The Problem with Pride

Bible Reading: Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9, “And He told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves…”

Jesus’ parable speaks of two very different men offering two very different kinds of prayers, having two distinctly different results.  The Pharisee was self-righteous, the tax-gatherer was not.  The Pharisee prayed to himself and asked for nothing because he supposed there was nothing he needed.  The tax-gatherer prayed to God and cried out for mercy because he was well aware of his shortcomings.  The Pharisee’s prayer was unacceptable to God.  The tax-gatherer’s prayer met with God’s approval: “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

God hates pride.  Pride was at the heart of the Devil’s sinful rebellion (Isaiah 14:12-14).  It was to pride that Adam and Eve were tempted and then fell (Genesis 3:5, “You will be like God.”).  It was with pride they foolishly presumed to compensate for their loss by sewing “fig leaves together” to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7).  False religions, like Pharisaic Judaism, operate according to that foolhardy scheme.  Religions wrongly assume there is something man himself can do in his own wisdom and strength, to make up for that which was lost in the fall. The truth is pride is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:16).  God is opposed to the proud (Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6).  Indeed, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).  Pride is at the root of all that ails man and works to cloud a person’s vision regarding his need for mercy and forgiveness.

The Pharisee measured spirituality on a horizontal plane and deemed himself better than others.  Religion works according to the false premise that a person is doing well as long as they can find some poor fool that’s worse off than they are (Luke 18:11). It is easy for any of us to get caught up in this system of thinking about things.  The church in Corinth, beset with pride-related issues, was likewise misled: “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Humility can be defined as rightly esteeming oneself, before God and others, in view of God’s holiness and one’s own sinfulness.  Humility is a Spirit-imparted virtue.  J. C. Ryle, “The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our own goodness.”  The Spirit alone can work to open our eyes to the glory of the Lord (John 16:14) and gravity and depth of our need (John 16:8).  Stripped of ill-founded and deceptive notions regarding human merit, the humble person cries out to God for mercy, as the hymn puts it: “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die!”  In humility the tax-collector cried out to God for mercy. God was well-pleased to grant it (Luke 18:13-14).

Humility is not deemed virtuous by the worldly (Romans 1:30; 2 Timothy 3:2).  It is possible for professing Christians to be so deceived (Revelation 3:17).  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector serves to instruct and remind us of the importance of seeing things from God’s perspective.  Preoccupation with self is the spirit of our day.  Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-assertion, etc. are all attitudes deemed to be both noble and essential.  But salvation comes to the “bankruptcy of spirit” (Matthew 5:3).  The Apostle Paul was a proud and self-righteous Pharisee when he first met Jesus (Philippians 3:4-6).  Jesus saved him, changing both his perspective and his heart.  His testimony speaks to the problem with pride: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).  Pride esteems religious self-righteousness as virtuous, but humility rightly deems it as rubbish.  

“God is well-pleased to grant mercy to those with humility enough to ask!”


Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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