One of the greatest challenges in my life is dealing with the sin of pride. It really wasn’t until I picked up a copy of C.S. Lewis’s brilliant polemic, Mere Christianity, where I began to self-reflect about the pride in my own life. Lewis lays out the foundation of Christianity that all orthodox Christian denominations could agree upon. I found it extremely intriguing that Lewis would dedicate a whole chapter in his book about the subject of human pride. Obviously, Lewis was stressing the importance of this subject. His insight of the condition a prideful heart left me stunned. He writes:
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 your-self 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. That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks they are far better than ordinary people. They pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellowmen.
After I read this excerpt, I began to understand how prideful I was to other Christians and even people who wouldn’t consider themselves believers. My heart was totally deceived by pride. I wasn’t genuinely loving God and people with all my heart which are the greatest commandments Jesus lays out to his followers (Mark 12:30-31). I was instead putting myself above the status of God. Ironically, in my attempts in becoming self-righteous, I found myself becoming more prideful of my works. More the knowledge I gained about Christianity, the more puffed up I became. It led to a sense of false security where I would be telling myself “I have it figured all out.” At times I would look down at other people who I considered weaker in faith and thoughts like “I am better than that person,” “I know more than that person,” “that person doesn’t deserve that. I deserve that more than he does.” The thoughts consumed me and I didn’t even realize it.
As I read scripture, I realized as well how the theme of pride is permeated throughout the scripture; there are literally hundreds of examples. The Book of Obadiah
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground? ’Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord.”
In James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The word oppose is used by James in a very unique way. It is a compound word in the koine Greek that literally means to stand against or thwart pride . We see Paul use this similar compound word in Ephesians when he is reiterating about the armor of God and opposing Satan. To paraphrase, this is what James is saying: God will not simply ignore the attitude of pride, but rather, he will stand against and stop the forward progress of pride. The prideful who have not been opposed by God yet, are just storing up wrath for themselves for a later judgment (Romans 2:5).
As I began to see the ugly and gruesome reflection of my own sin. What makes pride so dangerous is someone who is prideful is typically unaware of their own pride. Because pride tricks us into thinking we are much greater than we actually are, in so far as much as, our pride creates idols that trump the only one worthy of being idolized. Not only that, but pride skews our perception of reality and deceives us. I found the people who are most susceptible to the sin of pride is usually people in ministry, intellects, or those in leadership positions. So for all those who fall in that category, or anyone for that matter, heed to wise words from Martin Luther, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”
As began to be convicted of the pride in my life, I began to see subtly and even more abruptly in other places as well. I found it most rampant within ministry sadly enough. I have literally seen pride destroy friendships, split leadership groups apart, even whole churches. I have also seen horrific and inexcusable acts of pride committed by other “Christians” unto others. Most regrettably, I have been both perpetrator and victim of Pride. And if you’re saying to yourself, “Brendan your straight cray. This has nothing to do with me, I am not prideful.” Do not look now, but you are taking pride in your own humility and therefore, your pride has deceived you! It’s seriously that easy to fall into the trap of pride. I know this extensively because of all anyone, I can be the worst at this. Therefore, as senior hypocrite and the chief expert of pride, Let me assure you by saying you’re not the only one struggling with pride; I everyone is prideful just in different ways.
So you may be asking where did we all go so wrong and is there is any hope?Here in this article I will be talking about two kinds of pride and how they are not only destructive to ourselves, but how they are affecting other people’s lives. I will construct a Biblical case for what I have coined pride of an eagle and pride of a worm. At the end, I will give a solution to pride which could only be found through the example of Jesus Christ.
