Pride is perhaps the greatest evil that exists. It wreaks destruction at every level of human experience. It’s present in small irritations and in the collapse of great civilizations. Pride is the root of every sin and pollutes every otherwise righteous affection, motivation, and action.
While humility sees glory and wants to praise it, pride sees glory and wants to possess it. Pride turns ambition selfish, perverts sexual desire into unspeakable lusts, interprets net-worth as self-worth, infects the wound of grief and loss with the bacteria of bitterness, and twists competition into conquest.
To be proud is what it means to be fallen, whether angel or human. Pride is our most deadly enemy — it is what makes Satan deadly to us. And it is alive and active within us.
But Jesus came to deliver us from the power of pride and restore all the joy it steals. “Death to the tyrant pride!” is the great gospel battle cry of freedom.
The Killer of Our Happiness
To understand what pride is, we must understand what humility is. Humility is essentially the recognition of what is real, simply assessing things as they really are. To be fully humble is to fully trust God (Proverbs 3:5), the Truth (John 14:6; 17:17), to govern according to his just ways and perfect work (Deuteronomy 32:4); to be content with what he gives us (Hebrews 13:5), knowing that “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).
Pride, then, is simply to think higher of ourselves, and therefore lower of others, than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). Oh so simple to define — and yet powerful to produce such hellish consequences. To be proud is to see the world through the lens of a lie.
In thinking ourselves far greater than we really are, we see truly great things far smaller than they really are. The lie of pride becomes a damned lie when we see God as smaller, and less important than he is. And in trying to make truly great things subservient to our false supremacy, pride shrinks our capacity to experience joy and wonder. In seeking to be gods and goddesses, we learn to only value what magnifies our glory or satisfies our appetites. We yawn at the Grand Canyon and fawn at the mirror.
“Pride makes us yawn at the Grand Canyon and fawn at the mirror.”
The damned lie of pride is that it promises us happiness through God-usurping self-exaltation, which turns out to be the very thing that kills our happiness. The more highly we think of ourselves, the smaller our capacity for wonder and worship over what is most worthy.
Only Children Enter the Kingdom
This is why Jesus said that only children would enter the kingdom of heaven.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1–4)
Why do only childlike people enter the kingdom of heaven? Because only childlike people have the capacity to enjoy it.
Think about it like this: Children delight in going to a playground; adults chase delight in trying to possess their own “playground.” Children love to hear a great story; adults want to be impressively well-read. Children dance for joy at the thought of a doughnut; doughnut dancing is beneath the dignity of self-conscious adults. Children are easily absorbed in the greatness of something wonderful; adults are easily absorbed in wanting to be great.
“Proud ‘grown ups’ cannot be happy in heaven.”
Satan wants us to grow up and be like God. God, on the other hand, wants us to grow up and be like children. Listen to God. He knows that it requires humility to fully enjoy things for what they are. That’s why heaven is for children. Don’t listen to Satan. All he shows us is that proud “grown ups” cannot be happy in heaven.
Just Take the Next Humble Step
Jesus came into the world to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And the devil’s most destructive work was to turn humble, wonder-filled, happy creatures into proud, rebellious, miserable sin-slaves who think they can become gods and goddesses. On the cross Jesus purchased the reverse of this curse, to set us free from satanic pride and to restore our God-like joy and wonder.
This is why everything about the gospel is designed to expose our pride and force us to put it to death. God doesn’t humble us because, like some conceited tyrant, he takes pleasure in our groveling. He humbles us because he wants us to be happy and free — he wants us to reflect his image! God is perfectly humble; he sees all things — himself and everything else — exactly as they are. And he is the happiest being alive.
The only road for us proud sinners to travel to reach the promised land of joy and be the free children of God passes through the valley of humiliation. And it’s hard, and the trek requires real courage. Humbling ourselves often feels like death, but it really is not. It’s holy chemotherapy that kills the cancer of pride. “Whoever would save his life will lose it” (Luke 9:24) means losing the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16) in order to gain what is “truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19).
“The holy habit of humility is formed one honest step at a time.”
Yes, through humility Jesus is inviting us into a heaven of joy and wonder. And it’s a heaven that begins now. To travel this humble road to joy only requires taking the next step, the one right in front of us today. It’s that step that our pride doesn’t want us to take.
Go ahead and take it. You won’t regret it. The joy of humility will grow and the misery of pride will shrink as you do. The holy habit of humility is formed one honest step at a time.