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Pride, Humility, and Self-Esteem

Why do Christians say human pride is sinful? I don't understand what's wrong with a little self-satisfaction and self-confidence. If I feel good about myself for serving at the local soup kitchen or helping a neighbor in need, does that mean I'm going to hell? Aren't we always telling our kids that it's important to have self-esteem?

To begin with, “self-esteem” is not the same thing as “pride” in the biblical sense. When a ministry like Focus on the Family talks about the importance of self-esteem, it’s usually within the context of a discussion of the needs of children and adolescents. When a young person has been crushed and shattered by abuse, taunts, insults, or rejection, it’s important to reassure him that he is valuable in the sight of God, not only as a human being made in the Creator’s image, but as an individual for whom Christ died. This isn’t a question of inflating anybody’s ego. It’s simply a matter of providing healing and restoration for those who need it most.

The Bible has something very different in mind when it says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). This might become clearer if we were to translate the word “pride” as “arrogance” or “haughtiness.” That, after all, is exactly what it means in the scriptural context. When John describes the “world” as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the sinful pride of life” (1 John 2:16), he’s not thinking of the warm feeling you get when you’ve done a good job at work or helped someone in need. Instead, he’s warning you against the seductive notion that you don’t need God. He’s telling you to beware of the idea that you can get along very well on your own and can in fact become a god in your own right. This is the kind of pride that lies at the root of all human sin. The Tempter understood this when, in the Garden of Eden, he enticed Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by saying, “In the day you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

The devil is the model of this principle. It was out of pride that he chose to exalt himself in defiance of the Almighty. In so doing, he violated his relationship with the King of Heaven. Mankind made the same bad choice. Man didn’t do this because the devil forced him to. Instead, he freely chose, under the influence of temptation, to follow the devil’s example.

On the other side of the coin, it’s important to understand that biblical humility isn’t about self-hatred or self-debasement. It would be more accurate to describe it as a kind of self-forgetfulness. It’s a matter of knowing your place and embracing your role in the bigger scheme of things. It’s about fulfilling God’s purpose for your life with enthusiasm and zeal no matter how you feel. It’s a question of putting other people’s interests ahead of your own.

If you need further help understanding these concepts, call our staff of pastoral counselors. They’d love to discuss your questions and concerns with you over the phone.


The Power of Humility

Other books on Humility

Mere Christianity


Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living




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