Pride and Humility — CBCD | Center for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship (thecbcd.org)
The prophet Zephaniah has much to teach us about pride and humility. In the book, he exhorts the humble of the earth to seek further humility (Zephaniah 2:3), and God promises His judgment will come upon proud nations (Zephaniah 2:8, 10, 15). On the coming Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:7, 14-16, 18; 2:2-3; 3:8), God will remove all the proud and haughty, and leave for Himself a people humble and lowly (Zephaniah 3:11-12).
The prophet Isaiah foresaw the same. Isaiah warned, “the Lord of hosts has a Day against all that is proud and lofty” (Isaiah 2:12). At that time, “the haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:11).
As these prophets denounce human pride, they also describe the essential nature of the sin. It could be argued that the quintessential utterances of sinful pride are found in these books: in Zephaniah, the proud superpower Assyria “lived securely [and] said in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else’” (Zephaniah 2:15); in Isaiah, the proud superpower Babylon “sits securely and says in her heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me’” (Isaiah 47:8).
If you are familiar with the Bible, when you hear these words you should say in your heart, “Wow, that sure sounds like something God would say about Himself!” That’s exactly the point. The prophets are teaching us something very important: pride puts self in the place of God.
Assyria and Babylon’s words echo God’s own claims about Himself in the book of Isaiah. For example, in Isaiah 45 God says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-6). There are many other such statements in Isaiah, where the Lord asserts His own holy uniqueness as the only God. He is the only self-sufficient one. He is the only self-existing one. He is the only one whom there is none beside.
But Assyria and Babylon, in their carefree, jubilant confidence, say to themselves (about themselves), “I AM, and there is no one else.” There is no other like me. I need no other. I am self-secure, self-sufficient, self-satisfied. It’s almost as if they said, “From me, and through me, and for me, are all things” (Romans 11:36). As the Puritan Thomas Watson put it, “Pride seeks to ungod God.”
Sinful pride is assuming for oneself the prerogatives that should be God’s alone, or grasping for oneself the glory that should be God’s alone. It is looking to self, instead of God, as the ultimate source of what is needed, and/or boasting in self, instead of God, as the ultimate accomplisher of what is good. Pride trusts in self as the ultimate provider, sustainer, blessing-bestower, protector, or savior somehow, or pride treats self as the ultimate master, lawgiver, or judge somehow (cf. James 4:12, in the broader context of pride/humility: 4:6, 10, 16). The proud do not seek God, which is a hallmark of the humble (Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12), because they have themselves to rely on.
Of course, most of the sinful pride we see around us and in us is not as blatant and egregious as the words of ancient Assyria and Babylon. It is almost frightening how subtle sinful pride can be! Nevertheless, we must recognize that all sinful human pride, when you dig down to the root of it, is an effort to deify self. Every single proud thought, word, and deed of ours in some way usurps for self what belongs to God alone, or claims for self what is true of God alone.
Pride is at play wherever there is self-reliance, self-promotion, and self-service, instead of relying on God, exalting God, and serving God (which we do by serving others). We don’t often consider these ugly true colors of pride, but this is what pride really is, at the bottom: seeking to put self in the place of God, somehow.
So we see that pride is not just rebellion against God. It is actually a kind of rivalry with God. And God treats the proud in kind: He opposes the proud (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). He must. That is what is right and good, because He is, and there is none beside Him. He is God alone.
If the essential nature of sinful pride is usurping prerogatives or positions that belong to God, then true humility must, first and foremost, express itself by acknowledging God, trusting in God, and seeking to exalt God. If someone is not actively depending on God and living for His glory, he cannot be seen as a truly humble person. People who are self-sufficient and God-ignoring are proud, no matter how mild-mannered they might be. Before anything else, pride and humility are defined by how one relates to God.
Furthermore, if pride takes for self privileges and positions that are not actually one’s own, then the highest form of humility must include a willingness to set aside the rights and honors that are truly one’s own, for the good of others. The glory of this high humility has never shined brighter than at the cross of Christ.
God’s Son and King rode humbly into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-7) on a mission that was more astonishingly humble than Assyrian and Babylon were astonishingly proud. The people of Assyria and Babylon, though they were just men, boasted in their hearts as if they were gods. But Jesus, though He was God, actually became a man! In humility, He did not count His rightful equality with God a thing to be held on to just for His own advantage (Philippians 2:6). He emptied Himself, and being found in human form He lived like the lowest servant, humbling Himself even to the point of death…even the lowly, humiliating death of a cross, as if He was a sinner cursed and rejected of God (Philippians 2:7-8, Isaiah 53:3-9). The King of glory humbly set aside His glory (2 Corinthians 8:9) to save His people from their sinful pride. He laid down His life to make them God’s special people, instead of God’s opponents. God’s purpose of grace is to transform all those whom Christ saved into a people humble and lowly (Zephaniah 3:12), thus conformed to the image and glory of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:29).
Pastor Timothy J. Atkins
Husband, Father, Grandfather, Pastor, Teacher, Discipler, and Follower of Jesus.