Exploring Vanity In The Biblical Context

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Published by Kenneth Garcia

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Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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Vanity meaning in Bible is pride in oneself or one’s appearance. It is also the excessive belief or overestimation of one’s beauty, talents, wealth, and achievements compared to others.

Almost everyone is familiar with the piece of furniture known as a “vanity mirror.” As soon as we look into it, we become preoccupied with the person we see there: ourselves. Indeed, that encapsulates the meaning of the word “vanity.”

God is not pleased with vanity. The Bible says that God opposes people who are vain and arrogant toward others (James 4:6). Glorifying the flesh is not part of God’s purpose. Therefore, as His people, we need to understand what the Scripture says about vanity.

What Does The Bible Say About Vanity?

“Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The Hebrew word for “vanity” used in this verse means “vapor” or “breath,” which can be translated as “meaningless” or “pointless.” The author, King Solomon, had everything anyone could ever want, such as riches, power, wisdom, and understanding. But, even though God blessed him in every way, Solomon realized something about life: it is meaningless.

For a man who was given wisdom like no other and yet concluded that every single work or pursuit is useless, his claim calls into question the amount of value we place on the things we pursue. Solomon describes vanity as all the works and understanding of wisdom that will soon be for naught, just like chasing after the wind.

Likewise, Ethan the Ezharite also lamented, “Remember how short my time is; For what futility have You created all the children of men? (Psalm 89:47)”

God does not want His creation to live in vain[1]. It is important to remember that “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Nearing the end of his life, Solomon even declared, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This underlines the idea that if we serve God and obey His commands, nothing we do will ever be in vain because God loves to bless us with a life of significance.

woman holding a phone and vanity meaning in bible

What Does Vanity Mean In The Bible?

Vanity seeks to make a person self-absorbed and preoccupied with his issues, problems, envy, and pride. The self seeks attention and pleasure from time to time. It’s in constant war with our Spirit because it wants to give way to the flesh, resulting in sin and death.

In contrast, Hebrews 12:2 tells us to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the opposite of vanity and the absolute biblical definition of humility, as Philippians 2:1–11 has emphasized.

To follow Jesus, one must be humble and selfless, not vain. Paul advised the Christians in the Church of Corinth that “no one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). This means we should do as Jesus Christ said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”

In this connection, vanity is the adversary of the Spirit and must be constantly brought to the cross and crucified. “I have been crucified with Christ; no longer do I live, but Christ who lives in me,” says Galatians 2:20.

What Are The Dangers Of Vanity?

James wrote that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” and “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Paul also denounces the worldly mindset: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

Vanity And King Saul

If vanity can run wild in one’s life, it can bring down even the strongest warrior. The same thing happened to King Saul. He allowed vanity to take over his life and kill him.

Saul chose to trust his impulses over God’s instructions relayed to him through Samuel. He thought he was doing the right thing, but it was a vanity-driven initiative. As a result of his disobedience, the crown was taken from his head and given to David.

Sin leads to another sin. In the end, vanity led Saul to take his own life. That was the last stroke of his vanity. He would rather take his own life than be killed by a Philistine.

Vanity And Worship

Worship serves as the foundation for our relationship with and love for God. However, vanity causes us to worship God in the wrong way. Sometimes, the songs we sing do not accurately reflect the state of our hearts.

Further reading of the Bible reveals that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees without reservation. We can read one in Matthew 15:7-9: “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; but in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men.”

Even seasoned pastors and church elders are not immune to this type of danger. To love God is to worship him with a heart that is entirely his.

In John 4:23–24, God said to the Samaritan woman, “They are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks; God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in the truth.”

Vanity And God’s Chosen People

Vanity drove the Israelites to deviate from their calling and mission. They were supposed to be the world’s light, radiating God’s glory, but they devolved into idolatry. “Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isaiah 49:3–4).

Their lack of trust in God’s words and promises caused them to wander for forty years in the wilderness. What could have taken only a few months was delayed for many years because of their vanity. If we are not careful, we may delay God’s calling and destiny for our lives.

How To Avoid Vanity?

The world is full of vanity traps and baits. There are traces of them in every corner of the world. As a result, we must always be prepared to resist the enemy. The Book of James reminds us, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

The first line of defense against vanity is our submission to God. It is surrendering to God’s dominion and accepting that we can do nothing without Him.

Additionally, God’s grace is sufficient in light of our shortcomings, and we can always rely on Him to help us. Hebrews 4:16 instructs us, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” When our knee hits the floor, we have won. The presence of God is the safest place a man can be. Reading the Bible and praying energize Christians to thrive against vanity.

sticker of culture of narcissism and vanity meaning in bible

Conclusion

To Solomon, it was all in vain: hard work, knowledge, enjoyment, wealth, youth, and vitality. Not that any of the items listed aren’t necessary. However, the world must recognize that all of these are insignificant if used outside of what God considers acceptable.

Mark 8:36 states, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” The bottom line is: Without God, life has no meaning. Without God, life is just a string of days, weeks, months, and years. Unless we live our lives for God, we will never be satisfied. When we truly live for God, vanity dies. The more we die to ourselves, the more we will discover life.

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