Pride is universal—something we all deal with, ancient as Adam and relevant as the morning news. Yet we don’t always see it, for it grows like weeds around our lives.
Oh, we see it in the obvious ways, but we can be blind to its deceptive, subversive presence in our hearts. We know the disease, but we don’t recognize the symptoms. And that’s why we need the insight of our Great Physician to reveal its symptoms and release us from its grip.
Here are seven symptoms of pride I’ve been seeing in God’s Word as the Spirit works in my own life.
Pride is at the root of fear and anxiety when we refuse to humbly rest in God’s sovereign care. Fear simultaneously reveals our lack of trust and our poisonous self-reliance. We fear because we don’t have faith in the Lord, are enormously preoccupied with ourselves, and lack self-control.
When Peter stepped out on the stormy sea to come to Jesus, he was walking in humble faith. But when his gaze shifted to his circumstances and to self-preservation, he trusted in himself, became afraid, and began to sink. Jesus saved him while admonishing him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).
Self-sacrifice stems from a humble heart. Entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart.
The core of the gospel is that we are not entitled to anything except just punishment for our sins (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are, and deserve better than we have. We think we deserve God’s mercy. We think we deserve people’s praise. We think we deserve love, success, comfort, accolades. We certainly don’t think we deserve suffering, heartbreak, or discipline.
But when we experience these things, we grow bitter, frustrated, and disturbed because we believe we’re entitled to more. We forget that apart from Jesus we are rebels who deserve only condemnation.
The disciples regularly wrestled with entitlement. On one occasion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus’s response was a rebuke: “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
Our proud hearts say that we’re good, that we should get what we want, and if we don’t, that we’re justified in our ingratitude. If we’re somehow uncomfortable or inconvenienced, we can complain. It’s our right. Humility, meanwhile, recognizes that God is good and gives us what we need, so we have no reason to be ungrateful. We lack nothing (Deut. 2:7; Ps. 34:9).
The Israelites grumbled in the wilderness, though God fed, clothed, and led them through it (Ex. 16:2; Deut. 8:2). Their stubborn hearts rejected God’s daily mercies out of self-idolization. But God’s Word rebukes our whining: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent” (Phil. 2:14–15).
Pride is self-worship and self-preservation at all costs—and people-pleasing is the direct result. Some think people-pleasing is a positive trait because they’re so clearly concerned with serving others. But that’s nothing more than a sneaky sheepskin we put over a wolfish habit. People-pleasing is all about self-satisfaction—fearing man more than God—and seeking the fleeting happiness that comes from man’s approval.
The apostle Paul knew human approval was a pointless and prideful pursuit. Thus he could say, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Pride deceives us into thinking we can “do life” on our own—we’re capable, independent, unstoppable, self-reliant. We think that we don’t need God every hour, that we don’t need his help, grace, mercy, courage, and hope. So, surely, we don’t need to pray.
But a humble heart submits itself to God in prayer because it knows it can do nothing without him.
When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah’s response was not to go to God in prayer. Instead, he fled, his heart furiously and arrogantly silent (Jonah 1:3). Only when God humbled him in the fish’s belly did Jonah finally cry out in prayer (2:1).
When you’re proud, you elevate your status, forgetting the mercy God has shown you. You think you’re better than everyone else, so you easily find fault with others. Pride produces a hypocritical spirit.
The Pharisees’ hypocritical pride blinded them both to their sin and to God’s mercy—which made them cold-hearted and cruel toward others. Jesus had harsh words for them:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. (Matt. 23:27)
Rebellion against God manifests itself in resistance to God’s Word and God-ordained spiritual leaders. It’s the reflex of a prideful heart. It also shows itself in a lack of submission—wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to bosses, citizens to government. Rebellion says, I know better than you, God, when I don’t.
Even though Adam and Eve had all they needed for life and joy, they pridefully rebelled against God’s good decree, thinking they knew better than him. And this ancient rebellion brought untold pain, suffering, and death—for them and us.
Humbled for Us
Yet there is hope for the proud heart in the incarnation of humility, Jesus Christ. Immanuel—God with us—condescended to live among us, die for us, and raise us to new life. He never had a shred of sinful pride—no fear, no entitlement, no ingratitude, no people-pleasing, no prayerlessness, no hypocrisy, no rebellion (Phil. 2:4–6).
The God-man emptied himself of all he deserved to save us from all we deserve. He who was entitled to the highest honor forfeited it for our eternal good.
Because of his humility, we can be forgiven of our pride. That’s both the sting and the joy of the gospel. It deals with our pride by destroying it, reminding us that life is not about us, and that we deserve only the wrath of God. Jesus also deals with our pride by taking the just punishment for it on himself, that we might be renewed in the image of our Creator (Col. 3:10) and made humble like our Savior.
Being humbled is not smooth or painless, but it’s the daily rescue we need. Hallelujah to the Redeemer we have.
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