I often hear people, especially religious leaders, confess pride as their greatest sin or weakness. That’s never set particularly well with me, and it has taken me some thinking to figure out why. It’s a circular idea—that pride is someone’s greatest sin. A cop out really. Pride is a sin. A very big one. But pride isn’t your real problem. It’s a symptom of your real problem – which is ignorance of all the ways you break God’s laws. When you confess pride as your greatest sin, it really means that you think well of yourself because you are deluded away from your very real sin. You are proud because you don’t realize that you really are very angry. You are proud because you have deluded yourself from seeing your very real selfishness. You are proud because instead of seeing your control freakish nature as the sin that it is and millstone around the neck of those you love, you think it makes you look disciplined. You worship your own agenda and ability to control those around you. You likely have a lust problem that you’ve deluded yourself into ignoring. Your spouse, kids, and/or coworkers probably resent you because you are harsh and demanding. You’ve got a lot more problems than mere pride. Pride is just the symptom of the fact that you don’t recognize in yourself your own sin tendencies.
Paul says something at the opening of Ephesians 4 that gets my attention every time I read it.
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility …
The calling to which he refers is the gospel he’s just laid out in Ephesians 1-3—that we were dead in our sins, by nature children deserving of God’s just wrath. But God lavished His grace on us, adopting us into His family by no work of our own, but solely by His own unconditional love and grace. Because we could never have earned it on our own. We were without God and hope in this world until He moved toward us. And humility is the key indicator that you either do or do not fully understand the gospel.
The hard truth from Scripture, which Paul particularly reveals in Ephesians, is that we will never get the gospel until we are profoundly aware of what we deserve and are capable of apart from it. Three times Paul goes through the juxtaposition of what we are by nature and what God gave us instead. God didn’t save you from one day being a bad person. You WERE a bad person. By your very nature, you deserve His wrath. Remove His grace from yourself for just one day, and you’d be horrified by what you are capable of.
I used to think I was pretty good. Then I got married. Then I had kids. One of the best and worst days of my life was when I responded to my children in such anger and ugliness that it left me stunned at myself. Horrified. I HATED how I responded. I finally realized that I was capable of a lot worse than I had ever imagined. And against the most vulnerable of all, my children.
But that actually was a GOOD moment for me. Because I couldn’t get the greatness of the gospel and the full worth of God’s final affirmation over me through Christ until I saw it clearly in juxtaposition to what I deserve. If pride is your “biggest problem,” you need to recognize that it is a problem at all because you are oblivious to the really heinous things you have done and are capable still of doing. Chances are others around you aren’t quite as oblivious to it as you are though. And facing it head on isn’t the horrible thing we perceive it to be. For facing it head on becomes the first step in facing the fullness of what God has said over us in response to it. And THAT is beautiful! THAT transforms us.