This morning I heard a talk radio personality say the following: “…and that’s one of the things I hate about organized religion – the idea that pride is a sin. According to that view, if you ever do something worthwhile in your life, God forbid that you should ever feel good about it. Apparently, there’s a special gate into hell for those guilty of pride.” (That may not be verbatim, but it’s close.)
This talk show host brings up a good point. When we talk about the sin of pride, I suppose we typically think of conceit. We think of someone who is puffed up with an over-inflated opinion of himself. But what about the scenario above? What is wrong with being proud of a job well done? What is wrong with being proud of your kids or your spouse? What about being proud to be an American? Is there a difference between conceit and this kind of seemingly innocuous pride?
Well, the only way to tell is by looking to the Scriptures. And to the radio personality aforementioned, I would say that pride is a sin, not because organized religion has deemed it so, but because God has deemed it so. Scripture repeatedly speaks of pride as an offense against the supremacy of God. In the New Testament, pride is listed alongside other grievous sins (Mk 7:21-22; Rom 1:29-31; 2 Tim 3:2-5). There are numerous places in Scripture where it is said that a prideful person or persons will be brought low or destroyed (Is 2:12; Jer 13:9, 50:32; Ez 7:24, 32:12; Dan 4:37; Zec 10:11; Lk 1:51-52). Perhaps the strongest words against pride are found in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 (both of which are quoting the Greek version of Prov 3:34): God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Why is it that pride is so offensive to God? We find repeatedly in the Bible the idea that pride sets itself specifically in opposition to God. Pride doesn’t simply cause a man to elevate himself above others – it causes him to elevate himself above God. Pride tells a man that he does not need the Lord. Indeed, it can even lead a man to consider himself to be his own god. We see this in Ezekiel 28:2: "Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD: "Because your heart is proud, and you have said, 'I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,' yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god.” Pride can lead to the sinful assertion that God does not exist: In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, "There is no God" (Ps 10:4).
Pride essentially is self-love. It is to this self-love that all temptation appeals. What was behind the first temptation in the garden of Eden? “…you will be like God…” (Gen 3:5). Every sin finds its genesis in the valuing of self over God. Listen to how Paul describes for Timothy the hearts of men in the last days: For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:2-5).
This is why the self-esteem movement is so dangerous. James Dobson, Larry Crabb, Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, and others like them have written voluminously that man’s biggest problem is a lack of self-esteem. This idea comes from Neo-Freudian psychology, not from Scripture. In fact, Scripture tells us that man’s fundamental problem is that he esteems himself too much and God not at all. His greatest need is to be reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ and to be sanctified in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that he becomes thoroughly God-centered, not self-centered.
But what about being proud of a job well done? Doesn’t Paul speak of being proud of his work for God (Rom 15:17)? Yes, he does. In fact, there are at least three references to Paul’s pride in which pride is not spoken of as a fault – Romans 15:17, 1 Cor 15:31, and 2 Cor 7:2-4. However, Paul never refers to pride in his own work done in his own strength, as each context makes clear. For example, Romans 15:17-19 says, In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience--by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God--so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ…
Paul understood that whatever accomplishments he had made were done by the power of the Spirit of God. That should be the attitude of all who are in Christ. What the talk show host doesn’t understand is that nothing worthwhile finds its origin in man. Rather every good thing finds it origin in God. (Ps 16:2; Jn 3:27; Jas 1:17).
Rather than saying that we are proud of a job well done or proud of our kids, perhaps we should say we are thankful. Anything good I do, I do because of the grace of God. Therefore, I should be thankful to God rather than proud of myself. If my children do something good, I have no reason to be proud – they are not a product of my goodness. Rather, I should say that I am thankful – thankful for God’s working His own goodness in and through their lives. This simple change in terminology helps us to remember Who is worthy of all praise and to give glory where glory is due.
God alone is the source of every good thing. We must be on the alert for everything in the world’s influence and in our own hearts that would raise itself up against God and deprive Him of the glory that only He deserves.
Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17).