By Rob Beames
“Don’t let success go to your head!” Maybe we’ve been told that before by a family member or friend who didn’t want to see us fail by becoming careless or putting forth less effort than was required. This admonition is highly applicable in our quest to rid our lives of sin-pests, as we have been calling them. In short: beware of victories along the way. This sounds like a contradiction, after all, isn’t victory what we’re after?
Ever play tennis? Normally in a tennis match, each player will win some games and lose others. Rarely does a player make it through a set with no losses. Yet, any tennis player can tell you that it’s not the losses, but the wins that have the greatest potential to make one lose focus. A player is intensely focused when losing, but after a few consecutive wins, it’s easy to get cocky. Proverbs captures this principal in the often-quoted verse, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). And this principal directly applies to our struggle with sin.
After a certain amount of success in resisting our particular sin-pest, we often start to under-estimate the power of its temptation. In our pride, we can start to feel that we aren’t at risk, even though we have given into this same weakness many times before. We can warn ourselves about the reality of this over and over again, but it’s startling how we flirt with disaster while resting on our laurels. As we are starting to feel invincible, we are also failing to prepare our defenses, and we even sometimes remove the fail-safes that have worked before. It’s kind of like changing lanes on the freeway. Every single time we know there is a possibility that a car is riding along in our blind spot, and if we don’t look to make sure the lane is clear, it could be fatal for us. We check our mirrors and account for every car near us on the road and then crook our necks only to find exactly what we expect—nothing in our blind spot. After so much of the same, we stop bothering to turn our heads to verify that it’s safe to move over. And most of the time we get away with it and just keep driving along in our pride. In the same way, we careen down the road of sin. We keep getting away with it, or maybe we simply think we are not going to get hit.
There’s another way our pride gets us into trouble when battling sin. Sometimes, after a little improvement we start to feel we’ve earned something in return. After a few victories, we may feel entitled to a little indulgence. Our triumphant spirit can quickly turn into a spirit of “quid pro quo.” We gave a little here; we should get a little there. We may not be consciously processing it this way, but it is happening nonetheless. For example, have you ever felt entitled to slack off on studying after learning you have an “A” at mid-term? Although it may work out okay in the classroom, it is a very dangerous attitude to have when combating sin, because God doesn’t work on a grading scale. He demands flawlessness. We can rely on His grace and be saved, or we can rely on our perfection and be lost.
God is working with us to make His righteousness effective in our lives. He gives us the strength to overcome our sin-pests, even if it’s one at a time. In His power, we can sometimes feel invincible and fail to arm ourselves for spiritual battle, as instructed to do. This is when we can be the most vulnerable to the temptation to sin. We want to celebrate the victories which are due to His grace, but also beware the subtle way those victories may puff up our pride and set us up for another fall.