By Dr. Michael A. Milton, Crosswalk.com
We have all, likely, heard the maxim from Solomon: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 KJV). Of course, King Solomon’s saying is more than a motto. It is the God-breathed Word of the Lord that both warns wayfaring believers and welcomes sinners. This passage reveals that there is an existing, innate sin that is so powerful and pervasive that it can be identified, without further investigation, as the undeniable culprit of every personal, community, national, and even cosmic case of self-destruction. Moreover, the passage alerts us to the prominent symptom: “a haughty spirit.” A haughty spirit is the deeply flawed and deadly erroneous conviction that one is better than others. Indeed, the self-fitted blinders ensure that no negative self-image is allowed into personal view.
Augustine called pride the first of all sins. It is the sin that caused Satan to rebel in eternity past and to be kicked out of heaven, taking with him his fellow prideful angelic beings. There are several words in the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek that are translated into English as “pride," "haughty," and prideful.” For the sake of this article, we will summarize: when pride is attributed to God it is good. When pride is attributed to man, it is sin." A caveat to consider: In the English language, we often attribute what we might call the “godly pride” to a state of mind, or human response that is more properly intended to convey: “gratitude: e.g., when a parent sees her child obey her command, or when we stand for the national anthem. Of course, these and other forms of “godly pride,” i.e., “a sense of gratitude, fulfillment, or admiration,” can be, like other emotions, malevolently armed to become sinful weapons to boast, best, or belittle.
Here are 4 things Christians need to know about pride:
1. The Sin of Pride Is Conceived in Idolatry
Proverbs 16:2 says, "All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit." The divine insight follows the alarming declaration of verse one, "The plans of the heart belong to man."
It was the great Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), who famously warned us in the Institutes that the human mind was a veritable factory of idolatry. Yet, Calvin also told us that the first widget out of the factory line was human pride.
“. . . they have within their own persons a factory wherein innumerable operations of God are carried on . . . [but rather than producing virtuous things that would helpful to Man and honoring to God produce something else] ideas that are “inflated and swelled with pride.”
John Calvin was merely expositing the biblical truth of Proverbs 16: “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes." Now, the eternal danger of this truth is that as we intentionally untether ourselves from God and His revelation; we immediately replace God’s creed with our creed, and rebuild God’s code of ethics with our code of ethics (based on our own desires). Invariably, we were at the center of the creed. Even in this act of defiance, we are cruelly and tragically mistaken. For we become slaves to the true master on our self-made throne: Satan.
This insidious strike of pride occurs in the native grasses of our lives: our schools, our workplaces, and our homes. The sin of pride can creep into our ambitions for high marks at school, into plans for ourselves at work, into our relationships as men and women, and even in parenting. Christian pastors are most susceptible to this scheme. What begins as a desire to be prepared to serve God is hijacked by a desire to promote self. Such common foolishness leads to a plan to promote self.
There is no other way to escape the certain death pride-cycle than to arrest and eradicate the toxic sin with the infinitely greater power of the cross of Christ! Mercifully, the antidote is within your reach. For you have only to cry to Jesus Christ and to confess your waywardness to him. "Commit your work for the Lord, and your plans will be established" (Proverbs 16:3).
2. The Sin of Pride Is Counterproductive to Your Deepest Desires
Proverbs 16:3 declares, "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."
This is the Christian hedonism that Dr. John Piper has taught for many years. Piper’s thought is essentially the popularization of the theology of the great American theologian and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards stressed that the deepest desires of our lives are implanted by God and therefore are holy before the Lord. Thus, the very things that in the authentic cry of the soul, we most desire, God most delights in meeting. Pride distorts those desires, disfigures the dreams, and disrupts the asking and receiving of the cry of the human soul. This is why Scripture warns us to, “Commit” our work to the Lord, and our plans will be established.” More, as the psalmist put it, “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
3. The Sin of Pride Is Condemned to Certain Punishment
Listen to the warning very carefully: “Everyone who is arrogant in the heart is an abomination to the little; be assured, he will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 16:5).
It is not just some who are bitten by the sin of pride who will be punished; but, rather, everyone. The toxic effect of this sin is not limited to certain stations or statures of a person. In the end, pride knows no distinctions. King and pauper, man and woman, rich and poor will certainly die from pride's “kiss of death” unless there is an immediate and singular healing intervention. So, also, sinful pride is an abomination before the Lord and will initiate the certain, unstoppable ticking of divine time that will lead to just punishment in this life and, or in, the next. Unless there is an antidote provided quickly, the cosmic clock begins ticking toward the midnight hour of judgment.
4. The Sin of Pride Is Conquered by the Antidote of God
This remarkable passage in Proverbs 16, about the pride of man, also contains the glorious gospel about the power of God! And what is this power? it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This powerful antidote to pride’s poison is countered by the extraordinary covenant love of God in Christ. Listen to this wonderful passage and consider its immediate implications for healing in your life:
“By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord, one turns away from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).
The cure for the sin of pride is located in the steadfast love of God.
This is the Lord’s “hesed” in the original biblical Hebrew. Hesed is grace, mercy, and the covenant love of God's loyal and everlasting faithfulness which is always available for anyone who cries out to God through the mediator of this covenant, His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. This medicine is not only effective but its effect is immediate! Jesus spoke of the antidote to sin in John 3 and used Numbers 21 as an example:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14 NASB)
The Paradox of Healing from Pride's Poison
“‘Snake anti-venom works much like a vaccine,’ says Dr. Mercy Njuguna, the marketing manager for Sanofi Pasteur, a French pharmaceutical company that manufactures snake anti-venom for primarily Africa. ‘You need the snake to make the anti-venom,’ she says.” (ABC News, 'Snakebit')
This truth from creation is a divine whisper for those who will hear with faith. For the only cure for the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness was, of all things, to look to an image of a snake on a stick. Images were forbidden as idolatry. Yet, this one bronze statue of a serpent became the divinely-sanctioned means for salvation. God was not to be imagined through images that could be made by hands. Yet, our Lord Jesus is called “the image” of the fulness of the Triune God. (Col. 1:15-17, ESV)
But the real paradoxical power is the cross. The instrument of shame was transformed by Christ’s sacrifice as the sign of salvation. The portrait of cruel death became the pathway for everlasting life. Pride is the deadly king of iniquity, a serpentine-like toxic sin. Jesus Christ—His life lived for you, His death for your sins—is the only antidote to pride. And this medicine from heaven not only heals but can transform the deadened flesh into useful tissue for life.
What hope resides in these simple words, “Whoever gives thought to the Word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20b).
Isn’t it time to give some thought about the Word? Keep its truth, the glorious healing power of the gospel, near you throughout all of the days of your life. For when pride strikes, you possess the cure. There is enough anti-venom to heal the entire world. Share it with others, look to Christ and live.
- Calvin, Jean. “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In Institutes of the Christian Religion, 17. Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
- Calvin, John. Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960.
- Green, William M. “Initium Omnis Peccati Superbia Augustine on Pride as the First Sin” (1949).
- Piper, John. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Multnomah Pub, 2011.
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Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary) Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.