The Other Side of Pride

WHAT IS THE THING you are most proud of in your life? Emily Brontë said, “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” That makes sense, but what about being “proud” of a key accomplishment in life? I am most proud today of my determination to stay clean and sober, and move forward in ministry. My life was going absolutely nowhere until I quit abusing drugs and alcohol, and realigned my life with Christ and with the will of the Father. What are you most proud about in your life? Perhaps finally finishing your bachelor’s degree or sticking to a budget. We can “take pride” in our accomplishments; however, Pride as a character trait or philosophy is something to be avoided. Pride is often considered a negative force; it is the opposite of humility and a source of social friction. Pride is a strong sense of ego-involvement. It’s been called the “deadliest sin.”

“Pride is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking about yourself less” — C.S. Lewis.

An old proverb says if you’re too conceited or self-important, something will happen to make you look foolish. This is the very essence of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The footnote in the ESV Study Bible for verses 16 through 19 says, “The ‘better’ sayings of vv. 16 and 19 seek to instill the value of wisdom over wealth (v. 16) and of humility with the poor over spoil with the proud (v. 19). The middle verses show how to continue in the way of the wise (tread the highway of the upright, v.17) and be humble (do not foster a haughty spirit, v. 18)” (1). Young’s Literal Translation puts it like this: “Before destruction [is] pride, And before stumbling—a haughty spirit” (2). God’s Word consistently and clearly denounces pride. Dr. David Jeremiah says pride “…involves placing one’s own reasoning powers above the revelation of God and depending on one’s finite mind to determine infinite truths. Pride was the original sin, and it has its place at the top of God’s hate list” (3). Matthew Henry wrote, “Let us not fear the pride of others, but fear pride in ourselves” (4).

So What’s the Difference?

We cannot talk about pride without looking at its antonym humility. Boyd writes, “The early and medieval Christian tradition of ethics and its allied vices of vainglory and arrogance [are] the central problem for morality” (5). Followers of Christ have always considered pride a self-aggrandizing attitude that directly challenges God’s authority and sovereignty. That’s a pretty serious concern! Interestingly, the Christian understanding of pride dovetails nicely with moral psychology and moral theology. John R.W. Stott, a remarkably humble man of great abilities and accomplishments who is often said to have made the greatest impact for Christ of anyone in the twentieth century, said, “Pride is more that the first of the deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin(6) (italics added). His succinct statement about pride and humility goes straight to the heart of the matter: the biblical truth that pride is the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.

Humility is one of the most difficult traits to attain. Perhaps you heard about the man who boasted, “I am one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet.” If you think you’re humble, you’re probably not. How many recent sermons have you heard on pride or humility? Probably not many, if at all. Pride and arrogance are now touted as a virtue in Western culture. Humility is often seen as weakness, and few know much about it or pursue it. We fail to realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and love for others. For example, someone who thinks they have all the answers would not likely seek God’s wisdom and guidance. I’ll be great, just wait and see! C.S.Lewis called pride “the great sin.” Classically, Lewis was a philosopher, who always addressed life’s major questions: nature of reality; humanity; knowledge; morality, and meaning. He believed evil arises when the human soul directs its attention away from God, and toward pride, greed, and the accumulation of worldly things.

“I went from materialism to idealism, idealism to pantheism, from pantheism to theism, and from theism to Christianity”—C.S. Lewis.

With the goal of humility in mind, we need to be sure we understand the concept and how to get there. This is made more difficult because humility and the humbling of oneself is out of fashion in today’s world and seems unappealing to most. Why is it that many consider “humility” as being less than? Fair question, but Jesus stressed the concept of putting God and others before ourselves in nearly every circumstance. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). He also said, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Cor. 10:24). For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness instead, there will be a day of wrath and fury.

To be clear, God hates pride. Accordingly, Scripture says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God’s grace will be extended to those who are humble before Him (see Prov. 3:34). The phrase “God opposes” means He resists the proud, and sends judgment, because the proud have chosen the praise and the methods of the world and are acting as God’s enemies (see James 4:4). Pride has been called the cancer of the soul, the beginning of all sin, and sin in its final form. Pride is also at the root of many failed relationships and lost jobs. Choosing the praise and the methods of the world closes us off from the wisdom and love of God. It is the antithesis of “I’d rather stand with God and be rejected by the world than stand with the world and be rejected by God.” Pride is so natural to fallen man that it’s impossible to address it effectively through human wisdom.

The Seven Deadly Sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, sloth) were first enumerated by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century, and elaborated on in the 13th century by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Jeremiah 9:23-24 states, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the LORD who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things I, the LORD, have spoken'” (NLT). C.S. Lewis said, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Most people do not consider themselves proud or vulnerable to pride, but it is critical to note Scripture considers pride to be one of the major categories of sin. Pride is in each of our hearts.

Pride and Addiction

Excessive pride while in recovery can make it difficult to achieve long-term sobriety or clean time. Breaking free from an addiction can give us a great deal to feel proud about. What an accomplishment, no matter the milestone being celebrated. Every day an addict or alcoholic does not use is a miracle. Trust me! An even greater miracle is staying clean or sober for weeks, months, years. I actually cannot recall how many relapses I’ve had during my battle with addiction. Each day of clean time is simply an amazing accomplishment, but being full of pride can stop us from making any further gains in sobriety. If we start to believe we already have all the answers, we may view other people as inferior; we might decide “I got this” and stop reaching out. Pride and isolation are step-sisters, often showing up in recovery together. Isolation causes negativity and complacency, and we end up bouncing around in our own head.

