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Coming to terms: The sin in thinking we're better than we really are

Does a healthy self-concept mean we should feel proud of ourselves? In this quick defense of the Christian call to humility, Amelia explains why it's better to focus more on our shortcomings than our achievements.
Humility isn't really valued much in our Western culture. The more "psychologically healthy" we are, according to worldly measures, the better we feel about ourselves and the more we believe we're in control and capable of handling. In essence, the secular ideal of psychological health has to do with how secure we feel about what we perceive to be our good qualities.

Perhaps we call it high self-esteem, or a strong sense of self-efficacy, or having a good self-image, but what's at the root of all these so-called qualities? They all focus on the self—namely, on giving glory to the self. In Christianity, we call this pride, and we understand pride to be a sin.

If we're as humble as Christians are supposed to be, we don't give any esteem to ourselves; we glorify only God. We don't think of ourselves as very self-efficacious, because we know that without God's help we'd be entirely unable to do anything. The ideal of a Christian self-image isn't based on how good we think we are but rather on how much farther we see that we still have to go. This is what it means to be humble, always bearing in mind that only God is perfect, and remembering that His promise of salvation is a reward of His love and mercy, not a prize that we've earned or deserve.

All of us who are Christians claim to know this—that the promise of salvation from Christ is a precious gift. But in order to be grateful for this precious gift, we first have to come to terms with the fact that we're imperfect and that we don't deserve it. Many Christians feel that they're entitled to salvation simply because they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Salvation isn't guaranteed to anyone; it's offered, but not guaranteed. The Lord explicitly tells us that not everyone who calls Him Lord can enter into heaven—only those who are obedient to the will of God the Father will be welcome (Matthew 7:21, 25:1-13; Luke 9:35; 1 John 2:3; Revelation 22:14).

Pride is, in fact, a sin, one that we need to rid from our daily lives. But in order to purge it from our minds, our character, our personality, our words, and our deeds, we first need to purge it from our faith. Pride seeps into our faith and makes us think we're humble simply because we know that we should be. We can't think of anything to confess in holy confession, or we think that repentance and penance are meant for all the people who are "worse sinners" than us. We think that because we fast, or pray, or go to church, or give big donations, that we're the best Christians who've ever lived. This isn't humility; this is the mindset of a Pharisee. How are we to recognize pride in our daily life if, in the most fundamental matters of faith, our hearts are poisoned by it? We first need to fix and clean our Christianity before our Christianity can fix or clean whatever's wrong in our lives.

It's only when we come to terms with our imperfections and sinfulness and the fact that we, too, are in desperate need of salvation, that the possibility of not receiving it will concern us. This concern, this Godly fear—this is what it means to be humble.