The Christian tradition of the seven deadly sins firmly maintains that pride is the chief of all sins.   The title of the chapter on pride in C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is “The Great Sin.”  So strongly is the centrality and destructive force of pride felt that it is often listed separately from the seven sins as the source of the others.  Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) states that pride is the “queen of sins,” and that the seven are its “captains.” As pride’s “first progeny,” they “spring … from this poisonous root” (Moralia xxxi:45).

While both traditions point to pride as the root sin, they are not in agreement about its relationship to the seven deadly sins.  As quoted above, Gregory separates pride from the seven.  He then places vainglory or vanity in his list of the seven deadly sins.  On the other hand, Lewis understands vainglory as a milder form of pride.  He then argues that pride is one of the seven and at the same time the root of the other six.  Attributing to pride a kind of double duty, as Lewis does, can muddy the water.  Also, while recognizing the close relationship between pride and vanity, there is a legitimate distinction between the two.  Therefore, in this essay the more ancient practice will be followed. Pride will be interpreted as the root of all the seven sins, and vainglory will be included as one of the seven.[1]

Pride can be defined as an exaggerated sense of one’s importance and accomplishments.  “Exaggerated” speaks to pride as a false conception, an error.  It is thus a sin against the truth.  As a false view of our self, it relates directly to who we are, to our heart.  As a false view of our accomplishments, it relates to what we do.  Furthermore, pride’s focus on the self results in sin against God and neighbor.

The apostle Paul’s most systematic presentation of the gospel is found in Romans.  In order to show humanity’s need for the gospel, Paul describes the nature and devastating consequences of sin in Romans 1:18-3:20. He contends that the fundamental sin we humans commit is “suppressing the truth” about God and becoming idolaters (Romans 1:18-25).

In the extensive catalogue of sins that follows humans are said to be, among other things, “insolent, haughty, boastful” (1:30).  It is important to note that these three biblical words relating to pride come on the heels of the statement that sinful men are “haters of God” (v. 30).  In fact, cognates of the last two of our three words from Romans 1:30 are used by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:2 to describe the proud and arrogant who are “lovers of self” and not “lovers of God” (v. 4).

Paul’s understanding of pride as rejecting the truth about God and self reflects the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, which was probably in the apostle’s mind when he wrote Romans.  The main thrust of the serpent’s attack on the woman concerns truth.  He calls into question God’s command prohibiting the man and the woman from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v. 1).  He then explicitly denies the truthfulness of God’s warning that they will die if they eat of it (v. 4).

Denial of the truth of God and his word leads to the denial of the truth of the woman’s humanity.  This was already implicit in the disavowal that she would die from disobeying God—as if humanity could live apart from God.  In verse 5 the serpent claims that the reason for the prohibition was that she was a threat to God’s supremacy.  She would be like God, knowing good and evil.  However, “knowing good and evil” is God’s prerogative as the sovereign lord (3:22).  For example, the expression “good and evil” is used to describe David’s and Solomon’s authority as kings of Israel to decide what is right and wrong and judge cases (2 Samuel 14:17; 1 Kings 3:9).   These other biblical usages of the phrase support the interpretation that the temptation was to reject God’s authority to define good and evil or to exercise moral autonomy.    She would be like God in the sense that she could determine for herself what is good and evil.  As always, the good and the truth are perverted by evil, since being like God was the very nature of the human person as his image, but not in the twisted sense that the serpent claimed.

Thus, this is the essential nature of the sin of pride—to deny the truth about who God is and who we are.  The consequences inevitably follow.  There is shame (v. 7), as sinful humans recognize that their pride is a sham that must be hidden from others and ultimately even from themselves.  Their hiding from God and being afraid of him demonstrate the rupture in the relationship with God that pride causes (v. 10).  Human relationships are also spoilt by pride as they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and blame others (vv. 9-10), ending in a power struggle between the man and the woman for dominance (v. 16).  The breakdown in social relations, detailed by Paul in Romans 1:28-31, is vividly portrayed in Genesis 4 by Cain’s murder of Abel (v. 8) and Lamech’s violence and boasting that his vengeance is greater than God’s (vv. 23-24).  On a corporate or national level pride’s foolish challenge to God is exemplified in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) in which the people sought to build a tower “with its top in the heavens” and to “make a name” for themselves (v. 4).

