The Greatest Sin

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It’s what caused Satan to fall from heaven. It is what caused man to fall in the Garden of Eden. It’s something that God specifically says He hates. It’s something that probably every person is guilty of. And though it’s not an unforgivable sin, it’s one sin that often causes people not to seek forgiveness—which means, from an eternal perspective, it might be the most damaging sin. What is it? It’s the sin of pride.

Why It’s a Sin

Some people may look at that and wonder, why would pride be considered a sin at all?

Pride, or the kind of pride we’re talking about, is the attitude that you’re simply better or more important than somebody else. That you deserve some kind of status or reward because you’re just that good. I don’t mean that you can’t be happy if you’re rewarded for a job well done; being grateful is not pride. Pride is when you feel you’re entitled to a reward and are upset and angry if you don’t get it.

One problem with such thinking is that it ignores what God has done for you. Let’s say you’re a fast runner. You may think you’re fast because of your own hard work and training (and that is part of it). But where did you get your legs? What use would all of your training be if you didn’t have those? As GotQuestions.org puts it:

“Pride is giving ourselves the credit for something that God has accomplished. Pride is taking the glory that belongs to God alone and keeping it for ourselves. Pride is essentially self-worship. Anything we accomplish in this world would not have been possible were it not for God enabling and sustaining us.”

As for where the Bible says pride is a sin, it’s found throughout Scripture:

  • To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. – Proverbs 8:13
  • The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. – Proverbs 16:5
  • Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:18-19
  • For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12
  • All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5b

It’s also listed first among “things the Lord hates” in Proverbs 6:16-19 (“haughty” is a synonym for “proud”), and it is pretty much the opposite of being “poor in spirit” or “meek” as mentioned in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-5).

The Root of Sin

Pride may not seem like such a bad thing when compared with some more obvious sins, but it is often the root cause of those sins. Wounded pride, for instance, can be the motivation for murder. Stealing basically says, “I deserve this more than you do; my needs outweigh yours.”

More than that, though, pride is the historical root of all sin in the world. Satan was originally an angel; as described in Isaiah 14:12-15, he rebelled and was cast out of heaven because he wanted to be as important as God. When he then tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, he appealed to that same sense of pride: 

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. – Genesis 3:5

Pride comes from us wanting to be God, and wanting to be worshipped as the best and greatest.

Pride’s Destructiveness

C.S. Lewis, who was far smarter than I am, called pride “The Great Sin” in his book Mere Christianity. You can read most of that chapter in this PDF; better yet, read the whole book. In it, he talks about pride as the “one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.”

One point Lewis makes is that pride is always competitive: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.” Pride is the comparison game, and when you play the comparison game, you always lose. It’s the one sure way to never, ever be happy or satisfied. As he puts it:

“It is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Pride can make you miserable in this life, but the real danger is how it can impact your eternal life to come. Pride says that “I’m good enough” and that “what I’ve done is worthy of reward.” And I’ve talked with many people who believe that they are going to heaven because they are “good enough,” and their good works outweigh their bad.

The problem is that no one is good enough, and that no one deserves eternal life. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” They don’t add up to anything good, no matter how many there are. And in Matthew 18:23-27, Jesus uses a parable to describe our debt to God as 10,000 talents of gold—a ridiculously large amount, equivalent to 200,000 years’ worth of wages. The point of using such a figure is to show that there is no way you could even possibly dream of paying it back. You can’t do enough to pay for your sins yourself; if you think you can, or think that your sins really aren’t that bad, then you’ve committed the sin of pride.

As in the parable, though, God can and will forgive our debt if we just accept that payment. Pride denies that such a huge debt exists, or claims that we can pay it on our own and refuses to accept the necessary help. When that happens, pride ends up being the greatest sin.

By Jonathan Pokluda (with help from Kevin McConaghy).

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