Pride: The Sin of Independence

Every July 4th we celebrate again the freedom that we have in this country to worship God openly, without government restraint or intervention. Even though we have seen some of our freedoms being eroded away, we still enjoy a great many freedoms that are unknown throughout much of the world. Yet “we often forget that, in declaring our independence from any earthly power, our forefathers made a forthright declaration of dependence upon Almighty God. The closing words of this document (The Declaration of Independence) solemnly declare: ‘With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence (bolding mine), we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor’. When this document was drawn up and signed, our forefathers understood clearly at least 2 sobering truths. First, this liberty they sought would not come cheaply or without a fight. “Of the fifty six (who signed the Declaration), few were long to survive. Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes, from Rhode Island to Charleston, sacked, looted, occupied by the enemy, or burned. Two lost their sons in the army. One had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six died in the war, from its hardships or its bullets” (The Rebirth of America). Second, while they were declaring their independence from a repressive earthly power, they were re-affirming their dependence upon almighty God. I believe they understood all to well the tendency of the human heart to fall for the temptation of becoming taken with our own self-importance (the essence of pride), which always leads us to act as our own god, making our own decisions, doing things our own way and then taking the credit for that which is accomplished.

Billy Graham, in his book, The 7 Deadly Sins, reminds us that pride can take many forms but generally fits into 1 of 4 categories. First there is spiritual pride. This is the sin that caused Lucifer to be cast down out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15) and for Jesus to condemn the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. It is the act of trusting in one’s own righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ. Spiritual pride tempts us view others with contempt while making us contemptible to others. Second, there is the intellectual pride that Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2. What we find here are those who are filled with knowledge but are lacking in love. “This kind of pride manifests itself in arrogance toward the unlearned, the illiterate and the oppressed” while it forgets “that our mental capacities were given by God, and that the knowledge that we attain is largely the labor of others. Third, is the material pride that finds its satisfaction in wealth and the possessing of many things. Persons in this state tend to concentrate more on what they have than who they are in the sight of God and feel superior to others because of their possessions (Psalm 62:10). Finally, there is social pride, a condition that “manifests itself in class, racial and caste arrogance.” This is the belief that one’s family of origin, color of skin, or position in life somehow establishes them as being superior to others. This too is clearly condemned in Scripture (James 2:1-13).

How ridiculous we must look to God when our pride establishes itself, and we convince ourselves that all that we own, and all that we have accomplished, is the result of our own intelligence, skills and abilities. Pride is like when the beaver told the rabbit as they stared up at the immense wall of the Hoover Dam, “No I didn’t actually build it myself. But it was based on an idea of mine” (Charles H. Townes). We readily forget that it is God who, in His grace and mercy sustains our very existence, has provided us with both the abilities and opportunities to accomplish the works He sets before us each day. We would do well to remember Luther’s explanation to the first article of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

The antidote to all types of pride is stated for us in James 4:6, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” This principle is then further illustrated in the life of the Lord Jesus, “who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant” and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8a). To avoid the sin of pride we need to embrace a life of humility, rightly recognizing our position before God, who is the author of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). As we celebrate our many freedoms and privileges let us also re-affirm our dependence upon God by living a life of genuine humility. We are called to live a life of obedience and servant-hood, anything less is a perversion of the freedom that we enjoy. May God grant us the grace to imitate the life of Jesus and truly become Christ-like in every way.