by Pastor Sam Cirrincione
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5
A misdiagnosis can be fatal. One of the most trustworthy aspects of modern medicine is the surety that someone will be able to tell us what is wrong with us. When this happens, we can begin to pursue health. In this way, an accurate diagnosis can be lifesaving. Yet when we fail to see our real issue, true healing never takes place. And what’s worse, our sickness begins to destroy us slowly (or quickly), while affecting (or infecting) everyone we come into contact with.
Your Pride Really Is Your Issue
Recently I began meeting with a biblical counselor to work through some hurts, my heart, and some habits. Along the journey of our meetings, I described to him internal arguments I kept having. They weren’t real arguments; they were in my mind, and they mostly occurred when my mind was idle, like when trying to fall asleep. They revolved around past hurts and overflowed from genuinely feeling like I could, and needed to, clearly list out all of the sins that my opponents were perplexingly blind to. After describing the situation, my counselor replied with one of the simplest, truest, and most pointed responses that I have ever received. It changed my life forever. He said, “What’s going on, Sam, is pride. You need to be right.”
A lightbulb literally turned on in that moment. I hadn’t seen pride as the reason for my internal struggle. But by God’s grace and in His decisive timing, the Holy Spirit took that simple answer, and opened my eyes with it. Why God waited until then to break through my deafness and blindness, I am not sure. Perhaps it required years of persistent discipline and humbling before I was able to see my pride for what it was. But after much struggle, sometimes God chooses to give an instantaneous breakthrough, and this was one of those rare graces from God. But this was only the first step. Pride was not only the root cause of my internal wrestling, causing me to be upset that I didn’t have the chance to prove myself right, but it was actually the main issue of my life.
The Subtlety of Pride
Pride is a subtle foe. It is woven into all of our motives, yet we don’t see it. It hides in the middle of the issue. It is always our greatest enemy, yet it masks itself as other things. We either justify our actions with “righteous” reasons, or we diagnose our issues as personality traits, or even as other sins such as control. It can even seem wrong to diagnose some of our issues as pride—insecurities or fears, needing to know all the details, or needing to be respected or vindicated. But unless we diagnose the real issue, we will never experience true change and health.
When the lightbulb came on, everything became illuminated. I began to see that pride was really, and specifically, the issue of my life…My need to be right. My selfishness. My perfectionism. My anxiety. My frantic pace. My need to know all the details. My need to do the “right” thing. My urgent demands on others. My need to get what I want. My need for things to go the way I think they should. My insatiable need for success. My need to control outcomes or futures. The reason for certain “godly” pursuits that have more to do with affirming my own identity than they do about glorifying God or helping people. My need to be affirmed by others rather than focusing entirely on serving others. My inability to forgive and be kind to everyone. My lack of gentleness or patience. Frantically treating people as a threat or hindrance to my tasks. My tendency to retaliate or attack or demonize. My inability to patiently endure sorrow and continue entrusting myself to God. The reason I’m upset when people don’t serve my idols. The need I feel to defend, demand, or define situations. The feelings of moral superiority. The reason behind being devastated by criticism or quickly dismissing it, rather than genuinely growing from it. The reason for passive-aggressiveness. Why I feel the urge to make sure my “right” opinions are heard. Why I hold on to bitterness, as if I know better, or am better, or am innocent. The reason I feel justified in being judgmental or unloving. My tendency to hold grudges or blame shift. My inability to see my own sin. Should I go on? Because I certainly can. I am very prideful. I realized that pride is at the center of all of it. I deserve, I should be, how dare they, I can’t believe they treated me like that, look at me, I’ve got it figured out, I’m superior, and the list goes on.
In fact, hardships are not the only revealers of pride. If we could see clearly, we would find pride at the root of many of our pursuits. We’re often ignorantly riding the wild horse of insecurity or false identity into a deep desire to accomplish. We will expend every ounce of energy to validate ourselves. Yet do we ever stop and ask why we are doing the things we are doing? Do we ever ask the Lord to reveal and purify our motives? Even things that are normalized in our society, or in the church, can have motives of pride—obsessively posting stories that just point to ourselves on social media, tactfully saying things just right to elicit the most likes, or gravitating toward certain relationships or “successful” churches for the purpose of pumping validation and identity into our own veins.
For years I wondered why I faced the same recurring problems, and I’ve come to find that I never identified, and was honest about, my main issue—my pride.
The Blessing of Humility
Even a correct diagnosis does no good if it is left in hand. Identifying the issue, realizing how prideful I am and beginning to see it in every area of my life, is certainly a good start. Yet health will come when I begin to pursue humility.
The truth is, I don’t need a great identity. I just don’t. I can let it go. I am unworthy of any identity, and still I humbly have one in Christ.
In addition to this, God promises a greater reality to the humble than we could ever attain in our pride. The Bible tells us, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5, Prov. 3:34). I don’t know about you, but I want God’s grace more than I want anything else. And I certainly don’t want his opposition. It is far more beneficial to be humble and have His grace, than to pursue conceit or pride and have His opposition. This realization empowers me to love humility.
It is a far greater blessing to pursue humility than to spend my life choosing pride. The temporary benefits of pride are fleeting, tiresome, and full of trouble, but God’s gracious blessing is enduring and deeply satisfying. Therefore, I can be seen as wrong; I can lay down past hurts; I can go on silently, not receiving what I want. I can love and serve; I can be gentle and peaceful; I can be meek and last, and refrain from the urge of promoting self. I can have nothing, and then I will experience the joy of having everything. If I pursue humility and continue entrusting myself to God, I can expect His grace.
May we follow our Lord’s example (Phil. 2, 1 Pet. 5), and fall in love with the pursuit of humility.