1. Pride of an Eagle: “I am greater than…”
Now this is typically what most people assume what pride is. Pride of an eagle is when one is arrogant and elevates themselves above the station of God which directly conflicts with what the Bible teaches about our standing with him and others (cf. Galatians 3:28; 1 John 4:4). And that is what pride is in the Biblical sense: desiring the fruit that God forbids. Pride is the very reason why Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. In essence, they did not believe that God was telling the truth (Genesis 3: 3-4) and believed in the lies of the enemy that they could become like God (Genesis 3:5). Adam and Eve believed the lie that they could more than the Lord. It was pride that is the root of all sins. St. Augustine writes that pride “Is like a pregnant woman who gives birth to all sin.” All of sin is from a result of pride and thinking one is greater than God. Pride is desiring eternal life. Pride is coveting what you do not have. Pride is also the root of all formal religions, self-righteous people trying to earn their way to a better place because they are not content with their current life. Eagle pride seeks to deconstruct the person you are coveting after and elevate yourself. In other words, you want what the other person has and try through various means to tear them down in order to self-promote or elevate yourself.
The story of King Nebuchadnezzar is one that embodies symbolic nature of eagle pride. Long story short, Nebuchadnezzar came over with his army, wrecked everyone in his wake, captured all of the Israelites, and sent them into captivity. Throughout the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar witnesses the greatness of the God of Israel. God did incredible things such as give Nebuchadnezzar dreams about his kingdom and walking Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego through the burning furnace. (see Daniel 2 & 3). The climax that these events set up for is Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which even the “wisest” of his advisers were unable to interpret. Inevitably, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Daniel and told him about the dream in hopes that he could interpret it. Nebuchadnezzar described the dream:
There was a tree high, beautiful, and fruitful. The tree reached to the heavens and spread out to the ends of all the Earth. A watcher, a holy one coming down from heaven, ordered the tree to be chopped down, leaving only a stump and roots in the ground. Then the Holy one described a man losing his senses and becoming like a wild beast of the Earth for seven years. (Daniel 4:10-17).
Daniel explains that the tree was in fact Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and how strong it was However, Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar of the consequences of his pride:
Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Daniel 4:27).
Daniel is foreshadowing to the inevitability of Nebuchadnezzar’s demise which is a direct result of his eagle pride. Once more, we see the theme of God opposing the proud and giving grace to the humble. And of course all these things eventually happen:
All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29).
Classic example and portrait of what eagle pride looks like. The lucid analogy of looking down upon everyone and everything when in actuality he should be looking up. Then of course, God immediately opposes Nebuchadnezzar:
The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is w You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:31-33).
And yes, Daniel is being literal in what he is saying. There is such a thing where someone turns into an animal which is called Boanthropy (a delusional state where someone believes themselves to be an ox or a cow). God opposed and humbled Nebuchadnezzar and you think at this point there is no hope for Nebuchadnezzar. But then, something amazing happens:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored… Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Now I Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of Heaven. All of his acts are just and true and he is able to humble the proud. (Daniel 4:34-37).
Nebuchadnezzar was so self-consumed with himself and overtaken by pride that it skewed his perception of himself and of God. God showed in a twofold sense that He was greater than Nebuchadnezzar and He alone is worthy of worship. The second, which is really incredible, despite all of Nebuchadnezzar’s sin God was patient and gave Nebuchadnezzar opportunities to repent. He waited years for Nebuchadnezzar to repent and look up at heaven. In spite of who he was and what he had done, God loved this gentile king very much. It goes to show you that God truly desires and wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. However, in order for that to happen, we have to be continually look up at God and consciously being aware that it’s not all about me, it’s really about him. That is the essence of humility.
2. Worm Pride: “I am less than…”
This is much different from pride of eagle. In contrast, worm pride seeks to take pride in one’s own affliction or brokenness. In other words, worm pride is when one thinks themselves as so unworthy that they do not consider themselves good enough to be qualified for God’s grace. It’s believing God’s love and grace is for everyone else except for you. The typical examples of worm pride I find myself hearing is, “oh I can’t go to church today, last night week I sinned too much.” Or the other I hear implied is “Well God can save you. But I don’t know if God can save a sinner like me.” “Or I need to work really hard on myself and clean myself so I can be righteous before God.”
