Pride and Humility

proud roman emperor

Pride and humility. As Americans, we have a complicated view of pride. We often esteem the proud and feel sympathy or even disdain for the humble and lowly among us. In more balanced moments, we may see the downside of pride, but view it as unfortunate but unavoidable by-product of a life well lived.

Pride: The Great Sin

Pride was the first sin. C.S. Lewis called pride the Great Sin, of which no person on earth was free. We imagine the opposite of pride to be a cringing sort of self loathing, so instead of being vigilant against our proud hearts, we aim for “enough” pride to present ourselves with confidence but not so much as to appear haughty.

But we lie to ourselves. We are deceived when we imagine that we need pride in order to be confident. We are fooled when we believe that pride is not somehow at the root of all of our thoughts and efforts aimed at justifying ourselves. We are tricked when we believe that we somehow need to have the right mixture of pride and humility, and that sin and pride are not inextricably linked.

Sin and Pride

At its essence, pride is putting ourselves in the place of God.

  • Pride was the first sin before man was created. Lucifer was cast down from heaven and became Satan, the Father of Lies, because he was overcome by his pride.
  • Pride led to the fall of man. Adam and Eve sinned when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. At that moment, they believed that what they had heard clearly from God was inferior to their thoughts and desires.
  • Even today, we sin when we place ourselves in the place of God. We sin when we look to use God to accomplish our own plans, instead of seeking to serve him first and praying that he uses us to do his will. We sin when we feel self satisfied that we don’t have the same outwardly visible problems that some of our peers do. We sin when we seek to build our righteousness and self-acceptance in our accomplishments or intelligence or moral superiority, instead of relying wholly on the grace of God and the salvation we have through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Just as he was with Adam and Eve, the father of lies is present today when we sin. When we believe we deserve something, or feel superior to others in a given moment, seek to justify our behavior to ourselves or others, or even feel defensive, we are guilty of pride.
  • For most of us, certainly for me, we do this every. day. of. our. lives. It’s easy to do because we have hearts that are naturally sinful and we have an enemy who loves to feed into them. Here is what C.S. Lewis says about pride in Mere Christianity:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else…The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there.  Well, now, we have come to the centre.  According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

pride is the rotten center

What Hope Do We Have?

What hope do we have against a sin from which no person in the world is free, and yet, we all hate in others? In short, we can seek humility and submission to God, the only antidote to our proud hearts. But how? To start, we can do three things. First, we can face the reality of the situation as C.S. Lewis outlines in his concluding thoughts on pride and humility.. 

“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too.  At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

woman praying with humility

Second, we can look to the Bible. We can spend time in mediation and prayer on the differences between Lucifer and Jesus in terms of how they related to the Father (scripture readings below on Ezekiel 28 and Phillipians 2). And we can learn more about the Pharisees, the educated and proud political and religious leaders who were so certain that they were extraordinary.

Third, we can intentionally put ourselves into situations where we confront the ugliness of our own pride and fight against it with honesty, vulnerability, submission to God, service to others, and repentance. 

The Pride of Lucifer

Ezekiel Chapter 28 contains a prophecy against the Price of Tyre and a lament over the King of Tyre. While Biblical scholars aren’t unanimous, many agree that the latter is about Lucifer before the fall.


Ezekiel 28: 13 – 17 (ESV)

13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
14 You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15 You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
16 In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you.

Compare this with the description we have of Jesus.

The Humility of Jesus

In Philippians Chapter 2, Paul exhorts the church at Philipi (and us) to think of others before we think of ourselves. It’s a charge that feels antithetical to our cultural ethos, not to mention completely impossible. And it is impossible on our own. But all things are possible through a Jesus who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2: 1 – 11 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This message of radical humility was just as counter cultural in Jesus’ day as it is for us today. How many similarities do we share with the proud Pharisees, who acted with hypocrisy while earnestly believing they alone were doing the will of God? And why does the idea of being poor in spirit often seem so distasteful to us?

Luke 14: 7 – 11 (ESV) Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What do you think?

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