Why It Is Hard to Repent of Pride

Pride is a catch-all word for sin. You could say that pride is sin and sin is pride. Pride is a helpful word in that it accurately describes our fallenness. It is a word we know and a word we understand.

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For example, when I say that I am proud, everyone immediately knows that it is not a good thing and that I need help. The word gets you thinking and moving in the right direction. Pride is like a warning alarm that calls the gospel-centered person to action.

Let’s Get Specific

The downside to the word pride is that it does not get into the specifics of my sin. Since all sin is a form of pride, it is hard to repent of it. But if you tell me what specific manifestation of pride that you see in my life, I can repent. Let’s say that the form of pride that I struggle with is self-righteousness, or anger, or arrogance, or laziness. All of these are manifestations of pride.

A helpful way for me to think about pride is by using the analogy of weeds growing out of a flower pot. You could say that pride is like the dirt in the container, while the specific sins are the various weeds that grow out of the soil. In this illustration, pride is the fertile “soil of the heart” from which the specific “weeds of sin” grow.

It is more helpful for someone to tell me the form of pride that they observe in my life than for them to say that I’m a proud man. I know that I’m proud, but the best help will tease out the specific kinds that they see in me. When my friends point out the specifics of my sin, I have a better chance of going to God to receive his forgiveness and cleansing for my sinfulness (1 John 1:9).

Go West Young Man

Being non-specific about my sin is like telling me to go west, but not giving me a specific destination. I would point my wagon toward the setting sun and strike the mules to get them going, but without a clear goal in mind, I would only be heading somewhere toward the Pacific Ocean.

For me to be sufficiently helped I need the specifics. The gospel is ready, willing, and able to cleanse me from all my pride-generated sin. Tell me exactly what to put off so I can put it behind me, renew my mind, and put on the Christlike life (Ephesians 4:22-24).

It is not unusual to hear the counselors, small group leaders, and pastors that I train say that they need to repent of pride, or they may talk about someone they are working with who needs to repent of pride. While their assessment is an accurate assessment, I appeal to them to be more specific in their observations by asking God to reveal to them what manifestations of pride they are observing in those they are serving.

If you were to tell me that you struggled with pride, I would not be surprised. You are a fallen person like me living in a fallen world. The problem with your self-analysis, as humble as it would be, is that I would not know anything new about you.

A broad characterization like that may reduce my counsel down to me telling you to pray more and read your Bible. Though praying and Bible reading are excellent disciplines, they are generally not enough when it comes to the granular level of your sin.

By saying that you are proud is to affirm what the Bible teaches. But if you tell me the specific manifestations of your pride, I would uniquely know you because your “sinful ways” would separate you from every other human on the planet. I would be able to pray specifically for you. I would also be able to bring specific Scriptures to bear on your unique manifestations of pride.

I encourage you to learn how to be more specific with your friends. To say, “I am sick” is one thing, but to say, “I have the flu,” tells me a lot more. We can serve each other better by thinking deeply about each other while bringing the gospel to each other in “customized” ways.

The next time someone says you are proud, be sure to thank them for caring for your soul. But do not let him off the hook. Make him tell you exactly how he sees your pride working out in your life. A true friend will work with you in the specifics of your issues. Between the two of you, you should be able to get down to the nitty-gritty of your sin so you can fully repent.

One Last Thing

I often hear people say that they are “so proud of (fill in the blank).” They are proud of their child, or they are proud of some achievement, etc. I understand what they are saying, but using the word “proud” in that way is not the best way to communicate their thoughts.

When good things come my way, I like to say, “I’m so encouraged by my child’s (fill in the blank). Or, “God is so kind to permit this to happen.” Using the word “pride” to talk about the mercies of the Lord does not adequately express your thoughts.

For example, “I’m so encouraged by God’s kindness to me through the readers of our site.” I’m not “proud” of you, but I’m thankful to God for you.

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