This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Why is pride considered so destructive to the life of the believer and the church? When does healthy self-esteem cross the line into arrogance and sin?
Pride is named as the first sin because it caused Satan’s fall from heaven even before creation (see Ezekiel 28 which begins by condemning the pride of the king of Tyre but describes the pride of Satan in 28:14-17, NIV). All the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible translated pride or proud describe a wrong attitude of the heart, a haughty spirit. Proverbs 16:18 best describes this negative use of the word—"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."
But the English dictionary gives positive as well as negative uses of the word pride. We today can use the word to express satisfaction taken in one’s work, a deep love for something treasured and genuinely valuable, or society’s esteem for a hero. Not recognizing this distinction between positive and negative meanings of the word has caused some parents to refuse to give their children words of commendation, fearing that such expressions will lead to arrogant and haughty pride. Unfortunately, these children can grow up thinking that they have no value or significance. Proper teaching can instill an understanding of the worth God has placed in His creation without leading to arrogance and haughtiness. Paul recognized the need to appreciate one’s own worth and gifts, but he also cautioned against allowing such thoughts to become self-centered and competitive. Writing to the church at Rome, he said, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment" (Rom. 12:3).
Having made that distinction, we must come back to the fact that arrogant pride is despicable in the eyes of God. It all too subtly takes hold of the unwary person, for it is inherent in the fallen nature of humankind. Only through divine help can we be the humble persons the Bible honors.
At the heart of arrogant pride is resistance against God’s rightful claim to the love and obedience of His creation. Self-centered pride causes a person to think he or she can do everything needed for survival and happiness. There is no need for God, for such pride makes one a god in his own eyes.
After declaring independence from God, the proud person imagines himself as excelling over others. This self-centered tendency to elevate self leads to ignoring other people or using them for personal gain, depreciating or even seeking to injure or humiliate them (Psa. 10:2-4, 1 Tim. 1:12,13). In society or a sub-culture, collective pride can lead to racism, class snobbery, and prejudice.
Pride is not always recognized by the one who is wrongfully proud. A checklist of common manifestations of pride as described in Scripture is helpful: speaking ill of persons behind their backs (Psa. 101:5), a proud, haughty look (Prov. 6:17), drunken boasting (Isaiah 28:1), delight in ruling people (Matt. 20:25,26), accepting undeserved acclaim (Acts 12:21-23), boasting in one’s wisdom (1 Cor. 3:19-21), taking pride in one’s superiority to others (1 Cor. 4:6,7), selfish ambition or vain conceit (Phil. 2:3,4), boasting of future plans (James 4:13-16), ignoring advice from older, spiritual people (1 Peter 5:5,6), and refusing to submit to anyone else (Eph. 5:21).—adapted from Ralph Harris, Symptoms of Pride
A wrongful pride can worm its way into one’s life if we are not constantly on guard. Even when pride is not openly blatant, because one deliberately conceals its presence, it saps the spiritual life that complete dependence on God provides. There are times when we must pray the prayer of David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalm 139:23,24).
"Dying to self" has been used as a description for dealing with arrogant pride. But God does not expect a total obliteration of awareness of who we are and what our abilities may be. Eight times in the New Testament we read, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (NIV). It is therefore impossible to love others as we should if we do not love ourselves and see the value placed by God in us.
Furthermore, there is a pretended humility that can actually be a cover for inner pride. One must not take pride in his humility or in any other virtue or character fruit the Holy Spirit has cultivated in us.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.