Human vanity and its consequences
Human beings have the tendency to worship and glorify themselves, especially if they are blessed with things such as riches, exceptional strength, great educational achievements, or other impressive accomplishments. People are obsessed with breaking records to stand out from their peers, as annually catalogued in a book called Guinness World Records. Sadly, looking back in human history, we discover that this vanity syndrome springs out from the bent toward evil which we have inherited from our ancestors. The apostle Peter said that we were redeemed from our vain manner of life received by tradition from our fathers” (1), and King David added that “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” ( ). The floodgate of this evil tendency of self-glorification was opened long ago in the Garden of Eden. “The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man’s experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist.”
In every human life, without divine aid, it is impossible to be free from this problem—whether one is rich or poor, honorable or common, educated or uneducated, young or old. This tendency will always be manifested in our behavior to a greater or lesser degree. The Bible tells us that all “speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak” () and that “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” ( ).
It is important to note that “God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it” (2Pride of opinion, self-conceit “stands in the way of all growth. When a man has defects of character, yet fails of realizing this; when he is so imbued with self-sufficiency that he cannot see his fault, how can he be cleansed? ‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick’ ( ). How can one improve when he thinks his ways perfect?”3) because “there is nothing so offensive to God or so dangerous to the human soul as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable.”
Indulging in pride and self-centeredness becomes very dangerous when we reach the point of taking for ourselves the glory that belongs solely to God. King Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had this vanity syndrome. Remember the story of how he indulged in it, how he suffered bitter consequences, and how he finally learned to acknowledge that glory actually belongs to God only? (See.)
Glory belongs only to God
In the year 1847, a doctor from Edinburgh, Scotland, Sir James Simpson, discovered that chloroform could be used as an anesthetic to render people insensible to pain during surgery. From his early experiments, Dr. Simpson made it possible for people to go through the most dangerous operations without fear of pain and suffering. Some people even claim that his was one of the most significant discoveries of modern medicine.
Some years later, while lecturing at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Simpson was asked by one of his students, “What do you consider to be the most valuable discovery of your lifetime?” To the surprise of his students, who had expected him to refer to chloroform, Dr. Simpson replied, “My most valuable discovery was when I learned that I was a sinner and that Jesus Christ was my Saviour.”
Likewise, the apostle Paul, when considering his impressive life record, ended up considering all his accomplishments as valueless as dung when he met Christ. “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” ().
“Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11: 22–26).
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (emphasis added).
“While temporal honor and riches and power are the great objects of ambition with the men of this world, the Lord points out something more worthy of our highest aspirations:
“‘Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord’ (4).”
Because He is our Creator
Ever since the inception of sin, the human race has been inventing many different things to worship and glorify. Some worship the moon, the stars, the sun, the river, the trees and various things in nature. In certain cultures and religions, a mere human being is exalted as a god and given respect, honor and glory equal to that which is given to the true God. In ancient and even modern times, some have crafted objects of wood, stones, or precious metals, placing them in a worship hall, bowing down to them, glorifying them, and worshipping them. But the Lord has not left us in darkness about the utter futility and sin of such practices. (See.)
In view of the fact that God is our Creator and that we are His creatures, we are duty bound to give “the glory due unto his name” and to no one and nothing else. We must “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (). We should be ready to say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake” ( ). And finally, we are to teach the people to “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” ( ).
Because He is our Redeemer
Giving the glory back to God is related to His great plan of saving fallen humanity. When Adam fell, all of humanity fell. The apostle Paul explained: “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation” (5). “As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death.”
Yet as soon as sin entered, the plan of redemption was executed at once. “The Godhead was stirred with pity for the race, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gave themselves to the working out of the plan of redemption. In order fully to carry out his plan, it was decided that Christ, the only begotten Son of God, should give Himself an offering for sin.”6
“By His incarnation, Christ was made fully competent to place man where he would no longer be an outcast.”7 As Christ took on human form, He became “the representative of the race.”8
“None need abandon themselves to discouragement and despair. Satan may come to you with the cruel suggestion, ‘Yours is a hopeless case. You are irredeemable.’ But there is hope for you in Christ. God does not bid us overcome in our own strength. He asks us to come close to His side. Whatever difficulties we labor under, which weigh down soul and body, He waits to make us free.
