The problem of pride

I recently finished Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and sent a book review to the Southwestern Journal of Theology for publication (if they don’t publish it, I will post it on here). As I read the work, one thing kept coming to mind: pride. Everything that the deceased church underwent can be attributed to pride.

Scripture says much about pride, both good and bad. Pride in God and all he does is encouraged and rewarded. Pride in oneself and what one possesses or achieves is condemned and judged. Pride is a sinful choice. Pride has severe consequences. Pride, nevertheless, can be completely forgiven.

Pride is Sinful Choice

[pullquote]Pride often blinds us to our own pride, convincing us that we are humble, when in fact we are haughty. [/pullquote]

As I thought about the nature of pride, I wrestled between two metaphors: pride as a disease or pride as a choice. The idea of pride as a disease is a captivating idea. Diseases destroy and kill; similarly, sin destroys and kills. However, often diseases or illnesses come upon us without us doing anything. Sin is not something that we catch, it is something we do, and thus we are all guilty of our sins.

This leaves pride as a choice.

But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. However, Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah.
– 2 Chron 32:25-26

Second Chronicles recounts that Hezekiah humbled his heart, turning away from his pride. This shows that Hezekiah didn’t simply contract pride, he chose pride. Furthermore, pride is revealed as a sinful choice (cf. Mark 7:20-23; 1 John 2:16).

We choose to be prideful. We choose to love ourselves. We choose to serve ourselves. We choose to glorify who we are, what we have, and what we have done. We choose to think highly of ourselves. Pride is a choice… pride is a sinful choice.

Pride rears its ugly head when we expect special treatment. It creeps out when we expect greater influence because of positions we hold, money we have, things we’ve accomplished, or other worldly measurements. It shows up when we dismiss others because they aren’t as successful, wealthy, or otherwise important as ourselves.

Pride is in clinging to the past simply because that’s what we’ve done and what appeals to us. Pride is striving for change for change’s sake or because we think we know better than those who’ve come before.

Pride is pervasive. Pride is a choice. Pride is sin. Furthermore, pride often blinds us to our own pride, convincing us that we are humble, when in fact we are haughty.

God cannot dismiss sin. Rather, he judges it. There are consequences for our actions, thoughts, and attidudes, including our pride.

Pride has Severe Consequences

We’re familiar with the often used adage, “Pride comes before the fall” (cf. Prov 16:18), warning us that those who are proud will ultimately be humbled. This maxim, however, reveals only one consequence of pride. Pride brings both natural consequences (the “fall”) and divine judgment.

Proverbs emphasizes the natural consequences of pride, that is, what happens to those with prideful hearts, actions, and attitudes:

When pride comes, then comes dishonor,
But with the humble is wisdom.
– Prov 11:2

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.
It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly
Than to divide the spoil with the proud.
– Prov 16:18-19

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
– Prov 29:23

These passages reveal that those with pride will ultimately encounter times when they will be humbled (i.e., “dishonor,” “destruction,” “stumbling,” “lowliness”). For some, their times will come in this world. Whether it be financial catastrophe, loss of a job or position, or the failure of a project, prideful hearts will be brought low.

For others, however, their fall will come at the throne of God. When they encounter an absolutely holy and righteous God, when they are before the risen savior, Jesus, in all his glory, then they will fall on their faces as if dead, fully humbled (cf. Isa 6:5; Rev 1:17).

Pride isn’t merely a path of destruction, it’s a road that often leads to divine judgment:

The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the LORD alone will be exalted in that day
– Isa 2:17

And he will spread out his hands in the middle of it
As a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim,
But the Lord will lay low his pride together with the trickery of his hands.
– Isa 25:11

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Just so will I destroy the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. ‘This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have gone after other gods to serve them and to bow down to them, let them be just like this waistband which is totally worthless.
– Jer 13:9-10

Through the prophets, God declares that he will come against the prideful, whether it be a prideful individual or a prideful nation. The proud will be brought down by God himself. The means of his divine wrath vary, though are generally related to the nature of our pride. In every case, judgment is not petty revenge, but is punishment for our sins and to show that “the LORD alone will be exalted” (Isa 2:17c; see also Rev 3:19).

Although God judges sin, and his judgment is always righteous (Deut 16:18; Ps 7:11), he is also full of mercy and grace (John 1:14; Eph 2:4).

Pride can be Completely Forgiven

When I find myself going the wrong way down the road, I look for a place to turn around. Those who are prideful are going the wrong direction and need to turn around; that is, they need to repent.

After healing a crippled beggar, Peter told the amazed people that they should turn from their sins and trust Jesus:

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
– Acts 3:19

Peter’s instructions provide quite a bit of hope in God. First, he call on us to “repent” (cf. Acts 8:22). That is, to change our ways. This is done by confessing our sin to God and submitting to him. Next, he tell us to “return.” Return to whom or what? We are to return to Jesus! We must seek him, desire him, and follow him.

However, Peter doesn’t stop there! He states that we will be completely forgiven:

  • Sins wiped away
  • Refreshing from the Lord

First, when we repent God will completely remove our sins from us. Second, we are promised a time of “refreshing” in God’s presence. The Greek word used here means an “experience of relief from obligation or trouble” (BDAG). In other words, we are set free from our sin, and now experience rest, relief, and freedom in the presence of God!

When we have prideful hearts and minds, we are in sin. However, when we repent of our sin, we are totally forgiven, and the pride is replaced with God’s glory!

As you examine your life, how you see of yourself, and how you treat others, if there is pride then it’s time to repent. Come to the cross of Christ, confess your sin, and begin living in the holy, blessed, freeing Spirit of God!

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