Pride is universal—something we all deal with, as ancient as Adam and as relevant as the morning news. Yet we don’t always see our own pride, which weaves like weeds around our lives.
Oh, we see it in the obvious ways, but we can be blind to its deceptive, subversive way in our hearts. We know the disease, but we don’t recognize the symptoms. And that’s why we need the insight of our spiritual Great Physician to reveal symptoms of pride and rescue us from it.
Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart
Here are seven symptoms of pride I’ve been seeing in God’s Word as his Spirit works in my own life:
Pride is at the root of fear and anxiety, when we refuse to humbly rest in God’s sovereign care. Fear simultaneously reveals our lack of trust and our poisonous self-reliance. We fear because we don’t have faith in the Lord, we are enormously preoccupied with ourselves, and we don’t have control.
When Peter stepped out on the stormy sea to come to Jesus, he was walking in humble faith. But when his gaze shifted to his circumstances and self-preservation, he trusted in himself, became afraid, and began to sink. It was Jesus who saved him, while admonishing him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
Self-sacrifice stems from a humble heart. Entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart. The core of the gospel is that we are not entitled to anything, except just punishment for our sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are, so we deserve better than we have. We think we deserve God’s mercy. We think we deserve people’s praise. We think we deserve love, success, comfort, accolades. We certainly don’t think we deserve suffering, heartbreak, or discipline.
But when we do experience these things, we grow bitter, frustrated, and disturbed because we believe we’re entitled to more. We forget that apart from Jesus Christ we are sinners who deserve condemnation.
The disciples wrestled with entitlement many times. On one occasion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. They selfishly thought they deserved honor and glory. But Jesus’ response to them was a rebuke: “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
Our proud hearts say we are good, that we should get what we want, and if we don’t, we’re justified in our ingratitude. If we’re uncomfortable or inconvenienced in any way, we can complain. It’s our right. Humility recognizes that God is good, that he gives us what he knows we need, so we have no reason to be ungrateful. There is nothing we lack (Deuteronomy 2:7; Psalm 34:9).
The Israelites’ grumbled in the wilderness, though God fed, clothed, and led them through it (Exodus 16:2; Deuteronomy 8:2). Their stubborn hearts rejected God’s daily mercies out of a foundation of self-idolization. But God’s Word rebukes our proud grumbling with this command: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).
Pride is self-worship and self-preservation at all costs—and people-pleasing is the direct result of pride. Some think people-pleasing is a positive trait because they’re so clearly concerned with serving others. But that belief is nothing more than a sneaky sheepskin we put over a wolfish habit. People-pleasing is all about self-satisfaction—fearing man more than God—and seeking the fleeting happiness that comes from man’s approval.
The apostle Paul knew human approval was a pointless and prideful pursuit. Because of that, he could say, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Pride deceives us into thinking we can “do life” on our own—that we’re capable, independent, unstoppable, and self-reliant. We think we don’t need God every hour, that we don’t need his help, grace, mercy, courage, and hope. So, surely, we don’t need to pray.
But a humble heart submits itself to God in prayer because it knows it can do nothing without him.
When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah’s response was not to go to God in prayer. Instead, he fled, his heart furiously and arrogantly silent (Jonah 1:3). When God humbled him in the belly of a great fish, Jonah finally cried out in prayer (2:1).
When you’re proud, you elevate your status, forgetting the mercy God has shown you. You think you’re better and holier than everyone else, and you easily find fault with others. Pride produces a hypocritical spirit.
The Pharisees’ hypocritical pride blinded them to their sin and to God’s mercy—which made them cold-hearted and cruel toward others. Jesus had harsh words for them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
Rebellion against God manifests itself in resistance toward the Word and the spiritual leaders he has placed in our lives. It is the reflex of a prideful heart. It also shows itself in a lack of submission—wives, to your husbands; children, to your parents; employees, to your bosses; citizens, to your government. Rebellion says, “I know better than you, God,” when you don’t.
We see rebellion in the first people God created: Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Even though they had all they needed for life and joy, out of pride they rebelled against God’s good decree, thinking they knew better than him. And this rebellion brought pain, suffering, and death—for them and for us.
The Humble Servant
Yet there is hope for the proud heart in the incarnation of humility, Jesus Christ. Immanuel—God with us—condescended to live among us, die for us, and raise us to new life. He never owned a shred of sinful pride—no fear, entitlement, ingratitude, people-pleasing, prayerlessness, hypocrisy, or rebellion.
Philippians 2:4-6 says,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus is God, his equal, and yet emptied himself of all he deserved to save us from our pride. He who was entitled to the highest honor forfeited it for our redemption.
It’s because of Jesus’ humility that we can be forgiven of our pride. That’s both the sting and joy of the gospel. It deals with our pride by destroying it, reminding us that life is not about us, and that we deserve only the wrath of God for our sin. Jesus Christ also deals with our pride by taking the just punishment for it upon himself at the cross, that we might be renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10) and made humble like our Savior.
Being humbled is not smooth or painless, but it’s our rescue.
Jesus is our rescue from pride.