Pride is an excessive view of one’s self without regard for others.

Loule said, “To truly get to the heart of the issue, we need to explore how pride or ego (in contemporary parlance) infects each and every one of us, but especially those suffering from addiction. The pride I’m describing is not the healthy version where one can be proud of a job well done or one’s accomplishments. Instead, the pride that can seep into the soul in a harmful way. In addiction work, pride makes itself known when one proclaims, ‘I can do this on my own,’ ‘I don’t need help,’ or ‘I don’t need God'” (7). This reminds me of when I got out of rehab and exclaimed, “Oh, this is what I needed. I got this now!” I relapsed seven weeks later. Our own bullheadedness can blind us and perpetuate denial (not the river in Egypt). Full of pride, we believe we’re set apart from other addicts. We can recover without help. Even some Christians in recovery do not think they need to “surrender” to God. So, they try to master their own lives. Of course, there are several problems with this attitude. The First Step says we are powerless over our addiction, and that our lives have become unmanageable. That belies any thought of “self mastery!”

How do we address our active addiction and deal with all the chaos? Remember, no human power could relieve our addiction, but God could and would if only we would seek Him (8). AA defines pride as an “excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit; arrogance” (9). The Big Book chapter “Into Action” says, “We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past” (10). This means we put our pride “away” and conduct a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. The word pride appears 31 times in the Big Book, and 21 times in AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Although translations many differ, pride appears 58 times in the Bible, and it tops the list of the most deadly sins. But how do we eliminate it?

What Now?

For recovering addicts and alcoholics, pride not only shows up as the root of addiction, it can also become an issue during the recovery process. Taking steps to eliminate pride works best if we’re not full of pride. As tongue-in-cheek as that sounds, it is not untrue. So what now?

First, we need to identify the signs of pride.

  1. Thinking about yourself all of the time
  2. Telling everyone how humble you are
  3. Refusing to take constructive criticism
  4. Lacking any sense of loyalty
  5. Wanting to always be at the center of attention

Second, we need to look at proven ways to get rid of pride.

  1. Do not compete and compare yourself with others
  2. Encourage and influence the “weaker”
  3. Admit your mistakes and take correction easily
  4. Be ready to help others
  5. Suppress the need to always take center stage

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”—Theodore Roosevelt

We will be well on the way to chopping down our huge egos if we identify the source of our pride, analyze and compare our assessments to reality, seek feedback, share credit and build others up, promptly admit our own mistakes, be courteous to others, forego “I,” “me,” and “myself” in conversation, be optimistic, become an “active” listener, become aware that pride is rooted in your sin nature, watch and read about humble people, and flee temptation. We should be confident (not arrogant) and realistic about what we can and cannot do. We must learn to respect ourselves through respecting others and championing them. Treating others well helps us feel better about ourselves, while ignoring or mistreating others makes us feel worse. I have often been filled with remorse after “going off” on someone, or putting them down so I can feel better.

Self-esteem comes from recognizing both our good side and our bad side. Success is never built on running over everyone who gets in our way, especially in recovery. Rather, success comes from becoming aware of our good points and our bad points; then, building up our good points, making them stronger, and eliminating our bad points. AA’s Steps Four and Five are perfect vehicles for accomplishing these things. Being grateful for family, friends, education, job, etc. means not needing to compare yourself with others, but being grateful for what you have accomplished. One sure way of discouraging yourself and getting trapped by the sin of envy is comparing yourself to others. God has a specific plan for you. You cannot accomplish that plan by looking at others. 

Paul said, “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. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you… but, let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:12, 13, 17,18, NIV).

Humility in recovery is an essential foundation for a better life. It is considered a prized virtue, and elemental to the practice of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions in AA and NA. Humility is difficult to achieve. It requires sincerity and an integrated sense of oneself. Thankfully, this is the goal of Steps 4, 5, 6, and 7. Humility is simply having a realistic sense of oneself. A humble person accurately acknowledges his or her strengths and limitations. Of course, this requires a capacity and a willingness to be honest—without any pretense whatsoever. AA calls this having a right-sized ego. Humility gives us the willingness to ask for help and guidance from others, and to practice trusting someone beyond ourselves. It enables us to see the need for and to embrace change. Remember, nothing changes if nothing changes! Humility connects us to others through the expression of our humanity and is a bridge to freedom from our self-imposed isolation and fear.

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology


(1) ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 1162-63.
(2) Young’s Literal Translation (London: A. Fullarton & Company, 1863).|
(3) Dr. David Jeremiah, The Jeremiah Study Bible: NKJV (Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013), 826.
(4) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 595.
(5) Craig A. Boyd, “Pride and Humility: Tempering the Desire for Excellence” in Virtues and Their Vices (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014), 245.
(6) John R.W. Stott, Quotefancy. URL:
(7) Sam Loule, “Pride,” Psychology Today (Feb. 7, 2020). URL:
(8) Bill W. et al, Alcoholics Anonymous : The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 60.
(9) Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, The Little Big Book Dictionary and Concordance (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1998).
(10) Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Ibid., 75.

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