A little while back I blogged about Stephen Altrogge’s book on sports. I recommended it to my readers and noted as I did so some illumination it brought me about the condition of my heart. In reflecting more on that condition, I’ve found a resonant image playing in my mind related to my pride. Like a squirming bug trapped in a spider web, entangled at every juncture, so too can we Christians of all backgrounds and proclivities trap ourselves in webs of pride that threaten to kill our spirituality and love for the Lord.
What do I mean by this? Simply this: with activities or involvements that revolve around our passions and interests, we can become so focused on how we perform in these matters that we lose sight of serving the Lord and advancing His gospel-driven kingdom. What does this look like practically? Well, in my case, it involves taking sports too seriously sometimes. There are instances when I find myself becoming proud about my performance in basketball, for example, because basketball is a passion of mine. I can recognize those instances, repent over them, and try to avoid such spiritual immaturity next time I play.
But what if we “zoom out”, so to speak, from those isolated events? What if we ask ourselves, is there a deeper pattern to my instances of sin? Am I sinning in predictable patterns in the things and activities I love? Do I regularly fall victim to the same sins of my heart? If so, we may well be caught in a “web” of pride and selfishness. In other words, I may not simply be proud about my performance in basketball on a given day; I may approach basketball out of a whole disposition of pride which I then act out in isolated ways. I may well be viewing basketball as my system of salvation, in a manner of speaking, a means by which I find happiness and identity and, dare one say it, momentary salvation. That’s a chilling thought, but as I’ve thought about it, I think it may well be a true one.
Okay, so you’re tracking with me, but you could care less about basketball. That doesn’t get you off the hook, unfortunately. Perhaps your “web-system” of pride is homemaking, or childraising. Maybe it’s providing for your family. Maybe it’s performance at work. Maybe it’s your academic scholarship. Maybe it’s how well you preach. Perhaps it’s how many friends you have. Could it be how clean your home is, or whether a certain group of people like you, or if you dress in the coolest fashions? All of us possess the capacity for the construction of a system of salvation, a means by which we derive our identity that is outside of love for God. Within this system we trap ourselves in webs of pride. Ironically, we seek to find salvation in these things, but we end up draining ourselves of spiritual life through our selfish pursuit of them.
So ask yourself: am I finding my identity in something outside of the gospel? Am I boasting not in the cross, but in the things of my daily life that I enjoy? Having found salvation through Christ, have I made another system by which I am seeking in a strange and utterly frustrating way to recast my identity and find true happiness? I’ve been reflecting on these questions and need to do so more. I can see, for my own part, that I often try to find my identity not in the gospel, but in systems of performance. I’m happy if I succeed in my passions; I’m angry if I don’t. That is the definition of finding one’s identity outside of Christ. All of us do it, I think, in our way.
The challenge, then, is to uncover not simply our isolated sins–“I spoke harshly; I committed lust; I was proud”–but to discover the webs of sinful thinking in which we are trapped. We know that Satan wishes to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8), and we know that he has erected systems of power and sin to do so (Eph. 6:12), but we rarely take the time and effort to see where we might be trapped in patterns of sin. Where, then, do you and I have cobwebs on our souls? Where are we trapped? Where are we finding our identity in something–or someone–other than Christ? To find the answer to these questions is to find a means of escape from the spider’s clutches, and to freshly commit ourselves to gospel identity and kingdom work.