God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6b ESV)
Biblical Definitions of Sinful Pride
- A Desire to Be God (Isaiah 14:13-14)
- Moral Self-Righteousness (Luke 18:11)
- Confidence in One's Accomplishments (Daniel 4:28-37)
- Ambition for Prominence (Mark 10:35-45)
- Lack of Teachability (Hebrews 13:17)
Pride is a grievous sin. It can be egregious yet inconspicuous. Because it is so deceptive, we are often oblivious to our pride. Awareness of pride is essential since it hinders our relationship with God.
There are 6 forms of pride taught in Scripture that we must recognize. Because we expect pride when we succeed, the first three forms are more obvious. Since we don’t expect pride when we fail, the second three forms are less conspicuous.
1. Self-exaltation: Pride gives credit to himself.
When a person succeeds and gives himself credit, he is prideful. This is the athlete who yells, “I am the greatest.” This is the scientist who proclaims, “I am the smartest.” This is the politician who brags, “I am the sole reason for our success.”
God reminds us that every good thing comes from him.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:16–17)
Our human tendency is to credit ourselves when we succeed. We attribute our physical beauty to our healthy diet and consistent exercise. We believe our work ethic created our financial success. We applaud our kindness for our many friendships. Jesus warns that God will humble those that exalt themselves.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
Everything good comes from God. We contribute nothing. God accomplished everything, including everything that pertains to our salvation.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Never exalt yourself. Self–exaltation is the first form of pride.
2. Self-promotion: Pride welcomes credit from others.
Instead of exulting himself, some let others exalt him. But accepting credit from others is another form of pride. When we put forth our virtue and success so that others complement us, we are being prideful. Jesus chided those who paraded their righteous behavior to promote attention.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:1–2)
15 years ago, I taught over 100 children in a vacation Bible school. On the fourth day, I shared a poignant story that illustrated the gospel. I invited the children to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Nearly all the children responded by raising their hands. That day, our teachers led many dozens of children in prayer to receive Christ.
Afterward, about 30 adults told me my gospel presentation was amazing. I never once exalted myself, but my soul welcomed other’s praise. That day, I was consumed with sinful pride.
Never promote yourself. Self–promotion is the second form of pride.
3. Self-justification: Pride expects credit from God Himself.
We should resist seeking applause from other people. Likewise, we should avoid seeking God’s admiration. Expecting credit from God is another form of pride.
You may be troubled by this statement, so let’s review the logic. There is nothing honorable or virtuous within ourselves. We are utterly sinful, and God’s wrath abides on us.
Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross is the only reason we avoid God’s anger, punishment, and judgment. He bore our guilt, and he credits us his righteousness when we place our trust in him. Consequently, our fellowship with God is restored because of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
God promises us heavenly reward, but our right standing and our capacity to obey is solely through Christ’s work of salvation and his enablement through the Holy Spirit.
Applying this logic, we conclude that a jihadist exhibits tremendous pride. The jihadist believes that when he fights in a holy war for the right principles, even unto death, he will be justified and rewarded by his god. The thought that you can earn God’s approval by your actions is a deadly form of pride.
Through Scripture, we know that God does not seek this type of worshipper. God is looking for a person who recognizes that he is spiritually destitute. He has nothing to offer. He comes to God as a beggar pleading for grace he does not deserve.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
We have peace with God because he freely gave us that position through Christ. If we believe our right standing with him comes from ourselves, our self–justification becomes self–righteousness.
Jesus illustrates this truth when describing a Pharisee who expected commendation from men and God himself.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:10–14)
Never justify yourself. Self-justification is the third form of pride.
4. Self-degradation: Pride tears himself down.
The next three forms of pride are subtle since they are disclosed in failure. Many don’t expect to find pride in their hearts when they are failing. In fact, people often view failure as an opportunity for humility. A common phrase when you lose is “eating humble pie.”
When you tear yourself down, you are being prideful. You are prideful because you are self-absorbed. You are focusing on yourself. You are pre-occupied with yourself.
Pride is ultimately self-preoccupation. A prideful person thinks about himself. He is ambivalent to others, and he forgets Christ. So instead of rejoicing in the success of others and trusting in God’s sovereignty, a prideful person concerns only himself.
A suicidal person is prideful. He has other thoughts (helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness) and painful emotions, but he is also prideful. His worldview revolves around himself and loses concern for his loved ones. He does not "seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness." A humble man forgets about himself and focuses on God and others, while a prideful person is pre–occupied with himself.
The great secret to humility is not to focus on yourself at all, but to fill your mind and heart with the glory of God revealed in the sin-conquering death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Never degrade yourself. Self-degradation is a fourth form of pride.
5. Self-demotion: Pride compares himself to others.
A prideful person can degrade himself privately, or he may demote himself publicly. This is a fifth form of pride. Self-demotion is announcing that you have performed worse than others. You convince others that you are less or you have less. You argue in public that compared to others, you are inferior. You create a “pity party” for yourself.
The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego and the desire of the self-pitying is not really for others to see them as helpless, but as heroes. The need self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.
Self-demotion is another form of self–promotion. When you castigate yourself in front of other people, you are fishing for affirmation. You want others to reaffirm, “No, you are not a loser; you are a winner.” Placing yourself as inferior to others is another form of pride.
You might even change your comparison to make yourself feel superior. By looking for someone else with whom to compare yourself, you can puff yourself up. The line of reasoning goes like this: even though I’m worse than you, I’m still better than him.
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man... It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.
The practice of comparison and competition welcomes the temptation of pride. Guard against comparing yourself with others to make yourself look good. Don’t seek attention and affirmation from others by making yourself look inferior.
Never demote yourself. Self-demotion is a fifth form of pride.
6. Self-condemnation: Pride judges himself.
The sixth form of pride is private, manifesting itself in times of personal failure. It does not seek the affirmation, approval, and admiration of others. Instead, this form of pride occurs when a person condemns himself because he does not meet his own standard.
Sometimes we mislabel self-condemnation as depression. We think a person who hopelessly condemns himself is depressed, so we attempt to cheer him up. When we are unsuccessful in changing his mindset, we conclude his depression runs deep. But the man who condemns himself is not primarily dealing with depression. His root problem is pride.
The self–condemned person places his perspective, standard, and assessment above everyone else. He resists God’s grace because he denies God is the true source of salvation, blessing, and truth. He refuses the help of others. Compared to his companions and God, he thinks he knows better.
The self–condemned person makes himself judge. He seizes the rightful authority away from God and gives it to himself.
The humble man relinquishes all desire to pass judgment on himself. He understands that he stands condemned in God’s presence; God has the authority and power to condemn us. So instead of judgment, the humble man begs for mercy.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:3–6)
Never condemn yourself. Self–condemnation is the sixth form of pride.
Final Thoughts on Pride
Ask yourself these six questions:
- Do I exalt myself?
- Do I promote myself?
- Do I justify myself?
- Do I degrade myself?
- Do I demote myself?
- Do I condemn myself?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it's likely you have sinful pride. Replace your pride with God’s glory revealed to us through Christ’s finished work on the cross.
I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.
Helpful Articles on Pride in the Bible
- Pride and Humility - TableTalk Jan 2022
- 10 Key Bible Verses on Pride
- How Do I Kill My Pride
- Humility Is Not Hating Yourself: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness
Helpful Books on Humility
- Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness (Gavin Ortlund)
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