This post first appeared at The Gospel Project blog.
We Are All Prideful, Aren’t We?
We all struggle with pride. It is a perpetual nagging temptation. Pride is what causes us to connect every experience and every conversation with ourselves. In a sense, pride is the sin beneath every other sin because at its core, pride is self-worship. What makes pride so dangerous is that it can be subtle, perverse, and sometimes undetectable.
Certainly there are people whose pride exudes from them as if it were a badge of honor. In some cases, this happens unknowingly. Pride has very effective ways of blinding self-awareness. And there are others who proclaim their humility by complaining about (or condemning) prideful people. How prideful! Even those who seem to be the least prideful of people—people quietly paralyzed by low self-esteem, anxiety, and worry—can actually be full of pride. To echo the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, what wretched men we are!
What Can We Do About Our Pride?
Feel exposed yet? Good. As long as you know that you are proud, you are safe from the most subtle form of pride. The first step of fighting pride is to realize that you are proud. And since pride and humility are direct opposites (Prov. 16:19; 29:23), shouldn’t we aim for humility? Yes, but this is not as simple as it seems. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility” (Christian Reflections). In other words, it is possible to adopt an outward demeanor of humility while burning with pride on the inside.
In order to develop true humility we need to take the focus off of ourselves entirely because true humility means we stop connecting every experience and every conversation with ourselves. To put it another way, Tim Keller says that the “… essence of humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). And the only way to take the focus off ourselves is to be totally enraptured by something else.
How Can the Cross Deal with Our Pride?
To break our pride is to fix our eyes on God and bask in His beauty and splendor (Ps. 27:4). As long as someone is proud, they cannot know or love God (Ps. 10:4). True humility is the necessary condition of not only seeing God but also accepting His grace in Christ Jesus. No one stands before God looking down through their nose. Certainly, no Christian stands at the foot of the cross with their chest puffed out.
Before God we all, like Abraham, realize that we are mere “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We have nothing to be proud of. This gives us the deep humility we need. Yet, on the other hand, we also realize that in Christ God accepts us and loves us on the basis of His perfect life and sacrificial death. These truths crucify any reason for pride, as if we had one in the first place.
Hope for the Humble
Seeing that we can only boast in Christ—and in Christ alone—gives us hope (2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14). The Bible is clear: God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). So, one of the best ways to fight pride is to reflect continually on one’s true position before God, namely, as a dependent child (Matt. 5:3-5; 18:1-4). We are dependent on Christ and on what He has done on our behalf (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:7,10). The good news is that Christ’s work is perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Even better, we have a Father who loves us dearly.
See, proud people rely on themselves, and seek their own glory. Humble people realize they are reliant on God, and in response to His love, they seek to live for His glory. Pride gives us the deadly illusion that we are competent to run our lives, attain our sense of worth, and find purpose or meaning on our own. However, pride ends in a fall (Prov. 29:23). On the other hand, “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt. 5:3).