How to overcome pride – the root of all sin
Pride is a sin that affects all people.
Pride is a sin that has been the cause of tremendous misery throughout human history. And all people, whatever their background, upbringing or culture, are by nature full of pride. But it is possible to be transformed and, bit by bit, overcome pride completely in our lives!
What is pride?
I’m sure this could be answered in different ways, but perhaps the first thing to say is that pride is not a sin that you can commit in the same way as you commit adultery or tell a lie or cheat your taxes. It is rather an attitude of heart and a way of thinking. You can’t see the wind, but you can see the effects of the wind, and it’s the same with pride. Pride leads you to do those things. At its heart, pride is to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. (Romans 12:3.)
So, the obvious next question is, “How should I be thinking about myself?” Paul says I am to think “soberly.” What does that mean? The fact is that all of us, every human being who has ever been born since the days of Adam and Eve, has a fallen nature. We haveand desires in our flesh, which means our whole being is full of self-interest and self-will. Such a person cannot possibly live a good life in the fullest sense of the word – even if they do lots of “good” things, they are ultimately done with self-interest at heart.
Before I am converted to God, I give in to this self-interest whenever I think that’s best for me. And even after I am converted and begin seeking to do God’s will, the sin in my nature forces me to do many things that are foolish, selfish and hurtful to others. These sins, conscious or not, are serious and will have very grave consequences for my whole life, my family and my relationships with other people. Therefore, for me to think soberly is to understand that I have much to be saved from. That is the truth. There is much to learn – first and foremost from God through the Bible, His Holy Spirit, through the apostles, prophets and teachers He has placed in the church and from the other people He uses to help.
But if I am proud, I think I know and understand enough and am good enough to manage without all this help. I know how to live. I don’t need a teacher, or advice. I can decide what is right and wrong – and I will! And as a result, God and His Word do not feature in my thinking. Then I do all kinds of things that are wrong and hurtful to other people without even knowing it.
That is why it is written in Psalm 10:4, “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts.”
Pride is a sin that affects not just some people. Every human being has this tendency by nature to want to decide themselves what’s right and what’s wrong and do away with God’s laws.
Does that mean that pride is the root of all sin?
Yes. Isaiah 14:12-14 describes the thoughts of Lucifer, an angel who was perfect in wisdom and beauty: “I will ascend,” “I will exalt my throne,” and “I will be like the Most High.” This desire to exalt himself – his pride – was the first sin. Later, when he had been cast down to Earth as Satan, he tempted Eve to do exactly the same thing by saying that if she ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil then she would “be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5.)
The implication is that if she could ascend and be like God, she wouldn’t need God’s laws. Then she would herself be able to decide what was good and evil. She would not need God to say, “You can eat of all the trees, but not this one,” etc. The desire to decide myself and be my own boss, is at the root of all sin. It is pride. I want to do my will and disregard God’s will. It is no coincidence that “I will” appears five times in what Lucifer said. This is exactly the opposite of the spirit of Christ, who descended and who did not think being equal with God was something to be desired. (Philippians 2:5-11.)
How can we notice pride in ourselves?
For that we need two things. First, we need interaction with other people and circumstances – in other words we just need to live a normal life. If we could sit by ourselves on a tropical island where the weather was fine, we had everything we needed and nothing ever went “wrong,” we would probably find it hard to notice our own pride. But when we interact with others in the normal circumstances of life, it won’t be long before anger, resentment, irritation, envy, grumbling and complaining etc. raise their ugly heads. All of these sins have their root in my pride.
However, what’s even worse is that it’s also perfectly possible to feel justified in having all these negative reactions. In my ignorance and high-mindedness, I believe it’s acceptable to behave like that. So, in order to recognize these reactions for what they really are, I need a second, important ingredient – I need to have to do with God in my thoughts. That is what the Bible calls “fellowship” with God through His Word, through the Holy Spirit and through His servants in the church. Through these I get light (understanding) of what is causing me to react this way, so I begin to mourn over myself and grow in hatred for them. That is why one of the most foolish things I can possibly do in life is to withdraw from fellowship with other members of the body of Christ.
