1 John 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (ESV)
I maintain that pride is the root of almost all sin. The remaining sin stems from fear. Our pride and our fear are the two things that lead us into every other sin that we commit, and actually, both fear and pride are rooted in selfishness. We sin either because we pridefully assume that we deserve something, or because we fear that we will miss out on something, and these are, at the core, the same thing anyway.
Take Eve. She sinned because of both pride and fear. She pridefully assumed that she deserved to be like God, and she feared that she might miss out on something if she did not eat the forbidden fruit. Thus, original sin was born.
Sin is putting faith in oneself instead of in God. Selfishness. Pride. Unbelief.
Here is an aside: I think it is strange the way we discuss our physical ailments. We describe in detail the horrors of a hospital visit, or a surgery, or a virus that we suffered. We compare notes, offer and take advice about treatments, preventions, and good doctors. We pray for the sick all the time. All the time.
However (aside continued), we do not ever talk about our struggles with sin. Even with our best, most trusted friends, we rarely (possibly never) sit down and have a heart to heart talk about the sin we suffer. If we do bring up our sin, it is usually accompanied by a lot of hand-patting and self-justification, rationalization. Pride enables us to turn a blind eye to the very sin it induces us to commit.
Pride is a very, very difficult thing to conquer.
Pride is also sticky because you can't beat it while you focus on it. To say, "I am not prideful. I am working hard to overcome my pride," is like saying, "I am not thinking about that vase on the table. Not going to think about the vase on the table. Putting the image of that vase on the table right out of my mind." It's impossible. Uriah Heep, from David Copperfield, is literature's best example of the conundrum of pride and humility. Over and over, Uriah Heap tells people how "umble" he is. Of course, he is not humble at all, but full of pride, greed, and vice. Watch out for anyone who goes around telling you that he's humble. Just saying.
Once I heard a sermon about how to deal with an addiction to pornography (this is going somewhere, don't worry). The pastor said that once those images are burned into one's mind, it is nearly impossible to get rid of them: the more one tries not to think about them, the more they appear in the mind's eye. The pastor taught that instead of focusing on the improper images, the best way to battle the problem is to focus on the Lord, on scripture, on memorizing Bible verses and filling ("overwriting") the mind with other things:
"Finally brother, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
I think the same strategy applies to pride. Rather than trying to combat pride directly, we need to focus on God. The more we think about God, the more our hearts begin to change.
First, as we focus on God, we start to realize how small we are in comparison to Him, how insignificant and inconsequential, how powerless and unremarkable.
"When I look at the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4, ESV)
"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.' Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to Him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against Him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory." (Isaiah 45:22-23, ESV)
Second, as we focus on God, we ultimately stop thinking about ourselves at all. This cannot happen while we are thinking about it; that's the truly uncomfortable part of it. For instance, in writing about pride, I myself am full of it. The only time we truly have pride licked is when we are not aware of it at all. Unfortunately, the same is true for when pride has completely licked us: we are blind to that condition, and also unaware. Even unawareness does not guarantee that we have successfully dealt with our pride.
The remedy is to look back to the Lord. We must constantly look to Him.
"To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy upon us." (Psalm 123:2. ESV)
How do I know when I am full of pride? Here are some warning signs:
- I am sure that I am right, and that someone else is categorically wrong. This means that I am failing to consider someone else's point of view. In a conflict, I must always take the time to think through the other person's point of view, and to give the person the benefit of the doubt as I try to figure it out.
- I am convinced that I "have the right." If I find myself struggling and fighting to preserve "my rights," I am probably in bad shape. Philippians 2 is all about how Jesus, who had "the right" more than anyone else ever did, laid all His rights down in obedience to the Father. Grasping for personal rights has no place in a humble heart. This is hard. Additionally, it requires a lot of wisdom, because we are also called to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16) and to stand firm for what is right. We are not called to be doormats. However, being able to discern between the righteousness that pleases God and "my rights" is well nigh impossible when pride is involved.
- I am disdainful of someone else. Disdain can wear many faces. I can be disdainful of someone who does not know the proper way to behave, but I can just as easily be disdainful of someone who (according to my judgment) is overly concerned about the proper way to behave. Feeling empowered to judge someone else is a sure warning sign for pride. Sometimes we don't even realize that we are judging someone else, because we are busy judging him for judging us, feeling defensive. It is all tremendously messy and complicated. This is a subject for another day.
"...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:5b-7, ESV)
"...But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2b)