don’t think there’s any hope for me. I am too terrible to deserve forgiveness. It must be great to know you’re forgiven, but to be honest I know I could never have that.” People who respond this way simply cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus could ever love and forgive them. The pride in this response is subtler than in the first, but just as real: we believe we are too dreadful for the gospel, that our actions have taken us too far away for Jesus to reach us. Christ’s sacrifice is great for those who are better than us, but it could never be enough for us. 

Whenever someone feels too good or too bad for the gospel (and Christians are not immune from this temptation), it is pride that is restraining them from coming to Christ. Their confidence—their boasting—lies in what they have done, for good or for ill. What pride misses, however, is that we can be neither good enough nor too far gone. The self-righteous among us need to hear that even our best days are filled with more flaws than we know. The self-deprecating among us need to hear that even our worst days are never beyond the reach of God’s grace.

Both responses miss the core gospel truth that Christ’s cross simultaneously knocks down your self-worth and lifts you from your worthlessness. When you’re tempted to boast about your worth, then, remember that what you most need—salvation—comes from Christ alone. And when you’re tempted to despair in worthlessness, remember that what you most need—salvation—was only ever yours because of Christ alone. No matter what, Christ is your confidence, your boast—and you can never brag about Him too much!

GOING DEEPER: Mark 2:13-17

Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.

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