As was said before, pride can be defined as an exaggerated sense of one’s importance and accomplishments, a sin against the truth.  In opposition to pride, the Bible counsels humility.  Biblical humility is to think neither too lowly nor too highly of oneself.  It is “rather a form of clear-sightedness.  It is realism about ourselves plus trust in God”[2]  Humility is committed to the truth about who we are and to proper relationships.

Evagrius (345-399), a monk whose writing perhaps gave origin to the idea of the deadly sins, describes the consequences of pride in Praktikos, chapter 14.  His description helps to clarify both what humility is and also its relation to the biblical triad of faith, love, and hope. “The demon of pride conducts the soul to its worst fall. It urges it:

[1] not to admit God’s help

[2] and to believe that the soul is responsible for its own achievements,

[3] and to disdain the brethren as fools because they do not all see this about it.”

A proud person does not want to admit that he is a creature made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Faith, on the other hand, confesses the truth of what we are.  As creatures, we are dependent upon God.  We need God’s help to accomplish anything worthwhile and to overcome our sins.  Thus, he, not we, is ultimately responsible for our achievements.

Humility fosters a proper relationship of trust in God.  As we trust in his wisdom, we experience the beauty of his person and begin to learn to love him, which is the heart of the first and great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30; Deuteronomy 6:5).

Humility also results in proper relationships with others. As we realize and rejoice in who we are as God’s creatures, we desire his praise and seek his glory, not our own.  We do not need to be praised by others, to boast in who we are, and, above all, not to arrogantly disdain others for supposedly not seeing how great we are.  A true view of ourselves leads to obedience to the second commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31; Leviticus 19:18).

Finally, humility’s true view of the self engenders hope.  No longer nagged by the hidden doubts stemming from the false pretentions of pride or even overwhelmed with guilt at failing to live up to the lies we or others have created about our self we joyfully accept that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), shaped by God, the master artist.  We understand too that our destiny is not to continue to be wracked with sin and guilt.  Instead, we know that “we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus) appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).  We shall fulfill our true self as the image of God, bearing “the image of the man of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:49),” Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Next, we shall tackle pride’s pitiful little sister—vainglory or vanity.

 

[1] I owe this insight to Rebecca Konyndyk DeYong in her excellent book Glittering Vices (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009), pp. 36-37.

[2] Os Guinness, Steering through Chaos (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2000), p. 62.

35 Responses to “Pride: The Deadliest of the Deadly Sins”

  • Jamie Hanna Willuams:

    Thanks Bill. I appreciate the definition of pride as “an exxagerated sense of ones importance and accomplishments.” I find that a very helpful perspective. 😊👍

    • Thanks, Jamie. I think that one step in overcoming a sin is to identify it or define it properly. At least, you know what the problem is. Now, being willing to fight it is another issue.

  • Steven L Bird:

    Thank you for your post, I used Glittering Vices in a sermon series I did a few years back and found her work helpful in my walk. Will Willimon book Sinning Like a Christian was also helpful. You are right, naming the sin or vice is helpful, fighting it is another issue. Keeping our faith a love relationship more than a theory helps,
    Blessings to you and Mary,

    Steve

  • Chandler M Vincent:

    Dr. Isley,
    A funny thought that came up when I was reading the beginning of this was when you spoke of Pride being the “leader” of all the other sins, in that it affects them all. I thought of the movie “Barbie and the three musketeers” and made it into “Pride and the six deadly sins”. Anyway, I just thought that was a funny thing.
    My real paragraph begins here: So to clarify, Pride is the false conception of one’s importance/accomplishments. And the fundamental sin is suppressing truth, and you said Pride is the root of all sins. So Pride is suppressing truth, or as you brought up later denying truth? You also said that “the proud are ‘lovers of self’ not ‘lovers of God'”, does this mean prideful people are haters of God, or just God’s truth? For I know I am prideful often (something I truly need to work on) but I know I do not hate God. And I am not even sure if I hate His truths. But I do relate to the statement “The nature of pride is denying truth about who God is and who we are.” I most definitely put myself above others at times, and have dealt with trying to humble myself. Forgetting who I am to God.
    Well anyway, I really enjoyed this reading. Especially since I believe this is the main sin I struggle with, therefore I am hoping vainglory is just as good of reading as this! Thank you!

    • Thanks, Chandler. I’ll admit that I never thought that this post would lead to a reference concerning Barbie! Suppressing the truth about God seems to be the principal root of sin (Romans 1:18-20). I know you and would certainly not think of you as a hater of God, nor would I want you to think that of yourself. We all struggle to varying degrees and in varying ways with pride. The point is to recognize who we are and who God is and check our actions from there and pray for humility.

