For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
1 John 2:16
I have been thinking about this phrase “the boastful pride of life” and why he uses it in the context of the rest of 1 John. Once you think about it, it makes fantastic sense. Both boasting and pride are relational ideas; you can’t really have pride or boast if you live in complete isolation. You have pride because you compare yourself favorably to other people, and you boast because you talk about your pride to other people. So the idea of boastful pride fits right in with the overall theme in 1 John of the central importance of relational community. Boastful pride is really the mark of not belonging to the community of grace, in the same way that alcoholism is the mark of not being a teetotaler. Once you have come to know and have believed in the love which God has for us, there is no need for boasting any more. I don’t have to prove myself, God has proven I am worth dying for.
The reason pride is possible is that the standard of success is set so low. The line of success is set as doable, but just a bit different or higher than others one might observe. You may have started your own prospering company which employs 100 people, or you may have lost 100 pounds, or you may have become a movie star. You may have a perfect marriage and successful children (what is worse than hearing someone go on and on bragging about their children!). You may for some reason or another believe that you have distinguished yourself and become important. You may have a prominent ministry to prisoners or African orphans, and you are frustrated at the cloistered selfishness of everyone you know. That is all pride. You may even brag about it in subtle ways, or name-drop about the important circles you frequent, or talk about your personal sacrifices and successes in ministry, and that is boasting. However, the standard is too low; the true standard for success is Jesus. Have you resisted sin to the point of shedding blood? Have you loved your enemies and prayed for their forgiveness? Have you operated from faith and obedience from day one? Do people want to kill you because you are so good? Are sinners and prostitutes flocking to you in delight and throwing parties for you and wiping your feet with their hair because of your holy love for them? None of us have much place for pride, and those who really might have know better. Nothing cleanses you of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency like looking at the example of Jesus’ life and death.
Boastful pride is another way of saying that you pretend to be righteous while hiding your sin. Boastful pride means you walk in darkness; you hide your fear and failure while pretending at happiness and fulfillment and success. In essence, you create a false persona based on your own created standards of success and base your relationships upon that falsehood. It is a cliche it is so true, that when people reach the pinnacle of success they feel empty and alone. It means they have finally succeeded at distinguishing themselves from everyone else they know! Boastful pride is the exact opposite of confession and dependence on the blood of Jesus. So while walking in the light, belief in the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood, and confession build community, boastful pride destroys community.
Mere belief in Christ’s death and resurrection for us is the door out of the prison of judgment and boasting and fake living. If we add to mere belief, we make it into boastful pride. If the preacher presses to make His commands burdensome (1 John 3:23, 5:3), he builds a platform for boasting. Mere belief is the entrance into the universe of grace, where significance is a gift and there is no need whatsoever for boasting.