Pride is a sin that has caused a huge lot of suffering and unhappiness throughout human history. And all people, whatever their background, upbringing or culture, are by nature full of pride. But it is possible to be changed and, bit by bit, overcome pride completely in our lives!
What is pride?
Pride is not a sin that you do in the same way as stealing or telling a lie. It is an attitude of heart and a way of thinking. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind, and it’s the same with pride. You can’t “see” pride, but you can see its results. Basically, pride is to think you are better than you really are. (Romans 12:3.)
So, the next question is, “How should I be thinking about myself?” Paul says I have to think “soberly”. What does that mean? The truth is that every human being that has been born since the days of Adam and Eve, has a fallen nature, a sinful nature. All people have sinful lusts and desires in their nature, their whole being is full of self-will and self-interest where they mostly only care about what is best for themselves. Such people cannot possibly live a totally good life even if they do lots of “good” things - these things are usually done with only themselves in mind.
Before I am converted to God, I give in to this self-interest whenever I think it is best for me. And even after I am converted and want to do God’s will, the sin in my human nature causes me to do many things that are foolish, selfish and hurtful to others. Even if I maybe don’t do these sins knowingly, they will have very serious consequences for my whole life, my family and other people around me. Therefore, for me to think “soberly” is to understand that I have a lot of sin to be saved from. That is the truth. There is much to learn – from God through the Bible, through His Holy Spirit, through the apostles, prophets and teachers He has placed in the church and also from other people that He uses to help me.
But if I am proud, then I think I know and understand enough and am good enough to manage without all this help. I think I know how to live. I don’t need a teacher or advice. I can decide for myself what is right and wrong! And therefore I do not even think of asking God and getting help from His Word. And then I do all kinds of things that are wrong and hurt other people without me even knowing it.
That is why it is written in Psalm 10:4 (GNT), “The wicked do not care about the LORD; in their pride they think that God doesn't matter.”
It is not only some people that are proud. Every human being is like this by nature, it lies in our nature to want to decide ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong and ignore God’s laws.
Does that mean that pride is the root of all sin?
Yes. Isaiah 14:12-14 describes the thoughts of Lucifer, an angel who was perfect in wisdom and beauty: “I’ll climb to heaven,” “I will place my throne above the highest stars,” and “I will be like God Most High.” This desire to make himself great – his pride – was the first sin. Later, when he had been thrown down to earth as Satan, he tempted Eve to do exactly the same thing by saying that if she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then she would “be like God, knowing good and evil”. (Genesis 3:5.)
Satan let her think that if she could ’climb up’ and be like God, she wouldn’t need God’s laws. Then she would herself be able to decide what was good and evil. She would not need God to say, “You can eat of all the trees, but not this one,” etc. The desire to decide for myself and be my own boss, is at the root of all sin. It is pride. I want to do my will and not God’s will. It is not by chance that “I will” appears five times in what Lucifer said. This is exactly the opposite of the spirit of Christ, who came down and who did not think being equal with God was something to be desired. (Philippians 2:5-11.)
How can we see pride in ourselves?
For that we need two things. First, we need to be with other people and in different circumstances – in other words, we just need to live a normal life. If we could sit by ourselves somewhere nice, had everything we needed and nothing ever went “wrong”, we would probably find it hard to see our own pride. But when we are together with others in the normal circumstances of life, it won’t be long before anger, irritation, jealousy, grumbling and complaining etc. comes up. All of these sins have their root in my pride.
But what’s even worse is that one can feel it is okay to have all these negative reactions. Many people believe it’s okay to behave like that. So, to see these reactions for what they really are, as sin, I need something else – I need to have to do with God in my thoughts. That is what the Bible calls “fellowship” with God - through His Word, through the Holy Spirit and through His servants in the church. Through these I get “light”, which means I understand what is causing me to react this way. And then I begin to sorrow over myself and start hating these reactions. That is why one of the most foolish things I can possibly do in life is to withdraw from fellowship with other members of the body of Christ.
Sometimes people say that they are proud of something. Is that wrong?
No. There is something else which we sometimes call “pride” which can be positive. This is a feeling of satisfaction or joy which comes because I, my family, or friends have achieved something good or useful. We often say we are “proud” of these things or of belonging to a certain team or group; there is nothing wrong with that kind of “pride”.
In the same way, it’s good to be confident that I know what I am doing, at for example my job. It would be a pity if my doctor wasn’t so sure if he was giving me the right medicine, or the pilot wasn’t sure how to fly the plane I’m in!
This kind of “pride” is not sin; it is a confidence that makes it possible for us to get things done. It has a good effect. But this is totally different from the pride mentioned further above, which is the root of all sin.
What are some examples of pride?
There are many, many ways that the effects of pride can be seen in the way a person behaves or in what a person does. Here are just a few examples of pride:
· Being offended – because I or my family have been treated in a way which was “beneath me/us”. We should have had better or fairer treatment.
· Getting angry – how dare people treat me like that or talk to me in such a way? – I who am so important.
· Being passive and inactive – because I don’t feel I can do things perfectly. I might make a mistake and look stupid. So, if I can’t be perfect, I’m not going to do anything.
· Being silent and not saying what I think – because I might say something that is a mistake.
· Being upset and unrestful – because people have been speaking badly about me behind my back. I can’t bear the shame and dishonour, so I have to run around trying to explain my actions or motives.
· By boasting – because people should know how well I did things.
· By lying – because if I tell the truth people will think badly of me or I might get into trouble and it’s very important that everyone thinks well of me.
· Despising other people – because they do things differently to me and I think my way is better. Or I think they are less clever, gifted or wealthy etc. And in any case, by putting other people down, I myself feel a bit better than them!
· Being discouraged – because things don’t go how I would like them to, and I don’t see how they will. This doesn’t look like pride, but it is sin, because my feelings and plans are more important in my life than God’s will and leading.
How do we overcome pride?
If we see our pride and its effects, and knowingly work against it in our thoughts, words and deeds, we can overcome pride.
“Come near to God, and God will come near to you.” James 4:8 (NCV). When we have to do with God in our thoughts, it brings correction and judgment. We see our shortcomings. We see where pride is at work. We understand where our self-will is alive, so we can humble ourselves by being obedient to God’s laws. Which is why it is written later in the same chapter, “Humble yourself in the Lord’s presence …” James 4:10 (NCV).
What does it mean to “humble yourself”?
Well, what it doesn’t mean is to go around in a discouraged state telling myself I’m useless, hopeless, that I’m too bad to change, etc. It has nothing to do with putting on some kind of so-called “humble” outward behaviour either. These things are useless in dealing with pride. They are completely against God’s Word which gives hope to every human being no matter how deeply they have sinned. So, these things are actually also pride, just in another form!
No, Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient”. (Philippians 2:8.) It’s not possible to really humble myself without being willing to obey God’s laws. For example, if I don’t want to flee youthful lusts and desires. (2 Timothy 2:22.) I think I will be much happier If I give in to them. That’s how people think naturally, and that is why the world is full of tragic stories of how such behaviour has led to lots of misery. But if I am willing to accept that God’s laws are true and I flee away from these lusts and desires with all my heart, then I have humbled myself.
It’s the same when I feel worried but I still do what is written: “Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks …” Philippians 4:6 (NCV). Doing that when I am tempted to worry is what it means to humble myself, because then I’m being obedient to God’s will instead of my own. That is a perfect “medicine” against thinking I know everything and don’t need God’s help. Such humility is the opposite of the sin of pride. It is the spirit of Jesus Christ!