    • Tess Ewing:

      I thought that this article on pride was one of the best descriptions on pride that I have read. I especially liked how you wrote about pride by using examples of prideful situations too, like the tower of babble story for instance. I also liked this post because it reminded me of a verse that we covered a little bit last year, which talks about man was made from dust, and to dust he will return. This post reminded me of that because we should try as best as we can not to be prideful, because we don’t deserve glory from anybody else, because all we really deserve is death. A question that I came upon though is kind of like Chandler’s question. You wrote in your post that pride leads us into denying truths about God and ourselves. I am still a little bit confused on how that can be true, because if I catch myself being prideful/though I am a prideful person, I still know that I am made in God’s image, and am his creation, so how would that mean that I am losing sight of His truths? My question comes from where you write, “A proud person does not want to admit that he is a creature made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).” to pin down a certain point.

      • Thank you, Tess, for the generous comment on the article. I’ll try not to be proud! Of course, you’re right that we don’t deserve glory and that our sins merit death, but do remember that the Lord has crowned up with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5). Our problem is that we seem to want our own glory and, absurdly, aren’t satisfied that we are made in the image of God and have been honored by the Lord Himself. Genesis 3 shows that we are not satisfied with being the image of God. We want to be our own God, which is the height (maybe we should say “depth”) of pride. I hope that this is helpful. Let’s be sure to talk about it in class.

  • Sophie Cather:

    I think “deserve” is a word that denotes pride, and it is important to note that we do not deserve anything except death. It is by His mercy that we receive the free gifts and not by our own personal merit. However, our egotistical society has convinced people that they are entitled to something because they deserve it. One is being prideful when they claim they deserve something because it is an exaggeration of their importance and accomplishments. That is not to say that hard work should not be rewarded, but we need to acknowledge that we are not the source of our achievements, which you alluded to in paragraph 12. It was also appropriate to connect humility with authenticity in paragraph 9. Truly knowing ourselves not only helps us emotionally, it also allows us to identify the root cause of sin so that we can acknowledge our need for a savior. Finally, your biblical definition of humility reminded me of a quotation by C.S. Lewis, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” I have found that the hardest aspect of practicing humility is not suppressing my pride, rather, it is letting myself cross to the other extreme of self-deprecation.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Sophie. The quotation from C.S.Lewis is apropos and your application of it is spot on. When someone has a sincere desire for holiness, he can begin to deprecate himself and even morbidly always be thinking of himself. Not to think of ourselves can be quite freeing because the focus can then be on God and even the needs of others.

    • Kylie Cleverdon:

      I really enjoyed reading this blog because pride is definitely a tough thing to overcome. I found that there were a couple things about pride and humility that I had never taken into consideration before. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been told that pride is when one thinks too highly of themselves, but as you mentioned in paragraph 8, pride can also take place when one thinks too lowly of themselves. As well, I never thought about pride being a form of clear-sightedness, meaning one knows the truth about themselves and the truth about who God is. That statement was so fascinating to me because I never knew if it was considered prideful to point out things that I succeed at or not. (With the right intentions of course!) I’m excited to read about vain glory and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to dig deeper into understanding the differences and similarities between pride and vain glory.

      • Thanks for your comments, Kylie, and I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog post. I think that you meant to write that humility was a form of clear-sightedness, not pride. Correct me, if I’m wrong and we can talk more. We will be getting to vainglory; so, be sure to be writing down your questions so as not to forget them.

  • Jude Borchers:

    One point in this that really stuck out to me is that pride is not only an exaggerated sense of self importance, but that it is a false view of self importance. Part of the reason it’s a sin is that it simply is not true. As someone who struggles with pride, it’s important for me to realize that my exaggerated sense of self importance is wrong. The fact that the root of all these sins is a misconception makes my sin look even more foolish than it already did. I also thought that the definition of humility that was used did a great job of clearing up the meaning for me. It’s not just thinking less of yourself, but having an accurate view of yourself. it’s being able to still see your own value while recognizing your flaws as well. Balancing the two is not always easy.

    • Thank you, Jude, for your reflections. We don’t often see that our sin is not just an act we do that is against God’s will, but it is a false view of who we are, which then damages not only our relationships with others and God, but also our self. It has also been helpful to me to see that humility is a true view of myself and isn’t just about the negative traits. You are right that balancing the two perspectives that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and that we are sinners is a challenge. We’ll be looking at some of these issues in class. Don’t hesitate to contribute to the discussion. It will be appreciated.

