That Tricky, Slippery Monster Called Pride

Anonymous asked a question:

Could you help me get a perspective on pride? It always lurking in me. I might do something good just because the opportunity was there, but afterwards, I want to share (brag) about what I just did. I don’t, because I don’t want to look like I’m bragging (about something so small, at that [appearances/pride]). I want to do more, but if it’s hard to stay humble about small things, then how can I handle greater things? And does this desire for greater come from pride?

Hey dear friend, thank you for your honesty and for every ounce of your self-awareness.  While I can’t hope to cover everything about pride, let’s consider a few things together. This may be a jump-off where you can begin your own thoughts on moving forward. As always, please feel free to skip around.

1) The tricky thing about pride is that most people don’t know they have a problem with pride. Including me.

The fact that you can even articulate this about yourself is a step forward — and the tricky thing is that this could make you even more prideful.

I knew someone who used to say, “I don’t struggle with pride, it’s not one of my issues,” and I laughed, because this is exactly what pride does.  Pride is a false self-elevation of our own morality and performance, so that we’re constantly looking down on others and up on ourselves.

Even worse, when I laughed at this guy who was blind to his own pride, then suddenly I became the prideful one by mocking his lack of humility.  That’s how slippery this whole thing really is.  I’ll go so far as to say, pride is the root of every sin, and perhaps the ultimate human problem that Jesus had to die for.

2) The way to stop sinning is not not-sinning.

When you’re still navigating Christian faith, you can fall into a game of “Am I good enough?” We have a paranoia of being “not-humble.” When we’re so consumed with “not-sinning,” we end up in knots of despair over our progress, and then we self-condemn.  Or worse, we subconsciously think, “I’m so humble right now because I’m not-sinning,” which is instantly pride again.

Think of how some Christians say, “I want to glorify God with everything I do, so no more Beyonce and Harry Potter and Hunger Games” — then you can easily idolize anti-idolatry. Or you can hate yourself every time you enjoy a movie. Either end is still destructive.

This is a fluctuating conflict that both emerge from self-centeredness. While I don’t always say “The devil did it,” from the devil’s perspective, he would like nothing more than for you to constantly doubt yourself between these extremes of fear or self-righteousness.  It remains at a morbid navel-gazing at yourself.  When you keep looking at you, whether with a high view or low view, it’s all the same to the devil.  It’s an obvious but insidious trap.

I’ve found that humbling myself means I can’t be too concerned if I’m being prideful or humble.  Otherwise, I’m still elevating myself.  Humility just means putting God and others first.  It doesn’t mean, “How can I be humble today?”  It means, “How can I love this other person?”  This is harder than you think, but it actually breaks the cycle of second-guessing.  And it’s even here that you can feel a good sort of pride, such as, “I’m so proud of you” or “I’m so proud of this work,” which is centered on the other instead of self.

Eventually you’ll have to let go of this self-doubt as early and often as possible, and it starts with honesty.

3) Honesty, honesty, honesty — then move on anyway.

The truth is that you were never good enough.  However prideful you think you are, it’s much worse.

The main thing is to simply admit: We’re all prideful. I’m prideful. None of my motives are good. I do good to look good and get good back. I pursue things with secret agendas and for little bits of advantage for myself. I’m not as generous as I appear to be. I’m not as pure as I’d like my parents and pastors and fellow bloggers to think I am. I have pride.

When you can start from a place of simple honesty, then you’re not putting on a show anymore.  You know where you stand.  There are no more games with yourself.

Then you go do the humble thing anyway. Do the godly thing. Don’t second-guess. Just ask God what He would have you do right now, and go do that.  Please don’t beat yourself up too long about the mess inside.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  At some point, you’ll need to take the focus off yourself and just get on with the Christ-centered mission.

You will always wonder if you have the right motives.  Other people will always wonder about you too.  And while you must certainly work on your own heart, sometimes the very thing that changes you is when you begin to follow God anyway.  Who you are informs what you do as much as what you do informs who you are.  It goes both ways.

4) Start with Jesus, finish with Jesus.

Maybe this will be obvious to you, but only Jesus can actually break you from pride, because the cross means we actually have a problem, but it also means he loves us so much he went there.  That sort of God, who is both humble and powerful, compels us towards humility in the face of others and awe in the face of God.  We cannot elevate ourselves because our sin is very real, but we cannot condemn ourselves because His love is very real, too.  Jesus cut the devil both ways by revoking our self-exaltation and our self-condemnation.

Of course, this is a painful process.  Humility is pain, because it requires confronting ourselves and our very ugly selfishness.  It requires getting with pastors and mentors and mature Christians to be spiritually naked and vulnerable and real, to confess, “I’m prideful and I need help.”  But humility is liberating, because it cuts to the root of our self-centeredness.  It takes the focus off me and sets it forward.  It’s exchanging sight for vision.

— J.S.

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

… Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

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 can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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6 thoughts on “That Tricky, Slippery Monster Called Pride

  1. Thank you so much for posting this JSPARK! I’ve been struggling with a lot of 2nd guessing (and 2nd guessing my 2nd guessing) lately and I’ve had a hard time getting out.

    For example, I saw a video of LeCrae filling a shopping cart with canned goods saying that he’s going to donate all of that to the poor. On one hand people can argue that he’s just trying to show the world that he’s a very generous and righteous person. On the other hand, people can argue that he’s being a good steward of his fame and using social media as a platform to influence others to take action. I was initially inspired to take action, but after I started 2nd guessing my heart motives, I end up becoming paralyzed and ended up doing nothing.

    Also, is there a missing verb in #4 (Start with Jesus end with Jesus)?
    “Jesus cut the devil both ways by revoking our self-exaltation and our self-exaltation.”


    1. Thanks for catching that! I fixed the error.
      I remember someone asking me about Matthew 6, where Jesus talks about secretly fasting and praying and donating, so that no one would know. But this isn’t the whole teaching on the issue. Within context, Jesus in Matthew 5 also says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” These passages have a balance that checks both our motives and actions. I think once we get to the end of examining ourselves, the best thing to do is to get on with it.
      I definitely commend Lecrae, by the way. I’m not in a position to question his motives, but I think he very much uses his influence for good.


      1. Is there a point when you know that you’re examining yourself “too much”?

        And when we get to that point, do we just go with our gut, trusting that God will lead us away if it is the wrong path?


  2. This was a really well-written explanation of this insidious little liar, pride. I am grateful that as I get closer to the cross, filling my vision with Jesus, the cross grows larger and I become smaller. The Christian Life is exactly that, a life-long process of falling, stumbling and small victories.
    Thanks for writing!


  3. I’ve found that the most dangerous pride is that of attachment to the personality. The personality gives us a pleasurable sense of foundation, security, comfort. We derive the pleasure of not having to experience the emptiness that lies underneath. That emptiness is really a lack of self-worth and fuels the desire to hang on to the platform of the identity we have made for ourselves which is the personality. A whole lot of fear keeps us hanging onto beliefs, ideas, thoughts, sensations, etc. We feel we would die without them but it’s just the opposite. We become identified with the of the mind as we attempt to control reality by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This is the basis from which the personality is born. The only problem is that the personality is a false identity and is not who we really are. Who we really are is the soul.


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