"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Luke 22:31-34.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Phil 2:3 NIV
Self-conceit is an exaggerated opinion of one’s own qualities or abilities. It is an over-rated or inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance. Self-conceit is when you have over-confidence in yourself, what you can do or what you have done. You do not put into consideration your fallibility and vulnerabilities; you just feel you can and there is no reason for fear or caution. It is a manifestation of complex and a deception someone may feel secure in. Gal. 6:3-4 warns that “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” NIV. Self-conceit is a feeling, a thinking and an opinion that is exaggerated, it may not be the reality but the person bases his behavior on it. The passages we quoted above are filled with lessons and instructions. Peter missed an opportunity to ask for mercy and grace because he was self-conceited. What has his answer in verse 33, expressing strength, got to do with the warning the Lord gave to him in verses 31-32? It is only self-conceit that will make a man to hear warnings from the Lord of all the earth, but only to ignore it believing that he has strength and can do “mighty things” for God.
What makes us self-conceited?
1. The strength we think we have, whether perceived or real can make us to be self-conceited. What we can do or what we have done. Peter in our text above trusts in what he can do. It blinds us and hinders us from depending and seeking for the help we need either from others or from the Lord.
2. The knowledge we think we have. Self-conceit makes us unteachable because we think we know and have no need of learning. There is this “I have arrived mentality” when we are self-conceited.
3. Our gifting, talents, special abilities, possessions, and achievements can make us to be self-conceited. We may be tempted to overrate ourselves, which makes us to foolishly cross some common-sense boundaries which definitely will land us into trouble. As gifted men and women, we need to continually submit our gifting to the Lord. When we can pray, teach, or prophesy, the temptation is that after a long time of practice, it is possible to leave the Lord behind while we continue the use of the gifting. It just dawned on me that God has not asked me to trust on my prayer life or the quantity of scriptures in my head, He has asked me to trust Him. Prayer becomes empty and ritualistic when the Lord is absent and scriptural passages without the Spirit only become letters that kill.
4. Good compliments and praises from people around us can be deceptive and can make us to become self-conceited. Men’s praise can make us forget from where God picked us up and our estimation of ourselves becomes bogus, knowingly or unknowingly. Fame and popularity fade, time renders both hollow.
5. Lastly, position of power and the privileges of an office can make us to become self-conceited. We are often tempted to equate an office to the person occupying the office, which is a lie. Positions of power are transient. You can be in power today and out of power tomorrow. Every position of power expires. King Saul overrated himself and got destroyed. In 1 Sam.13, Prophet Samuel delayed from coming to the camp in Gilgal. Saul felt he could perform the same sacrifice like Samuel and asked them to bring him the animals for offerings even when it was not in his office to do. Again, he came back from a battle where obviously he didn’t do what God had asked him to do and the first thing he did was to go and erect a monument for himself at Carmel and moved on (Sam.15:12).
What is instructive is that the points listed above are not bad in themselves but can get us corrupted except if we don’t walk wisely.
Why is self-conceit dangerous?
I will summarize the dangers of self-conceit with five points:
1. When we have an exaggerated opinion of ourselves, it makes us to put up a “bold face”. We can cover things up because we do not want others to know how weak we are. We can either give ourselves some reasons why we ought to live the way we do or assume some level of familiarity and favour with God.
2. Self-conceit means that we are egoistic. We are loud and want to always be heard and want to have our way. We always have something to prove and show though we may be empty. It is all about impression. Because the opinion is exaggerated, the image of the person so produced is like a balloon which can easily be busted anytime.
3. Self-conceit is a complex, a lie and a deception which makes it very dangerous. You cannot underestimate the level of low one can descend when you are self-conceited. Someone who is vain and egoistic can do terrible things. Because self-conceit is about false pride and bloated self-importance and worth, the person will have this sense of importance and indispensability which breeds impunity. It has produced tyrants, self-righteous men, traitors and men you cannot trust when the chips are down. Haman in Esther is a case in point here.
4. When we are self-conceited, we hurt people around us and often find reasons for that. We may not care because we may feel it is inevitable for us to hurt them. The world must revolve around us and we must be the “celebrity” at the center of every conversation.
5. Finally, when we are self-conceited, sooner or later, we will have a big fall. It can be a fall into sin or into some other serious life’s troubles. Why? Because, the person will not listen or give heed to warnings and warning signs; a near-miss is not a reason to reflect instead is an opportunity to boast; the person will depend on exaggerated abilities and his or her strength instead of depending on the Lord; there is this sense of false security, “I can handle it”, which will ensure the person continues to live dangerously until destruction comes.
The poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley tells it all on the outcome of vain glory:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The poem is believed to be about Pharaoh Ramesses II who was once considered very powerful and even divine, however, his once intimidating monument lies in ruins in an unoccupied and abandoned desert sand. How time renders the glories of yesterday's men to nothing. Our glories today will become tomorrow's abandoned relics and nothing.
In this time of Lent, may we all seek the Lord in humility. May we inculcate His mind and be clothed with His life. When we humble ourselves, it is possible to avoid Peter’s fall.