  • Skylar Ball:

    While i was reading this a couple of questions popped in my head and I was wondering if you could answer them. I was curious on when you said that pride could be defined as an “exaggerated sense of ones importance and accomplishments” that would exaggerating something in general like, how big the fish you caught was, be a issue of pride? I also had another question which was in biblical humility you do not think higher or lower of yourself, does this mean if you were to think lower of yourself than that should be considered, i’m not sure if this is the correct word, but sinful?

    • Thank you, Skylar. Those are good questions. Certainly, lying about the size of the fish you caught would be a kind of sin, but pride is much worse than fibbing about the fish you caught. Ultimately, pride is thinking of ourselves as more important than God made us. We even want to be our own God. I would say that it is wrong to think lower of ourselves than we ought to. Contradicting the truth is never good. Also, when we think too poorly of ourselves, we don’t recognize how wonderfully God has made us and we don’t praise him for that. Does that help? Be sure to bring these issues up in class.

  • Kassidy Napier:

    You defined pride as “denying the truth about who God is and who we are” (par. 8). Usually, when thinking of pride we might think of people who are arrogant or haughty. But if we have low self esteem, is that considered pride? Seeing that we are made in the “imago Dei”, we have worth. If someone thought of themselves as worthless they would be denying the truth about who they were. My question is “Is self-hatred synonymous with pride?”

    • Thank you, Kassidy. Yours is an excellent question and is well framed. First, I would say that it is wrong to think too lowly of ourselves. We are the image of God. He has crowned us with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3). Second, one could ask why we would hate ourselves when God, the Holy One and creator of all things, loves us? One could say that it is a kind of pride not to be willing to accept what God says about us. However, I think that people who feel worthless are probably struggling because they have been told by so many others or by the people most important to them, that they are worthless, or, at least, that they are always being criticized. It would be good to have Mrs. Gossard speak some about this in class because I am sure that she sees this in her counselling ministry.

  • Hadley T.:

    Pride is a sin that I have struggled with by committing it and not understanding how to fix it. This article was really clear about what pride is, making it easier to understand, identify, and combat. However, I had never explicitly thought that to be prideful was to ignore/suppress the truth of who God is and who we are. It made me think of the Liar and the Skeptic; there is not a perfect connection here except that pride is a fellow enemy of truth. The combatant of pride is humility and, like Sophie said in her comment, this can get a bit difficult without a good definition of humility. Humility can be misinterpreted as self-deprecation, but even this perverts truth. In the article you mentioned that faith is stating the truth about you and God. Thus faith necessarily must possess this form of “clear-sightedness” of ourselves, faith must possess humility. This is an idea I have never thought of before. (I take it the article is operating on the correspondence theory of truth?)

    • So Great Ideas is slipping into the Seven Deadly Sins! That’s great. Your comments echo what I was trying to explain in the post. It is a kind of correspondence theory of truth in the sense that our view of ourselves should correspond to who we are. Very interesting. Thank you, Hadley.

  • Jaley Barkley:

    This reading about pride was very interesting and I liked all the scripture references that were in it. I agree that pride is kind of the category of all the sins because from pride comes many sins. I like that you described pride as being an exaggerated truth and of somebody’s accomplishments. Because when man is being prideful they are lying because giving themselves the glory for what they did instead of giving the glory to God. I did have a question about when you said pride denies the truth about God and about ourselves. Yes, I agree that pride denies the truth about God but how does it deny the truth about ourselves?

    • Thank you for the good question, Jaley. In the original sin, recorded in Genesis 3, we wanted to deny that we as the image of God should submit to his rule. In fact, we wanted to become our own God, but we aren’t. Thus, sin can be seen as a rejection of who God made us and so is a false view of who we are. Does that help?

  • Adolphus Ghoston:

    Dr. Isley thank you for taking the time to write this blog post for us as a class to view it is a great opportunity to grow. Secondly, When you say the fundamental sin we commit is suppressing the truth and becoming idolaters, are we essentially making ourselves the idol that we worship? Additionally, what is your opinion on the separation of confidence and pride? Is there any separation?

    • Good questions, AG. Thanks. Pride certainly causes us to look admiringly at ourselves and can make us become self-worshippers. I would say that there is not a separation of confidence and pride but a distinction. If God has given us gifts and talents and we have by his grace used them well, we should be confident, although ultimately, our confidence is in God not in ourselves. Pride doesn’t recognize where our ability comes from. It wants to claim all the credit for itself.