“He who took humanity upon Himself knows how to sympathize with the sufferings of humanity. Not only does Christ know every soul, and the peculiar needs and trials of that soul, but He knows all the circumstances that chafe and perplex the spirit. His hand is outstretched in pitying tenderness to every suffering child. Those who suffer most have most of His sympathy and pity. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and He desires us to lay our perplexities and troubles at His feet and leave them there.
“It is not wise to look to ourselves and study our emotions. If we do this, the enemy will present difficulties and temptations that weaken faith and destroy courage. Closely to study our emotions and give way to our feelings is to entertain doubt and entangle ourselves in perplexity. We are to look away from self to Jesus.”9
Our greatest problem is that every one of us was born in sin and we all fall short of the glory of God. How can we, whom the Word of God has condemned as sinners, be found not guilty? Our only assurance for redemption is “in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” ().
He is our Sanctifier
Human beings in their own finite strength cannot perfectly obey God’s law, which is “holy, just, and good” (10). Consequently, none of us is righteous ( ), because “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” ( ). But that which we cannot accomplish, Christ has done for us. By assuming human nature and taking on human flesh, He developed a perfect character through obedience to God’s commandments. The apostle Paul explains: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” ( ). “Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them.”
It is interesting to realize that “the religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God’s right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.
“O, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving, must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat.”11
“Christ came to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ and His life declares that humanity, combined with divinity, does not commit sin.”12 “Could we see all the activity of human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment.”13 “Human effort without the merit of Christ, is worthless.”14 “It is the fragrance of the merit of Christ that makes our good works acceptable to God. . . . Our works in and of themselves have no merit.”15
“God will not be pleased with anything less than the best we can offer. Those who love Him with all the heart, will desire to give Him the best service of the life, and they will be constantly seeking to bring every power of their being into harmony with the laws that will promote their ability to do His will.”16 “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” ( emphasis added). And in so doing “the pardoned soul goes on from grace to grace, from light to a greater light. He can say with rejoicing, ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us’ ( ).”17
Because He is our supplier
Christ declares: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (18). “To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. The bread we eat is the purchase of His broken body. The water we drink is bought by His spilled blood. Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring. All this Christ has taught in appointing the emblems of His great sacrifice. The light shining from that Communion service in the upper chamber makes sacred the provisions for our daily life. The family board becomes as the table of the Lord, and every meal a sacrament.”
“Our Lord adapts Himself to our special needs. He is a shade on our right hand. He walks close by our side, ready to supply all our necessities. He comes very near to those who are engaged in willing service for Him. He knows everyone by name. O what assurances we have of the tender love of Christ.”19 The apostle Paul emphasizes that “God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” ( ). “When the Lord gives us a work to do, let us not stop to inquire into the reasonableness of the command or the probable result of our efforts to obey it. The supply in our hands may seem to fall far short of our needs; but in the hands of the Lord it will be more than sufficient.”20 “All our troubles we may take to God. His hand of infinite love is moved to supply our needs. How thankful I am that we have only one day to live at a time. One day to keep our souls stayed upon, one day to watch, one day to progress in the spiritual life and thus our days may be fruitful, precious days to us.”21
To be able to truly give all glory to God, as repentant sinners, we are to look away from ourselves and fix our eyes upon “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” ()—and by beholding Him, we become changed. Fear is turned to joy, doubts to hope. Gratitude springs up. The stony heart is broken. A tide of love sweeps into the soul. Christ is in the renewed heart—a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.
“When we see Jesus, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, working to save the lost, slighted, scorned, derided, driven from city to city till His mission was accomplished; when we behold Him in Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood, and on the cross dying in agony—when we see this, self will no longer clamor to be recognized. Looking unto Jesus, we shall be ashamed of our coldness, our lethargy, our self-seeking. We shall be willing to be anything or nothing, so that we may do heart service for the Master. We shall rejoice to bear the cross after Jesus, to endure trial, shame, or persecution for His dear sake.”22
“When the redeemed stand in the presence of God, they will see how short-sighted were their conclusions as to what heaven records as success. As they review their efforts to achieve success they will see how foolish were their plans, how petty their supposed trials, how unreasonable their doubts. They will see how often they brought failure to their work by not taking God at His word. And one truth will stand out in clear lines: that position does not prepare a man for entrance into the heavenly courts. They will see, too, that the honour given to man is due to God alone, that to Him belongs all the glory. From the lips of the angelic choir and the redeemed host will peal forth the chorus: ‘Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy’ (23).”