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05.08.11 The Deadly Sin of Pride, Romans 5.1-11, Sermon Summary

by on May 9, 2011

Summary Points

  • Why the Deadly Sin of Pride is so hard to recognize and overcome
  • Four levels of Pride, and why women confess this sin most
  • How to recognize Pride in our lives
  • How Jesus helps us overcome Pride

The Deadly Sins of Lust and Gluttony are easy to recognize in our lives. We know when we’ve done them, and we can confess and repent of them relatively easily. On the other hand, Pride is much more difficult to recognize. For one thing, Pride as a Deadly Sin is misunderstood and routinely and powerfully encouraged in our culture. What could be sinful about being proud of ourselves, proud of our work, proud of our children?

Pride poses a particular challenge because it mutates as soon as we recognize it. It goes something like this: “I’ve been proud—I admit it. . . Hey, I’m a pretty good person for confessing that!”

And Pride is hard to recognize because it appears to be a spiritual virtue. In Romans 5 Paul talks about our justification in Christ, and our “being saved” in him. In classical Reformed theological jargon, this process of “being saved” is called “sanctification.” God unilaterally justified us in Christ, but invites our participation in sanctification.

As we grow in sanctification, becoming more and more like Christ, Pride finds an easy foothold. The determining factor is our attitude. Do we grow in sanctification because we are grateful for the justification God has provided in Christ? Or do we become proud of our sanctification, attributing our progress to our own efforts. The latter is the Deadly Sin of Pride.

So Pride is exceptionally difficult to recognize and thus overcome. The only hope we have against this Deadly Sin is if God will intervene once again, as he did in Christ for our justification, and grant us a measure of humility. Without this intervention, we will never hear the convicting word or the call to repentance, and we will never have the faith to pray for help in and overcome Pride.

To help us understand the various manifestations of Pride, I find it helpful break it down into four levels. The first level is Vanity or Vainglory. This occurs when we seek the praise, adulation, and admiration of others. I suspect this is the reason Pride is the number one sin confessed by women. Women, and this is increasingly so for men also, are constantly subjected to the most superficial standards of value. A constant barrage of advertising tells our girls, “you are valuable if you weigh this much, have this body shape, look this young, etc.” And so our girls develop the habit of evaluating themselves in the social mirror. This leads to either despair if they don’t conform, or satisfaction if they do. Either attitude is the fruit of Pride as Vanity. (I have another hypothesis as to why women confess Pride above all other Deadly Sins—see the end.)

The second level of Pride is Apathy or Ignorance. People simply don’t recognize their need for God. With all the distractions, satisfactions, and amusements in our culture, a person could go a long time without experiencing a need for God. And the church’s failure to invite such people into our spiritual journey leaves them wandering through life completely unaware of God’s presence. They are Apathetic or Ignorant.

A third level is Neglect. Here, people know about God’s presence in their lives, but they figure they are good enough without it. They may go to church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday, and that’s good enough. They may serve others twice a year or once a month, and that’s good enough. “Good enough” is the catch phrase of Pride manifested as Neglect.

The fourth level is perhaps the most “deadly” for us and the church. It is spiritual Self-Righteousness. This is the person who has made such progress in sanctification that they look down on others in judgment. The primary reason people give for not going to church is because so many of us who do demonstrate the Pride of Self-Righteousness.

How can we recognize Pride in our lives, even though it is so difficult and complex? First, think about how many times you check the social mirror. How many times do you compare yourself to someone else on the basis of beauty, material possessions, or prestige? How many times do you feel bad about yourself, or superior to others, based on these things? That’s an indication of Pride.

Second, how many stupid decisions have you made because you were “flying high” on success? Proverbs 16:18 says pride precedes the fall. The 4th century Abbot Evagrius observed that many of the monks in his care progressed in the spiritual life only to fall to a base sin like Lust. Why? In their Pride, they put their guard down. Paul advises, “If you think you standing, be careful that you do not fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12)

Third, check the levels of your anger or bitterness. The older son in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son suffered from Pride. His whole life he was obedient to the father, serving and “suffering” in silence while the younger son squandered his father’s wealth. All the while Pride cultivated such anger and bitterness in the older son that he could not rejoice and join the celebration when the father and younger son were reconciled. If you resent God’s acceptance of “sinners,” that’s Pride in your life.

Fourth, check your attitude about others you deem “sinful.” Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and Tax Collector praying near one another. The Pharisee thanks God for his sanctification, and that he is not like other men, especially the Tax Collector. Meanwhile the Tax Collector prays for forgiveness and acceptance. There are people you think are “sinners.” What’s your attitude towards them? If you hold them in contempt, you are suffering under Pride.

Ultimately, we look to Christ, the humble Lord, to help us recognize and overcome the Deadly Sin of Pride. He was the one who overcame the archetypal temptations, all of which have Pride at their root. Pride tempts us to glory in ourselves rather than in the true glory revealed in Christ—the glory that Paul talks about in Romans 5. It is the glory of God revealed in the faithful death of Jesus Christ. It is a glory that invites us to boast not in our own achievements, but what God has achieved in Christ—our justification and sanctification. And it’s a glory that we can rejoice in even when the path of sanctification includes suffering.

Each of us identifies ourselves with something greater. This is part of our nature. Pride tempts us to identify with lesser glories than what is revealed by God in Christ. God calls us to identify ourselves with Christ. The image Christ gave us is of vines and branches—he is the vine, we are the branches. We sacramentalize this identification in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Christ, we find a life we can be proud of: lost and found through faithfulness to God, in service to others, because we are one in Christ.

[Another possible reason why women confess Pride more than the other Seven. Since Pride has at its root the attribution of achievement to oneself (neglecting or underestimating God’s role), and since women have traditionally been oppressed by patriarchal systems, they have had to struggle heroically just to make things “equal.” It is said, “A woman has to work twice as hard, for half the recognition, as men.” To the degree this is true, that much more justified women might be and feel to “take pride in their achievements.” Upon spiritual reflection, this sense of pride could motivate confession of the Deadly Sin of Pride. I’d benefit from and welcome input by women on this hypothesis.]

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