Pride isn’t your real problem.

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.

11 Responses to Pride isn’t your real problem.

  1. Ibukun Olowu September 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Hello Mrs. Alsup,
    Thanks for this post. You're right that we must not just find a generic label for our sins, slap it on and never deal with the real issues.

    I wonder though if there hasn't been a misunderstanding of what people mean when they say pride is their main problem. I think they mean that underneath all those sin issues you listed, e.g., controlling others, lurks pride as the root sin. That is, it is my own oversized view of myself that thinks that I have a right to impose my way of doing things on others and I know better. It is also a bloated view of self that doesn't submit to the truth that GOD is in control of every situation, not me. Or take anger. Why am I angry? Because something didn't go the way I wanted. Well, since when did it become my universe where I get to call what happens? Or since when did I become so great that it is not okay for anyone to offend me?
    I think that's what people who say their root problem is pride mean. That's certainly what I mean…

    Just a push back, I'm eager to hear your response.

    Blessings,
    Ibukun Olowu

  2. Wendy September 30, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Thanks, Ibukun. That's a great analysis. That's the healthy way to think about pride as your great issue.

  3. Wenatchee the Hatchet September 30, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    These are not mutually exclusive explanations. Perhaps it is best to think of pride as the stem cell of sin. Yes, it is itself capable of becoming every constituent element of a baby but it has an end point, it must grow into and transform into something. It must manifest, at length, as a particular thing. Pride does not manifest in abstract ways but varies itself from person to person.

    To merely say that all sin derives from pride is to forget that the apostle John warns that there is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the boastful pride of life. Many Christians may reduce everything down to the boastful pride of life so that they don't have to consider the lust of the flesh or the lust of the eye. A man who does not covet another man's wife (lust of the flesh) may covet the praise of being an innovator or a pioneer in his field (boastful pride of life) or may want a larger empire of success that is more famous for the sake of the cause he is championing (lust of the eye). So if we recognize that our sin stems from a root of pride, yes, we'll all agree on that. If however pride becomes the shortcut of naming the root to avoid discussing the tree, well, that's not so good. One person may manifest pride in the form of anger and aggression while another may manifest pride in fearfulness and evasion. With such radically different outward manifestations how useful is it, really, to say that all sin has its root in pride if we don't attempt to address the different fruits that seem capable of growing on the same tree?

  4. Wendy October 1, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    Jeremiah, I love your insights. Bringing in the John passage on the two lusts and pride is helpful.

  5. Rebecca October 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    Been thinking about this since you posted. I would phrase it a bit differently than you did, though. I believe that pride is the root(not the symptom) of all sin, or to quote Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way”.
    I perceive that the problem may be by saying “I have a problem with pride” we are just confirming our human condition. That's not really identifying the particular sin we are struggling with and confessing it “one to another”. We ALL have a problem with pride, but it manifests itself in dozens of different ways. Ironically, we are often too proud to go into specifics and say: “My pride caused me to fear the consequences of leaving this situation to my husband, and I acted without his knowledge or approval in this matter because I thought I could handle it better than he could and spare us the pain of his procrastination/poor judgement. I directly disobeyed God's commands to me as a wife in 1st Peter in the process, too.”
    Secondly, rather than taking that sin and failure to the cross, seeking cleansing and power to overcome from Christ, we/they determine to “try harder”. This is where we get the soul-numbing sermons on “10 steps to avoid anger” or “8 ways to conquer lust” that completely ignore the power of the gospel.
    Lastly (and this is a real burr under my saddle, so this may get feisty)there seems to be a common misconception that the purpose of all this repentance, and cleansing, and effort is to have success as a Christian, or power in preaching and teaching, or revival, or some other peripheral issue. The WHOLE POINT is the relationship with our precious Lord…not any gifts that come as a result. So is the desire for those things another manifestation of pride? To roughly paraphrase from the Hessions, we saw that Christ was the way to salvation, but if we don't also see Him as as both the way to sanctification and the end (reward) of our sanctification, then we are sorely deceived and miss the greatest blessing of all: an intimate relationship with God himself. That relationship requires true humility.

  6. Wendy October 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Ah, yes — I like how you put it, “soul-numbing sermons on '10 steps to avoid anger' or '8 ways to conquer lust' that completely ignore the power of the gospel.” I like your analysis too. I am realizing from this discussion that even though pride can be used as a cop out answer on sin, it still can be the root.

    I admit I am contemplating a particular situation in which a friend admitted a pride problem, like it was a great confession, when it was incredibly obvious to me they have a very bad anger problem (which I realize their pride keeps them from recognizing).

  7. Cherie October 1, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    Yes, yes, yes!!!! Amen to all of this! It is so true that realizing the depth and ugliness of who we really are is the best thing that can happen if we are to fully realize the truth of the cross and what Christ has done…and continues to do!

  8. Rebecca October 1, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    Could you take your friend to Ecclesiastes 7:8,9? That passage clearly illustrates the relationship between pride and anger…

  9. Wendy October 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    If they had ears to hear, that would be a good passage. I'm praying for ears to hear though and that I haven't squandered my chance to say it once they can hear it.

  10. strengthfortoday October 3, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Rebecca, well said. Very many times (if not all) anger has pride at it's root. I am offended, I am slighted, I am denied, I am unjustly accused, I have my sensibilities trodden upon…I…I…I. A study in the Beatitudes is in order for us all. To understand what is implied by being “poor in spirit” and the blessing of those who “mourn” is to capture the real message of the gospel. I am afraid that is one passage of scripture that is not perused nearly enough.

  11. Anonymous October 5, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    “I used to think I was pretty good. Then I got married.”

    Thank you so much for saying that! My marriage of just over a year has shown me my sin in a way I never could have imagined. And praise God that He is not content to leave us in our sinful state, but he saved us from it in Jesus, and he's changing us from it each day through relationships, and through good teaching. Thanks for being honest and for sharing the truth!