The other one I sort laugh at is when I see other Christians get in a debate with each other about their past. “No dude. I sinned waaaaaay more than you did.” “Bro I did this ___ in my past! I am a much bigger sinner than you are!”
Do you see the problem? It would be cute and adorable if it wasn’t so blasphemous.
Where eagle pride will cause most people to be arrogant and haughty, worm pride will cause one to react in fear and laziness. This is the case with the servant who was charged with investing a talent of gold. Worm pride seeks to self-destruct the person by continually beating themselves up for their mistakes. All of this is done in the name of humility. But this isn’t actually humility. Look at the parable Jesus uses in Matthew 25:24-26:
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!”
Our efforts in beating ourselves up may look pleasing to the people around us, but they do not please God at all. Moses is another example. Moses had a speech impediment. When the Lord asked him to go speak to Pharaoh his reply was:
But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10-13).
Even if it’s taking pride in our own sin, God will oppose those with worm pride. In essence, both forms of pride are as bad as atheism. They are saying, “God I do not believe in what you’ve said about me is true” and therefore calling God a liar. Believe it or not, we are what God declares us to be. Our identity as Christians comes from what what Jesus’ said about us:
“I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23).
and again in the Book of Isaiah:
“For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:3-4)
3. Is there any hope?
The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. We cannot do it by simply being more humble. Because in our efforts in becoming more humble, we actually will take pride in our humility.
Nebuchadnezzar’s “eagle pride” did not allow him to realize the inequity of his sin. Jesus says “I tell you, her sins, and they are many, have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (Luke 7:47). Jesus is inferring that it was actually the Pharisees are only forgiven little because they have chosen to love little. The Pharisees were strict moralists who followed scripture and the law to the letter to do what was pleasing before the Lord’s sight. According to the letter of the law, the Pharisees were doing the right thing but the problem was that there heart wasn’t really for the Lord, their own self-righteousness was for themselves. This is astonishing; Jesus radically redefines sin our understanding of sin.
We view sinning as a list of rule breaking but that is not what Jesus implies in his teaching (cf. Luke 15). Jesus shows throughout the scriptures that who has violated none of the laws can be every just as every bit as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. Timothy Keller gives a fantastic explanation: “Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if you go to church everyday, Jesus in effect said this doesn’t even matter. He makes it abundantly clear: the humble are in and the proud are out (cf. Luke 18:14).
However, all you need to become more humble or to grow in godliness is to know Jesus more (2 Peter 2:1-3). God will change your heart and continually refine you into becoming more like His Son. By fixing our eyes on Jesus and building a relationship with him is the only way that we can remain truly humble. Instead of looking down at people with pride, look at them with humility and compassion. When Jesus went out and preached, he looked out to the crowd and had compassion for them (Matthew 9:34). The story Jesus’ tells of the prodigal Son is even more so compelling (cf. Luke 15). When the son returned to the father after greatly shaming the father and living a life in sin, the father did not look upon his Son with pride; he looked at his son with love:
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began” (Luke 15:20-24).
The Father ran after his son. When we walk towards God, he comes running after us. We need to have more compassion for people when they are that their worst. Jesus loved us all at our very worse and he compels us by grace to return that love to everyone. That includes our enemies as well.
Simply amazing how great Jesus’ love is for all of us. Jesus took all of our sin, all of our failure, and all of our short-comings, upon the cross. He bore the full wrath of God out of sheer grace and love so that we may enter paradise in relationship of the Lord. When Jesus utter the words “it is finished” as he was crucified upon that cross, he really meant it. Meaning that you cannot add or take away what he is done, he has atoned for all of your sins so that no man could boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
God will keep building us up and keep helping us grow toward what He knows we can be. If we keep undermining the word of the Lord and His leading in our lives, we end up in a perpetual saga of crawling like a worm through our Christian life –always a victim and not a victor. Once you fully realize what Jesus did for you on the cross, you will come to the realization that you are not identified by what you’ve done but rather, you are identified by what he’s done.
Throw away the shackles of pride and come back to the cross.