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What is pride?

Man in gym wearing pink bodybuilder costume lifting dumbbell.
Man in gym wearing pink bodybuilder costume lifting dumbbell. | Getty Images/Westend61

What do you think of when you hear the word pride? In our culture, it is often seen as a good thing. For example, we might say, “Take pride in your work,” or, “He’s showing his school pride.” Being true to yourself and who you are is considered self-pride and is both affirmed and encouraged. The dictionary describes pride as both “reasonable self-esteem” and “exaggerated self-esteem.”

There is such a thing as too much pride, and everyone knows it when they see it. One thinks of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, his desire for power, and how that led to his downfall; or of Napoleon and his pride, which resulted in his defeat in the battle with Russia. Milton’s Paradise Lost describes the pride of Satan when he revolted against God and declared, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

While our culture might view pride on a continuum, in the Bible, it is equated with sin.

The pride of the arrogant

In Proverbs 8, wisdom calls out in the streets to any who will heed her call. She cries out: “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Prov. 8:13).  Proverbs 16:18 warns, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  In Mark 7, Jesus explained that it’s not what is outside of a person that defiles him, but what is inside, what is in the heart — including pride: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22). Author Ed Welch describes pride as “one of the foremost ways of describing sin.”1

Pride is often considered the root of the first sin. In Genesis 3, the devil twisted the truth when he tempted Eve in the garden. He told her that God was keeping her from being all that she could be, that God was holding out on her. When she saw that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam ate with her (Gen. 3:6), sinning against God’s command and ushering in the fall of mankind. From that moment on, we all center our lives around ourselves. We make God’s wisdom small in our eyes. We exalt ourselves above God and above others.

Pride is arrogance. Pride thinks it knows better and is better. Pride sets itself in the first place. It bows to no one but itself. But, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

Pride vs. humility

The Bible presents pride as the opposite of humility. We see this clearly in the book of Proverbs:

  • “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2).
  • “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Prov. 18:12).
  • “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Prov. 29:23).

The proud live as though they are kings of their own kingdom, whereas the humble recognize they are creatures of the King of kings. God is God and we are not. He made us and we belong to Him. We are dependent upon God for all things — life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25). All we have, all that we are, is because of His grace.

When God humbles the proud, it is an act of His grace.

This is why with pride comes disgrace and dishonor.  While God may allow us for a time to live out the false reality that we are the king of our own universe, eventually, the truth is made known. We will come face-to-face with the fact that we are not in control. We’ll lose all that we cling to. We’ll come to the end of ourselves. Our kingdom will be destroyed, and we’ll be left with nothing. Pride comes before a fall.

When God humbles the proud, it is an act of His grace. In that moment of emptiness, we have an opportunity to repent and yield to the work of the Spirit in our hearts. In doing so, we cast aside our crown, bow before the King, and submit to His lordship.

Putting off pride

The Apostle Paul exhorts those who trust in Christ by faith to follow in His ways. We are to live our life with Christ as our example. In Philippians 2, he calls us to live in humility as Jesus did when He left the glories of heaven, took on human flesh, and lived the life we could not live, and died the death we deserved. Because of what Christ has done for us, because of the Holy Spirit’s work in us, we can turn from our pride and instead live in humility, honoring others above ourselves:

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 (Phil. 2:3–8).

Such humility then births what we might think of as good pride — a pride that is not focused on the self. We see this in Romans 15 where Paul speaks about the work of Christ in him. He describes his work in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles and writes, “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God” (v.17). After exhorting the Philippian church to follow in the humility of Christ, Paul writes of himself, “holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (2:16). We too can have godly pride in our own labors and in what others have done. We can tell a child we are proud of their efforts in school and rejoice in how the Lord uses us to grow the ministry.

It is arrogance to think that we can do anything apart from God. It is He who created us; it is He who sustains us. May we humble ourselves before the Lord and live in dependence upon His grace.

This article is part of the Virtues and Vices collection.

1. Ed Welch, “The Absurdity of Pride.” CCEF. October 13, 2020. https://www.ccef.org/the-absurdity-of-pride/.


This article was first published in Tabletalk, the Bible study magazine of Ligonier Ministries. Find out more at TabletalkMagazine.com or subscribe today at GetTabletalk.com.

Christina R. Fox is a counselor at Connection Point Alpharetta and content editor for the PCA Women’s Ministry blog, enCourage. She is author of several books, including Closer Than a SisterA Holy Fear, and Like Our Father. She also blogs at ChristinaFox.com.

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