The Eight Patterns: Pride

... a desire for independence.

A desire
for independence

In some revisions of this list, pride is conspicuously absent. This is because it can rightly be understood as the umbrella under which all sinful behavior is found. The "queen of vices" rears its ugly head when someone defies God's holy standards; thus, pride is essentially a declaration of independence from Him and an attempt to self-rule.A lack of humility denies God the opportunity to provide His blessing, strength, comfort, healing, and guidance. Without God, one cannot truly have victory over sin, and the potential for ruin is unimaginably great. Pride creates increased vulnerabilities to all of the other patterns.
with submission
Commonly understood
as pride
Not to confused
with initiative
Other forms:
insolence, blasphemy, arrogance, backbiting, spite, contempt, rebellion, disrespect, presumption, distrust

Imagine yourself pulling up behind a car at a stoplight, and reading one of the following bumper stickers in front of you:

"I want your stuff."
"My son is an overeater at Springfield Middle School."
"I'm sooo much better than you."
"Kiss me, I'm Irish tempered."
"Honk if you want my phone number."

Nobody really brags like this. We can be greedy, lustful, gluttonous, angry, etc., but we rarely come out and plainly say so. We are likely to either trivialize it as a minor problem (gluttony), justify it as unfortunate yet unavoidable (anger), or admit it is a problem yet attempt to conceal it (lust). Does anyone ever brag about these sinful behaviors? Not often. And when they do, we find it repulsive.

Unless, of course, the problem is pride. Not only can we be proud, but we can take pride in being proud. Even worse, we often mistake it for something admirable. Someone can be ambitious, bold, independent, unflappable, strong-willed, self-sufficient, and confident, yet be utterly consumed with pride. The distinction between vice and virtue can be difficult to discern in this area.

The term "pride" includes many behaviors not included within the pattern of pride. For instance, a father can say he is proud of his son without committing the sin of pride.

The essence of sinful pride is a spirit of independence. It is an arrogant denial of the truth that one needs help to truly succeed. It insists that rules are irrelevant or that they only apply to others.

The other patterns most often impede the development of a single opposing virtue. Lust, for instance, definitely compromises the desire for purity, yet still permits limited growth in other areas, such as patience, generosity or zeal. Pride is unique in that it can oppose every virtue simultaneously. It creates gaping holes in every wall of defense against all kinds of temptation, easily making it the most savage and destructive pattern.

Independence is often mentioned in the same breath as freedom, but these two concepts are significantly distinct from each other. The former focuses on being an individual while the latter emphasizes opportunities to make choices. It is possible to enjoy both, one or neither of these two things.

The problem with independence is that God did not design mankind to be truly independent. He created us to be relational beings with a deep-rooted need for fellowship with Him and others. Pride creates distance from others, and as it deepens so does the degree of separation.

It is a dangerous thing to deny that God is your Helper, because He actively resists the proud. You are more likely to be deceived, which will lead to poor decision-making and uncertain footing. Failure will be inevitable.

Pride causes one to scorn the weak. The proud have little use or compassion for the homeless, impoverished, handicapped, etc. Additionally, they will despise those whom they perceive to be weak, but who in fact are not (such as those who are humble, gentle, longsuffering, or persecuted).

Pride strikes believers by assaulting God's glory. Initially, believers are merely enticed to give a little less glory to God than is due to Him. Praising God less eventually leads to not praising Him at all. It is in this "glory vacuum" that they will start to prop themselves up in God's rightful place by claiming His glory for themselves. Once this begins, they will more frequently and more intentionally deny that He deserves any glory whatsoever.

Wrestling with pride hurts. Usually, victories over temptation are accompanied by feelings of relief and/or joy, but pride is very different. As pride starts to crumble many unpleasant and harsh truths will come to light, perhaps for the first time. It is not easy for people to accept that they are not as capable and independent as they once believed themselves to be.

Lasting victories over pride are more costly than any other victory, yet no matter how high the price of success may be, the cost of failing to win is even higher. To illustrate, consider an accident victim who must undergo extensive physical therapy to regain the use of a limb. The exercises are painfully difficult, but the payoff makes it worthwhile. Success is impossible without necessary sacrifices, and failure is both devastating and crippling.

