Why It Is So Hard to Repent of Sinful Pride

Why It Is So Hard to Repent of Sinful Pride

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Pride is a catch-all word for sin. You could say that pride is sin, and sin is pride. Pride is a helpful word in that it accurately describes our fallenness. It is a word we know and a word we understand. For example, when I say that I am proud, everyone immediately knows that it is unacceptable and I need help. Pride is like a warning alarm that calls the gospel-centered person to action. The term gets you thinking and moving in the right direction, but pride also fails in its analysis because it misses fallenness specifics that need gospel solutions.

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Good Pride

Before I talk about sinful pride, let me touch on good pride because I know you’ve heard people say, “I’m proud of you,” and they mean it in a good way. Can pride be a good thing? People argue about this, but it’s not necessary. Though I don’t use the word pride, others do when what they mean is that someone or something has pleased them or they have found encouragement from what they did. That’s fine.

I don’t use the word pride because I’m not particularly eager to mix historical bad English words with good ones. It’s what John Piper did a few years ago when he talked about Christian hedonism. That was weird. Sometimes we can out-smart ourselves. I was not buying what he was selling then and still don’t. I get his point, but why make it that way? Why do we have to overreach or hyperbolize in such a way that we must reposition our brains to get on an awkward (or cutesy) wavelength?

Of course, I hope you’re proud of this article, though I would prefer you are pleased by it and that it encourages you. But one thing we all agree on is that the overwhelming intent of the word pride in the Bible and life is that it’s terrible. Pride is not a heart characteristic any of us want—unless you’re proud—because it’s a heinous sin. Thus, the question remains, why is it so hard to repent of pride?

Let’s Get Specific

Part of the problem is that the word pride does not get into the specifics of my sin. Since all sin is a form of pride, it is hard to repent of it. Take a test: name any sin and ask yourself if it’s a form of pride. Pride means to be lifted up, self-centered, self-worship, esteem yourself more than others, and other self-serving notions. There are a thousand ways to describe pride, and all of them mean sin or, you could say, “You’re selfish.”

Let’s say that the form of pride that I struggle with is self-righteousness, anger, arrogance, or laziness. All of these are manifestations of pride—our selfishness. A helpful way to think about pride is with the analogy of weeds growing out of a flower pot. Pride is the fertile “soil of the heart” from which the specific “weeds of sin” grow. Pride is like the container’s dirt, while the particular sins are the various weeds that grow out of the soil.

I know I’m proud, but the best help you can provide for me is to tease out the specific sin you see. When my friends point out my sin’s specifics, I have a better chance of going to God to receive his forgiveness and cleansing for my sinfulness—for my form of pride (1 John 1:9). It’s hard to put off what you’re unclear about (Ephesians 4:22).

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Go West, Young Man

Being non-specific about my sin is like telling me to go west but not giving me a specific destination. “Go west, young man.” I would point my wagon toward the setting sun and strike the mules on their rumps to get them going, but I would only be heading somewhere toward the Pacific Ocean without a clear goal in mind. I have options: Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, or Scottsdale. I need the specifics.

A broad characterization of the problem may reduce the counsel to suggest that you pray more and read your Bible. Though praying and Bible reading are excellent disciplines and can make redemptive progress, they are generally not enough for the granular level of sin (pride). Pride affirms what the Bible teaches but lacks the Bible’s sophistication.

It is not unusual to hear many we train say someone needs to repent of pride. Abuse counselors will say the heart of abuse is pride. Okay! While their assessment is accurate, I appeal to them to show more detail in their observations by asking God to reveal what manifestations of pride they are observing in those they are serving. Go beyond the specifics with the nuanced sophistication to get into the heart motivations, shaping influences, and theological problems they have with God.

The Heart of Pride

“I am sick” is one thing, but saying “I have the flu,” tells me more. We can better serve each other by thinking intelligently about what is wrong with us while bringing the gospel to each other in “customized” ways. The next time someone says you are proud, thank them for caring for you, but do not let him off the hook.

Make them tell you exactly how they see your pride working out in your life. (I’m assuming they have the character, capacity, competence, courage, and compassion to help you with the specifics.) Between the two of you, you should be able to get down to your sin’s nitty-gritty to repent fully. Let’s say a person abuses you. Don’t settle for the “pride answer.” Dig deeper to get to the heart of the problem to bring gospel solutions. Let me illustrate with abuse. It would look like the following:

Worship Structure

  1. Anger: Someone abused you, which is a form of anger.
  2. Self-reliance: He was acting out of a proud, sinful, or self-reliant heart, interchangeable words.
  3. Control: As you move into his heart, you will find the idol of control operating underneath.
  4. Comfort: The heart’s motivation for control is craving for the idol of comfort; he wanted something that made him feel better.
  5. Fear: The idol driving the craving for comfort is fear.
  6. Shame and Guilt: Fear is born out of the shaping influences of shame and guilt that come from Adamic fallenness and other evil things that happen to us, including our decisions.
  7. Unbelief: 1-6 flows from a heart of unbelief, the person who chooses to rely on himself rather than God.

The sequence that leads to abuse: Unbelief, Shame, Guilt, Fear, Comfort, Control, Anger, and Abuse.

At this point, you want to identify why this person chooses to rely on himself; why does he reject God’s rule over his life, choosing a prideful (sinful, selfish) way to accomplish an evil desire? Simply put, what is wrong with his relationship with God? There are three reasons he will not choose (trust) God: Anger, Afraid, and Ignorance. In all cases, it will be a combination of all three of these things.

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