Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 1:6-8)
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)
In the Bible, God uses leaven (or yeast) as both a negative and a positive image. Negatively, leaven represents the pride which resides in a sinner’s heart. Positively, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny pinch of yeast that leavens an entire lump of dough. The hope of the Gospel is that the leaven of pride, which has corrupted every human being and every corner of the world, can and will be displaced by the leaven of the Kingdom.
In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites an entire festival week during which they were to have no leaven in their homes. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminded the people of the Exodus, when God humbled the pride of the Egyptians. It also called them to “walk humbly with their God” (Micah 6:8) – to avoid falling into the same trap as their former masters. Clearly, God places a premium on guarding against pride and repenting of it whenever it wells up.
The New Testament contains similar warnings and exhortations about pride, but instead of being grounded in the Exodus they are grounded in Jesus. Jesus’ life embodied humility and all of its glory. He willingly shed his heavenly glory to become human, lived contentedly for years in obscurity, preached to crowds without longing for their approval, suffered the injustice of the cross without complaint or bitterness, and through all of this never ceased to love perfectly each person that he met. No wonder that Paul tells us to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5)!
Paul tells us to imitate Jesus’ humility not only because it’s compelling, but also because it’s strong. Compared to the humility of Jesus our pride is a weak and paltry thing. Pride reduces us to self-absorbed people who rage or flee in the face of hardships. Meanwhile, Jesus’ humility enabled him to endure bravely the worst that life has to offer. Pride promises glory but sends us to the grave, reduced again to dust. Meanwhile, it was because of Jesus’ humility that the Father raised him from the grave, exalted him, and gave him “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
Lent presents us with a wonderful opportunity to renew our repentance from pride. Begin by studying Jesus. Do this unhurriedly and in a quiet place, but don’t obsess about how much time you spend.
Simply read some stories about Jesus in the Gospels and meditate upon his words, actions, and character. Imagine the scenes you read in your head. Put yourself in the place of some of the characters – proud ones like the Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14) and the disciples (Mark 9:33-37), and humble ones like the people Jesus rescued from shame (Luke 7:37-38), blindness (Luke 18:43), and demons (Mark 5:18). Ask yourself who seems more joyful, strong, and free. Ask yourself who you would rather be.
But can simply studying and meditating on Jesus make us humble? Yes! – because Jesus is not merely our example, he is our Savior and our life. The Scriptures declare that we have both forgiveness and power because of Jesus’ humble obedience on the cross. Through the Son we who believe are forgiven by the Father and filled with the Holy Spirit. Pride no longer defines us, because our life is now “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). We can be confident that every desire we have to imitate Jesus’ humility comes from the prompting of the Spirit, and that every effort we take to follow those promptings will bear fruit in its season. “The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8) – not just in the world to come, but also in the present.
Confess and turn from your pride – the humble one who dwells within calls you and will enable you!