The Sin of Pride
Dr. Jim Denison
The major was promoted to colonel and received a fancy new office. As he entered it for the first time, sitting in the nice new chair, a knock came at the door. He said, “Come in,” then quickly picked up the telephone as a corporal walked in.
“Just a minute,” the colonel said to the corporal. “I have to finish this telephone call.” Then the colonel began speaking into the mouthpiece: “Sorry about the interruption, General. Yes, sir, I will take care of that. Yes, I’ll call the President after I finish talking with you, General.”
The colonel ceremoniously put the telephone down, turned to the corporal, and said, “What can I do for you?” The corporal replied, “Well, colonel, I just came in to connect your telephone.”
Pride is always listed at the top of the “seven deadly sins.” Thus we will begin our study of these sins at this place. Not that any of us need such a study; Humility and how I perfected it is the book we each could have written. But what does the Bible say to the rest of the race, prideful as it is?
What is pride?
The Bible uses several words for the first deadly sin. Gea (Hebrew) means “haughty” (“I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech,” Proverbs 8:13). Huperephania (Greek) means “arrogant,” literally “being lifted up” (cf. Mark 7:22). The various Hebrew and Greek words point to the root of pride: being lifted up high. The high waves of the sea are said to be “proud” (Job 38:11). When attributed to humans, this exaltation can be either positive or negative. The question is whether the height is attributed to God or to us.
There is such a thing as “good” pride. For instance, Paul writes, “I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God” (Romans 15:17, using the Greek word for being lifted up). But why? “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit” (vs. 18-19).
By contrast, “bad” pride is exaltation we attribute to ourselves. Examples:
•”You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:13-15).
•”The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
The sin of pride is the sin of self-reliance and self-exaltation. It is trusting ourselves and promoting ourselves. Why do we commit it so frequently?
Why do we commit the sin of self-reliant pride?
Nietzsche was right: the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. Satan said to Eve, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). And she saw that the fuit was “desirable for gaining wisdom,” and ate it. She gave it to Adam as well, and he ate it (v. 6). And we’re still eating it.
Very little that we strive to possess and achieve possesses intrinsic merit worthy of the sacrifices it requires from it. Money is just green paper. A $100,000 vehicle is not so much more efficient than a $20,000 car. Most of us could live in half the house we occupy, and get by. At issue is the will to power. The more we do and own, the more powerful we feel we are. Pride is the basic motive of all fallen humanity.
Conversely, pride covers our self-perceived inadequacies. We were each made by a perfect God, for perfect relationship with him. Though we have fallen into sin, we “remember” the way things should be, and wish they were that way still.
So we know our failures and weaknesses. Rather than admit them, we compensate for them. Our prideful actions cover our self-esteem issues and inadequacies. We act in prideful ways, to convince others that we are what we pretend to be. Years ago, a psychologist friend of mine stated our self-awareness this way: “I am not what I think I am, or what you think I am. I am what I think that you think I am.”
Pride is the expectation of our culture. How does our society define success? Performance, achievement, drive, initiative. The “self-made man.” Jon Gruden, head coach of the once world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, arrives at his office at 3:58 each morning. He is so driven that during the season he rarely sees his wife and children. His voice is constantly strained with all the talking and yelling of his job. The world celebrates his success. When last was a truly humble person elevated as a role model for our youth? We are to be driven, prideful, perfectionists or we are not a success.
Self-reliant pride is the basic strategy of the enemy. Jesus’ temptations were each to self-reliant pride. Turn the stone to bread yourself; jump from the temple and impress the people; worship me and I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world. Satan knows that this is where the spiritual battle is won or lost. So he works on us here if nowhere else.