Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Overconfidence can get you into a whole heap of trouble. In the early 20th century captain Edward Smith said that his new ship was unsinkable. It was made with the latest state-of-the-art technology and had more safeguards than any other ship. On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, Smith received several transmissions from other ships indicating that there were ice floes in the vicinity, yet he continued to speed ahead at full throttle. And so, because of pride, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and the “unsinkable ship” sank in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, with massive loss of life.
We can be guilty of much the same thing – placing too much confidence in ourselves and our own abilities. It can sometimes be quite difficult to acknowledge our own weaknesses. There is always the temptation to admire ourselves for our own strength, power, and worthiness. This is what is called “Pride”and it is a real danger to the Christian life. St. Peter the Apostle explains why pride is a serious threat, and what our attitude toward God should be.
Our Adversary the Devil
The reason why pride, our overconfidence in our own abilities, is a danger is because we have an enemy who is seriously dangerous, particularly when ignored. The devil is like a roaring lion, looking for someone to swallow up. The word Peter uses is far more than simply ‘eat’; it implies that the lion will simply gulp you down in a single mouthful. No time to protest or struggle. You’ll be gone. The evil one does not sleep; he is cunning and malicious. He has determined to destroy you, and he knows the right strategy to accomplish this. He looks in front and behind, inside and outside, for a place at which to attack you. The devil will try to swallow you whole with persecution and other attacks. If that doesn’t work, he will try to tempt you to live in ways that are destructive to your faith and, ultimately, to your entire salvation.
If we are overconfident about our own abilities, paying no attention to the devil, then we are fools. If we go about our lives as if the devil didn’t exist, and are not watchful, it is easy for him to gain ground. C. S. Lewis once wrote that some people dismiss the idea of a devil as ridiculous. Other people become so fascinated with the devil that they can think of little else. We need to avoid both dangers. But today, the danger seems to be more in ignoring the devil than in overdramatising him.
This is why Peter calls us to be vigilant and on guard because the devil is a powerful adversary and we should not underestimate him. It’s like you’re a wealthy traveller who has come to stay in a hotel. When you check in, you realise that all the guests are notorious thieves. If you had to stay the night, you would take precautions, and certainly not sleep much. That’s the kind of attitude we must have. Our mind must be alert and clear, not clouded with the cares of this life, so that Satan does not catch us off guard. Peter encourages the Christians to be on defence. He does not think that we will vanquish the devil by our valiant resistance. That would be pride, and it would only lead to our downfall.
Our Attitude Towards God
In the Roman world, humility was an undesirable quality. It was bowing and scraping like a slave or servant. But, God refuses to give any aid or help to those who are proud. If you trust in your own abilities, reason, or strength, then you are not placing your trust in God. God knows you better than you know yourself, and if you think you’ve got what it takes to go it alone, God will not stop you. Trust in yourself, and you will fight the devil by yourself.
When hard times come our way, it is tempting to chafe under them, and pride may fill us with resentment and complaint. When God allows you to go through hard times, you may think he has abandoned or forgotten you. The Devil would love nothing more than to either fill you with pride or despair. Peter urges you to stop worrying. Every care, worry, or anxiety we have, everything that bothers us, can be thrown upon our heavenly Father. Forget about your anxieties, and instead rely on the fact that you have a sure promise that you are safe in the mighty hands of God. Instead of thinking you can do it on your own, trust God!
When Peter talks about, “the mighty hand of God,” he is thinking about God’s deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, and the Lord led us out from that place with a strong hand and with a mighty arm,” (Deut. 6:21, LXX). This is the point: God is the one who delivers us. God is the one who saves us. You cannot save yourself. Just like the Lord delivered his people of old, so will he continue to deliver those who trust in him. We should trust entirely in God and his strength and not in our own. God will in mercy lift us out of the pit of affliction, or he will give us sufficient strength to bear whatever cross has been placed upon us.
Instead of pride, we need to be conscious of our own weakness and place our confidence in God’s help. God not only cares about you and has your best interests at heart, but he is the one with the ability to save you. That means that the weapon you are given to fight the devil is your firm faith. You have a promise that God will not forsake you, instead he cares about you. If you take hold of God’s promise in your heart and cling to it with faith, the devil cannot win but must flee. If you can say: “This is what my God has said, and I take my stand on it,” you will see that the devil will soon go away. We are not left to ourselves, but there is One with us who is stronger than our adversary.
You are to be firm in your faith because there is a promise on which your faith can rest. Those promises rest on the God of all grace. We have a God who gives grace, and not only a little grace but grace all piled up. Our strength and hope are in God’s grace, the undeserved love which he shows us. God can supply grace up to and beyond all their needs. By grace God sent his Son to die for your sins and defeat the devil. By grace in Holy Baptism, God has called you into his kingdom. By his grace in Christ we look forward to eternal glory. God promises that he will He will establish you, so that you become strong, grow, and stand firm. He will strengthen and support you, so that you are able to bear and suffer everything. God has given you the promise in Christ to have eternal life, not because of any strength or worthiness on your part but through Christ.
I am reminded of a quote by Luther:
“When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”
So, when things get tough, or when your sins begin to be too much for you, don’t trust in yourself. Instead, pick up everything that is bothering you, everything that is weighing you down, and fling them on God’s back, the same back which carried the cross. He will carry them. He will be delighted to do so. Trust in his promises. Take hold of the Word of God in faith, which promises forgiveness of sin, and rely on it. With his mighty arm he has saved you, and with his mighty arm he will sustain you. “To him be the dominion ever and ever. Amen.”
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.