ASPIRE. Focus on reflection.

Cultivate humility, the key to defeating pride. And the key to being humble is embracing the truth in three important areas: 1) the nature of God, 2) the condition of man, and 3) and the weight of eternity.

1) Without God we would not even exist or ever experience spiritual victory. However, He is more than our Creator and Redeemer; He is also our Sustainer. We will forever remain utterly dependent upon Him for our every breath and heartbeat. We must never forget that God is infinitely great.

2) It is impossible to truly contemplate the repugnant nature of fallen men without being deeply humbled. Our sinfulness is a grievous offense against a holy God, and we are hopeless apart from Him. Fortunately, He freely offers forgiveness to an undeserving world. We must never forget that we are sinners in need of grace.

3) Many are driven by pride to try to establish a legacy that will outlast themselves. They correctly identify that there is more to life than our present surroundings, yet they fail to understand the temporary nature of life on earth. By definition, eternal life is a relationship with God (John 17:3), and it is impossible to invest in eternity while ignoring it. We must never forget that only those things that spring from this relationship will last.

These truths remind us that we are dependent on God. Essentially, humility is remembering that God is God and we are not. God alone is able to bridge the unfathomable chasm separating us from Him.

Defer to others. In addition to approaching God with humility, we must also be humble in our relationships with others. It is okay to consider yourself less important, and even inferior, to others.

Humility involves feeling inadequate and dependent; however, it is never a form of sadness. We can honestly recognize our shortcomings and weaknesses and use them as opportunities to respond to God. Our weaknesses can be a source of great joy as we see God work through them on our behalf. True humility does not cause us to say, "woe is me," but "wow is God!"

Practice submission. In this case, "practice" does not mean "do" but "rehearse." Go out of your way to find opportunities to be submissive. This takes the previous point of deference a step further.

Care less about what other people think. Pride tries to prevent you from doing the right thing by asking, "But what will others think?" For example, the proud assert their rights rather than meekly endure mistreatment because they do not want to be perceived as weak.

Study the humble. Look for examples of humility, both in the present and in history. You could also study the extremely proud as illustrations of what not to do, but positive examples are more helpful than stern warnings. Seeing true humility in action is humbling and inspiring.

Pray only for others. Pride is centered on an independent self, and praying for others exposes these tendencies in your life. It is not at all wrong to pray for your own needs, but temporarily "fasting" on petition can be helpful. To have your own needs addressed, humbly ask others to pray for you. Doing this for a short period of time (such as a week or a few days) will increase your awareness of others and decrease your sense of independence.

Sidebar: Spiritual Maturity
Maturity is a key factor in the temptation equation. Temptations typically target specific levels of maturity and operate in specific areas. For example, gluttony is most likely to attack an undisciplined novice's regard for food. Not only does the level of maturity dictate which patterns are likely to strike, but it also influences how they are going to attack. Satan has to work harder to successfully tempt mature Christians because their ability to discern his methods improves as they grow.

The distinction between mature and immature forms of temptations can be applied to all of the patterns. To show this distinction, John Cassian used the terms "carnal" (against the immature) and "spiritual" (against the mature). Carnal forms of temptation are more common because more people are "eligible" for them, while spiritual forms pack a heavier punch and cause more damage.

Pride has the widest reach and fewest limitations of the patterns. It can wreak havoc at every level of maturity and in every area of life, but it does so by subtly varying its approach depending on these factors. Invitations to pride that work on immature Christians are not as likely to be effective against spiritual veterans, and vice versa.

Carnal pride is an obstinate independence that leans toward willful disobedience, unkind behavior and calloused sensitivity. It lacks stability and clouds judgment while damaging key relationships with other people. Spiritual pride is a creative independence that tends to be disrespectful, forgetful, and unthankful. It exalts the self and opposes God while driving its victims away from Him.

Your current spiritual condition dictates your potential spiritual condition. Where you are today determines where you can be tomorrow. Spiritual maturity is a slow, and sometimes agonizing, process. Many other important qualities can change drastically in short order (such as zeal, commitment, gratitude, etc.), but when it comes to maturity, there are no shortcuts.