Sometimes people say that they are proud of something. Is that wrong?
No. There is something else which we sometimes call “pride” which can be positive. This is a feeling of satisfaction or joy which comes because I, my family, colleagues or friends have achieved something worthwhile. We often say we are “proud” of these things or of belonging to a certain team or group; there is nothing wrong with that kind of “pride.”
Similarly, if I have trained and have experience in my work or profession, it’s good I am confident I know what I am doing. It would be a pity if my doctor had no confidence that he was giving me the right medicine, or the pilot was guessing how to fly the plane I’m in!
This kind of “pride” is not sin; it is confidence that enables us to get things done. It has a good effect. However, it is quite different from the pride mentioned further above, which is the root of all sin.
What are some examples of pride?
There are many, many ways that the effects of pride are manifested in the way a person behaves or in what a person does. Here is just a tiny sample of some examples of pride:
- Being offended – because I or my family have been treated in a way which was “beneath me/us.” I or we should have had better or fairer treatment.
- Getting angry – how dare people treat me like that or talk to me in such a way? – I who am so important.
- Being passive and inactive – because I don’t feel I can do things perfectly. I might make a mistake and look stupid. So, if I can’t be perfect, I’m not going to do anything.
- Being silent and not saying what I think – because I might say something that is a mistake.
- Being agitated and unrestful – because people have been speaking negatively about me behind my back. I can’t bear the reproach and dishonor, so I have to run around trying to explain my actions or motives.
- By boasting – because when I tell an incident or recount an event it’s very important for me that I do so in a way which puts me in the best possible light.
- By lying – because if I tell the truth people will think badly of me or I might get into trouble and it’s vital that everyone thinks well of me.
- Despising other people – because they do things differently to me and I think my way is better, more cultured or refined. Or I think they are less clever, gifted or well-off etc. And in any case, by putting other people down, I myself feel that bit more superior!
- Being discouraged – because things don’t go how I would like them to, and I don’t see how they will. This doesn’t look like pride, but it is sin, because my feelings and plans take higher rank in my life than God’s will and leading.
How do we overcome pride?
By becoming aware of it and its effects and consciously working against it in our thoughts, words and deeds, we can overcome pride.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8. When we have to do with God in our thoughts, it brings chastening and judgment. We see our shortcomings. We get to realize where pride is at work. We understand where our self-will is alive, so we can humble ourselves by being obedient to God’s laws. Which is why it goes on to say later in the same chapter, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord …” James 4:10.
Read also: What is true humility?
What does it mean to “humble yourself?”
Well, what it doesn’t mean is to go around in a discouraged state telling myself I’m useless, hopeless, that I’m too bad to change, etc. It has nothing to do with adopting some kind of so-called “humble” outward behavior either. These things are useless in dealing with pride. In any case, they are in exact opposition to God’s Word which gives hope to every human being no matter how deeply they have sinned. So, these things are actually pride in disguise!
No, Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient.” (Philippians 2:8.) It’s not possible to humble myself without being willing to obey God’s commandments. For example, I don’t want to flee youthful lusts. (2 Timothy 2:22.) I think I will gain happiness and be much better off if I fulfill them. That’s how people think naturally, which is why the world is full of tragic stories of how such behavior has led to heartache. But if I am willing to accept that God’s laws are true, so I flee away with all my heart, then I have humbled myself. Whatever anyone else thinks, that’s a fact!
It’s the same when I feel worried but still do what is written: “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God …” Philippians 4:6. Doing that when I am tempted to the very opposite is what it means to humble myself, because then I’m being obedient to God’s will instead of my own. That is a perfect antidote to thinking I know it all and don’t need God’s help. Such humility is the opposite of the sin of pride. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ!
You may be interested in reading more on our topic page about pride, or in the articles below.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.