  • Halle Pavlik:

    This article is very thought provoking. Many questions did come to mind though in relation to your point about Eve. The main question I have about this is since pride sin, didn’t Eve sin before the fall? Maybe this is an obvious question but was there sin before the fall? I’m not sure but I’m just confused. I also do appreciate your comment about how when we are prideful we are implying that we don’t need God. In life of Christ we have been discussing how we can’t enter heaven through ourselves. Man alone cannot enter heaven through man alone but we need God to enter eternal life! But I am still a little confused about the distinction between vainglory and pride so I’m hoping that I something we can go over in class.

    • I am glad that you found the article helpful, Halle. Before the fall, it is clear that man had not sinned. With regard to Eve, remember what we said about temptation as a process. I think that we need to see her slipping into the decision to disobey God. We will have a couple of classes on vainglory; so, be sure not to let your questions about it go unasked.

  • Halle Pavlik:

    I found this post very thought provoking. Pride is definitely something I struggle with. I think especially in this day and age when everyone is so concerned with what everyone thinks about them. I’m hoping that as we discuss this in class we can talk about how to deal with this issue.
    One think I did find particularly interesting is your comment about how prose relates to thinking we can do things without God. In life of Christ with Dr.Dewalt, we actually just discussed how man cannot enter heaven through man alone but it must also be through God. I am still a little bit confused about the difference between vain glory and pride. There is part of me that still feels like they are the same thing. Could we please go over this in class as well? Also when I was reflecting on this passage and journaling about it I found something that I thought would be worth sharing. I had this thought thought about how we become prideful. Back to the issue of human nature, is pride part of our human nature and original sin? It would be greatly appreciated if anyone has thoughts.

    • Halle, I’m not sure whether this is a second comment by you, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t answer your last question. I would say that pride is part of our fallen or sinful human nature, but not how we were created, and, thank God, not how we’ll in eternity.

  • Taryn Durbin:

    When I read this article, I found it helpful that you discussed pride and humility in contrast to show the two different sides of who we can be. It helped me to be able to see that Paul defined pride as exchanging away God’s truth for worldly lies. This teaches me that whenever I fall for the promises of the world it will harm my abilities to see the beauty of God. I appreciated the reference to David’s Psalm that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Humility then makes more sense that it isn’t to think less of who I am in God’s image but it is to simply think of myself less. My best self interest is to extend kindness and love to other people, and this brings me closer to being in the image of Jesus. It is these steps that help me to minimize pride in myself and glorify God in his kingdom.

  • Lauren Drum:

    Okay so while I was reading this, something that caught my attention and was on my mind the rest of the passage was in the second paragraph was the sentence “On the other hand, Lewis understands vainglory as a milder form of pride.” and that had me thinking about vainglory and I wanted to be clear in my thinking as to what exactly vainglory was so I looked it up! According to google, vainglory is: “inordinate pride in oneself or one’s achievements; excessive vanity.” Well, that really didn’t help me with my question as it mentions pride. I probably should of gone back and put that first but oh well, I’ve all ready gotten this far, so my question is how is vainglory a “milder” form of pride? Or how is vainglory different from pride? So anyway, back to my quest on finding out the real definition of vainglory, I looked up vanity. Again according to google, vanity is: “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.” and again, it says pride. So now my question is what is the actual difference between pride and vainglory/vanity? Is it an accurate statement to say that vainglory is a milder form, or do they really mean the same thing?

    • Thank you, Lauren, for your question about vainglory. It certainly is close to pride. Here’s the difference in my view. The vain person wants above all to be praised by others, whether they deserve it or not. they need praise. Pride at its strongest doesn’t care what other people think because it believes that it is better than other. They are, however, often used synonymously.

  • Drew Sullivan:

    Why is it that us humans have such an exaggerated and inflated view of ourselves? Do we start out with it or does it have to develop over time?

  • Melissa Gossard:

    Well written, Dr. Isley. As I re read this and read a few of the comments, I come back to the importance of our journey in developing an accurate view of who we are according to Gods truth. I feel this is a practice that takes intentional effort and commitment to God to know who He is and who we are not. It seems pride pulls us away from the truth of who we are whether it is us thinking too highly or lowly of ourselves. I’d like to discuss more about the difference between pride as a sin and pride as a confidence of who we are in Christ and how the thinking, feeling and behaving cycle fits into this. I like the humility and trust in God approach to help us to learn to love our God and ourselves in the way He intended. This seems to be the armor we need to overcome this sin.

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