By Basilea Schlink
A conceited person! These words are not exactly what you would call a compliment! Yet the highest goal of a conceited person is to be complimented. Externally he tries to have an attractive appearance and wear smart clothes. Internally he seeks the facade of a pleasant personality. His basic motive is to make a good appearance in public, to attain respect and affection. The conceited person is strongly attracted to the mirror. He looks at himself and enjoys what he sees. In a figurative sense he also looks at all his reactions, activities and conversations in a mirror and takes pleasure in them.
The vain and conceited forget, however, that there is another mirror--the eye of God, which shows us the truth about ourselves, what is behind the facade Then we see how "vain" everything really is, how transient and perishable. But if we avoid the mirror of God, we are deceiving ourselves with the mirror of human eyes which we look into all the time with the questions: How do others react to us? Are we good-looking? Are we popular? Then our conceit grows and grows, but in the end it will make us unhappy. For the greater it becomes, the more it begins to tyrannize us. We can no longer do anything without reflecting on how others will react. We make others around us feel uneasy, because at least unconsciously they feel the demands of our ego, our vanity.
Vanity places the ego on the throne. It idolizes the ego and that is why it is a great sin. Every idol takes over the place that God ought to have in our life. That is why the same verdict that God pronounced over the idol-worshippers will hit us. For we cannot serve God and our ego idol. We want others to burn incense to our ego. Our conceitedness wants others to admire our looks, our intelligence, our talents and our abilities and burn incense to them. In some cases this is combined with addiction to worldly riches. Then we spend great sums of money for an expensive wardrobe and other things that might help us gain the admiration of others.
But above all, conceit, the desire to be pleasing to our fellow-men, makes us insensitive to the most important thing for our life here and in eternity: that we be pleasing to God. No one will be pleasing to God by presenting an attractive appearance or displaying his talents and abilities. Only those who do not want to be anything in the eyes of men will attain God's good pleasure. This is the point we have to come to. It would be terrible to lose the pleasure of God while seeking pleasure from men. Then we will be far away from Jesus. That is why we have to repent completely.
The first step to getting rid of this sin is to admit honestly that we are vain and conceited. If we let the light of God show us this, we can only say; "How could I ever be conceited? My sins are so ugly. Even if I should be especially attractive or gifted, what does this matter in the eyes of God, who knows what really is in my heart? I ought to be ashamed of being so far away from God, because I am pleased with my poor and ugly being."
Now we must ask for "eye salve" (Rev. 3: 18). What does that mean? It means that we ask God and other people to tell us what we really are like without sparing our feelings. That will hurt, but it will help us to see the truth about ourselves. We must also ask the Lord; "Prevent me from hearing anyone praise me, and bring as much of my sin as possible into the light, so that I can see it more clearly. Then I will have to be ashamed and will lose my conceit. Yes, I even ought to tell others what I really am so that I will be humbled and learn not to live from their favour, but from the forgiveness and mercy of God."
Another step to becoming free from vanity is to reveal our conceited thoughts, to confess them to another person. If we want to receive grace from God, we have to be free from conceit and vanity, because grace is only given to the humble and contrite sinners, who are no longer pleased with themselves. But if we continue to admire our supposed qualities in the mirror and let our left hand see what our right hand has done, we have already had our reward (Matt. 6: 1 ff).
There is One who found no pleasure in Himself, and He is the only One who deserved to find pleasure in Himself: Jesus (Rom. 15: 3). And in Him we are righteous, that is, we have been set right from every sin, including vanity and conceit. That is why we should praise Him in faith, saying: "Jesus will set us free from this sin. He will remake us into His image which is free from vanity and conceit. He will change our hearts so that we will no longer seek to be pleasing to men, but only to God."