Pride in the self is clearly our default, and it works in us as a sinful vice. When Christ warned the Pharisees about self-righteous pride, He described them as those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). Yet, when we truly reflect on the weight of our sin and misery, selfish pride quickly deflates. Consider Paul, who, rather than boasting in all his own achievements and merits, began his writing as “chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15, KJV). Furthermore, when we truly understand the good news of Jesus Christ, selfish pride and boasting find no room in our hearts. As Horatius Bonar declared, “I love because he loveth me, I live because he lives.” As those who owe our very lives to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must resist the temptation to be prideful in ourselves.
In a similar manner, we must also be on guard against humility that is rooted in ourselves rather than in God. The primary understanding of humility in Scripture tells us that it is a virtue, as we will consider shortly. However, when humility is based on ourselves, it falls into the same trap as selfish pride. If humility becomes centered on the self, then we find a virtue quickly turned into a vice.
The vice of self-centered humility appears in a number of ways. Self-loathing, cowardice, and false humility can all take place in the name of humility. Consider one example. If a strong Christian is asked to serve as an elder or deacon in his church, he may respond, “In all humility, I am unfit to serve.” However, the man may have no biblical reason for this humble response, and he may simply be confusing self-loathing with humility. We must be on guard against hating ourselves in the name of humility.
A vice of humility can also be seen in cowardice that leads to silence even when we should speak up. We may tell ourselves that by never opening our mouths when we encounter evil, we are being peacemakers or neighbor-lovers or are depending on God. However, this silence can quickly turn the virtue of humility into a vice of cowardice. So, when an extended family member mocks Christianity or when an old high school friend says that all religions are the same, we often fall silent in the name of humility when we are actually motivated by cowardice.
We must also be on guard against pretended humility, which is even worse than pride. The vice of pride is at least honest in its error. However, pretended humility is pride wearing a disguise. For example, a well-known pastor might say, “I never thought I could write five books in the span of a year, but I’m just thankful that my family supported me throughout this difficult task.” At first glance, this statement could sound humble, but in reality, it might be less about showing thankfulness and more about promoting the accomplishment and looking for acclaim.
As those who are alive in Christ, we must be putting off the vice of humility that masks itself as self-loathing, cowardice, or arrogance. We must flee from this vice and trust in the Lord. Only then can we turn to reflect on both pride and humility as virtues.
pride and humility as virtues
As looking to the self makes both pride and humility vices, looking away from the self to Christ turns these attributes to virtues. When we look to the Lord, both pride and humility can become true virtues.