In other words, spiritual maturity is a construction project. Each building block is placed atop prior developments. New features or abilities are acquired with progress.

The foundation is easily the most important part of any structure. A weak personal foundation, which is a sure sign of immaturity, permits the patterns to obstruct spiritual development. A complete collapse becomes imminent. Pride contributes to this peril by attacking the foundation itself.

Be careful to distinguish between a Christian's maturity level and their age. Just because people reach an advanced age does not automatically mean they are spiritually mature. Young people can be quite spiritually mature. Fulfilled potential is a better criterion for determining maturity than chronological age.

Those who think highly of themselves are self-deceived. Their lack of wisdom is the source of many problems.

"We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." – 2 Corinthians 10:12

"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." – Revelation 3:17

How far can pride carry someone? It turned Lucifer into Satan. He was given many great gifts and privileges, yet became proud and believed his greatness was his own doing. His declaration of independence continues to impact all of creation.

"How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit." – Isaiah 14:12-15

God Himself is the opponent of pride. It cannot prevail or ever produce satisfying results. It will not escape punishment.

"You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth … If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed." – Deuteronomy 8:17-19

"To the arrogant I say, 'Boast no more' ... No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another." – Psalm 75:4-7

"The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished." – Proverbs 16:5

"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." – Proverbs 16:18

God respects and rewards those who have a proper understanding of who they are, who He is, and what He requires them to do/be.

"Then Abraham spoke up again: 'Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes...'" – Genesis 18:27

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." – Psalm 51:17

"For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." – Matthew 23:12

"...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." – Matthew 20:26-28

"But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you ... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." – James 4:6-10

The humble do not see themselves as superior to others. Instead, they treat others with respect and defer their own needs.

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." – Romans 12:3

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." – Romans 12:16

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." – Matthew 7:3-5

There are many contrasts between the proud and the humble. The world cannot comprehend the value of humility because they do see the big picture.

"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

"You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty." – Psalm 18:27

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." – Proverbs 11:2

God, who knows our limits and abilities, creates opportunities and situations to promote humility in our lives.

"To keep me from becoming conceited ... there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Jesus Christ is the epitome of humility. We must follow His example by humbly treating others with dignity and love. Doing so promotes God-honoring unity.

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" – Philippians 2:1-8

"Jealousy is the garment of pride." – Evagrius Ponticus, Vices 8.

"Pride is a tumor of the soul filled with pus; when it has ripened, it will rupture and create a disgusting mess." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts VII.1.

"A lot of fruit bends a tree's new branches; an abundance of virtue humbles a person's thinking." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts VII.7.

"Do not forget that you have fallen, even if you have repented, but hold onto the memory of your sin as an occasion of compunction that leads you to humility, so that thus humbled you will of necessity disgorge your pride." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eulogios 14.

"Never would the Lord have permitted you to be given over to so foul a spirit unless you had blasphemed against Him." – John Cassian, Institute XII.20.

"Before anything else we need humility, being ready to listen whenever a word is said to us, and to say, 'I submit,' because through humility every device of the enemy and every kind of obstacle is destroyed." – Anonymous, quoted by Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses 2.

"Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginary light where in fact there is darkness. This abominable vice not only stops our progress but even tosses us down from the heights we have reached." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 23..

"A hermit was asked, 'What is humility?' He said, 'It is if you forgive a brother who has wronged you before he is sorry." – Anonymous, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, XV.60.

There are so many similarities between vainglory and pride that Scripture occasionally substitutes these terms for each other. To determine which pattern is being mentioned, one must examine the context. In the interest of clarity and accuracy, I have tried to maintain the sharp distinctions between patterns by careful use of these terms.

Be sure to study these patterns together so you can better understand which forms of temptation fall under each pattern.

Sin is simply defined as lawlessness (1 John 3:4). It is a violation of God's perfect standard of holiness. Pride is an act of rebellion against God and His standards. Thus, pride in some form is always a component of every pattern. Conversely, humility must always be a part of the remedy.

Cassian occasionally identified something as pride that Evagrius had previously identified as avarice (greed). This is understandable because of the close connection between idolatry (a manifestation of greed) and blasphemy (a manifestation of pride).

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