The Subtle Pride That Lies Inside
One of the most dangerous qualities of pride is that it sneaks into places in our hearts where other sins once lived. We begin to conquer some sinful attitude, or habit, or addiction with God’s help, and soon enough we marvel at our own strength, or resolve, or purity, as if we somehow accomplished it on our own. C.S. Lewis writes, “The devil loves ‘curing’ a small fault by giving you a great one” (Mere Christianity, 127). The confidence we feel in ourselves after defeating sin can carry us as far away from God as, or even farther than, the sin we defeated.
If we battle some sins, but welcome pride, we will lose the war. But if we suffocate pride, we will starve every other sin of its oxygen.
Pride’s War Against You
Pride lingers in us more than most sins because we fail to see how poisonous and deadly it really is. Pride colors our perception of ourselves and the world around us, blowing a thick, treacherous fog over reality. It cripples our souls, keeping us so focused on ourselves that we’re almost physically incapable of love. And it will damn us if we let it, dragging us to death, but making us believe we’re in control.
1. Pride will lie to you.
Pride convinces us we are more important than God, and that our perspective is better than his. “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Your heart. More specifically, the pride in your heart (Obadiah 1:3), which declares you know more or better than the all-knowing God. We can be blindly led along by our pride, which Solomon calls “the lamp of the wicked” (Proverbs 21:4).
Lewis, who calls pride “the great sin,” writes, “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you” (124). Pride sets our eyes firmly on ourselves — our needs, our gifts, our effort, our problems — and away from the sovereignty, sufficiency, and beauty of God. It clouds our vision of him, and elevates our vision of self. It not only blinds us to him, but removes any motivation to seek him (Psalm 10:4).
Worst of all, pride often wears the appearance of godliness, but lacks its power completely (2 Timothy 3:2–5), breeding false confidence and sure destruction.
2. Pride will cripple you.
Pride blinds and deceives us, but it also cripples us, making us ineffective and fruitless. We become so focused on our own life that we waste it. Again, Lewis writes, “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense” (125). If it goes untreated, pride multiplies and spreads, corrupting even our best attitudes and efforts. It must be killed, and killed consistently with routine heart-checks and the sword of the Spirit, God’s word (Ephesians 6:17).
If we sense a lack of compassion for needs around us, or a drying up of our generosity, or a coldness in our concern for the unconverted, or an indifference or even reluctance in serving or sacrificing for others, we very likely have the malignant cells of pride reproducing in our souls.
3. Pride will kill you.
If we allow pride to live freely in us, it can only kill us. Its prime objective is not to make us feel better about ourselves, but to send us to everlasting pain and punishment away from God. Solomon warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Isaiah brings that terrifying warning into higher definition: “The Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up — and it shall be brought low” (Isaiah 2:12).
All pride must perish. In fact, every prideful person must pay that awful penalty. But God, in Christ, made it possible for us to die to our pride without dying for it. Jason Meyer writes, “The glory of God and the pride of man will collide at one of two crash sites: hell or the cross. Either we will pay for our sins in hell or Christ will pay for our sins on the cross” (Killjoys, 13).
Either pride will kill you, or you will surrender through faith and allow God to kill the pride in you.
Your War Against Pride
So how do we kill the pride that threatens to kill us? Meyer continues, “Ultimately, pride is a worship issue. We cannot think about ourselves less unless we think about something else more” (18). We do not defeat pride by thinking more about ourselves, but by focusing on finding more of God. Which echoes Lewis’s popular definition of humility: “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”
In humility, we give ourselves less attention and affirmation, and gain everything in return.
1. Humility will open your eyes.
Psalm 25:9 promises that God “leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” While pride clouds our understanding of right and wrong, and blinds us to God, humility heals our blindness and helps us truly see. I still remember putting on my first pair of glasses during fourth grade. I never knew just how much I couldn’t see until I was looking through those lenses. The same is true with pride and humility.
The devil blinds us to God, invading the light with darkness (2 Corinthians 4:4). But God floods our darkness with light and sight, showing us just how true and good the gospel is (2 Corinthians 4:6). We’ll see the infinite reward we have in Christ, and we’ll see the desperate need we have for him. Meyer says, “We don’t become better and better so that we need God less and less. No, as we mature, we learn to grow more and more dependent upon our Heavenly Father” (16).
If we make our life about seeing more of God, and helping others see more of God, we’ll be far less preoccupied with and proud of ourselves.
2. Humility will satisfy your heart.
Humility does not only save us and show us reality. True humility before God and his mercy will satisfy every craving we try, out of pride, to satisfy ourselves. If we knew how happy we would be without our pride, we would have left him long ago.
God himself delights in the humble. “The Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). In Christ, God takes genuine pleasure in you. God loves to give more grace to the humble — grace on top of all the grace he’s already shown us. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). The humble have tasted a kind of grace the proud know not of. God loves to meet the humble with strength for every weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
Those who have been humbled by God, and received God in the process, sing, “My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).
3. Humility will free you from pride.
God himself, speaking to Solomon, promises the humble, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The freedom we desperately crave in our pride comes fully and freely from God through faith. The healing we try to fabricate or earn for ourselves comes fully and freely from the Surgeon’s hands.
James (like Peter) quotes Proverbs, saying, “‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:6–8). That is an amazing promise for people battling pride. If you flee the devil (and all his temptations to pride), you’ll not only get away, but he will wind up fleeing from you in the other direction. And if you humbly pursue the God you’ve offended over and over again with your pride, he will not only receive you, but run to you in love and mercy.
Believe in God
We must fight pride with the same fierceness we fight every other sin. Perhaps even more so because pride is “the great sin” that fuels the others. It will blind you and deceive you. It will cripple you and even kill you. Unless, in humility and faith, you have been freed from the tyranny of pride and the weight of its rebellion against God.
Don’t believe in yourself; believe in God. You are utterly incapable of achieving or earning what you need most. The beauty of the gospel is that you no longer need to. That burden and responsibility sits on Christ’s shoulders, and his freedom, humility, and joy now rest on yours.