Theologically what is the difference between self-confidence and pride?
God does gift individuals. And it is good to acknowledge that truth. The manager in Jesus’ parable that invested his talents and earned a good return for the owner had to have a type of confidence (Matt. 25:14-30).
Further, God created us as a “work of art” to carry out the good deeds and mission He wants us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10). So, in a sense, we can have confidence in the self that God intended us to be. Therefore, self-confidence is not in itself bad.
Of course, these truths need to be balanced by the humbling reality that we are sinners and that every good thing we have is a gift. What do we have that we did not receive (1 Cor. 4:7)? And we should always recall that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). It’s not innately ours.
Self-confidence can mean prideful evaluation of one’s ability. It does not, I don’t think, have to be understood that way though. It could mean something like: confidence in who God made you to be and in your God-given abilities. If understood that way, perhaps “God-confidence” or “God-acknowledgment” would be better.
Either way, it does not seem to me that self-confidence is inherently bad. I also think considering the opposite term can be helpful to consider: “self-skepticism” or “self-suspicion.” The Bible does say that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). So, does “self-skepticism” better describe what the view of ourselves should be?
I don’t think so. I don’t think self-confidence or self-skepticism gives us the whole picture. And if left with just one of them or even a balance of both of them together, we still miss something huge! We miss our self in relation to God.
If we consider ourselves without relation to or thought of God, we’re going to get it wrong. We’ll error on either over-confidence or over-suspicion about our self. Yet, when we consider ourselves with reference to what God can and does do, we can be confident in who He has made us to be. While at the same time not obsessing about our self, because we’re focused on Him. We can have a healthy suspicion of our self but that’s not crushing. Because we know that God can and does overcome our sin.
“Pride,” at least how I think about it, has to do with what one has done. In my mind, it means someone is proud of what they themselves have accomplished. Pride is less an evaluation of one’s ability and more so a belief that’s one’s ability is simply a result of one’s own efforts. There’s no grace in pride, given or received; all is earned.
So, with pride, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of who humans are and who God is. God is the giver we, as humans, are receivers. God is, and we are contingent. Pride is a foolish misunderstanding of ontology. God is independent, humans are dependent.
Notice, King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled after he praised himself and all he thought he himself had accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar found out that God humbles those who walk in pride (Dan. 4:37). When pride comes, then comes disgrace (Prov. 11:2).
We should, however, understand that there is a difference between “pride” and “pleasure.” King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just take pleasure in his kingdom and in all that God had entrusted to him, he took pride in it. That is, he acted as if he was responsible for it all himself. He exalted himself and failed to exalt God.
I believe it is good to take pleasure in the abilities God has given us—whether preaching, building cabinets, or whatever. In a movie about Eric Liddel, a Christian Olympic runner, he says, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in what God has given us to do. But, notice an important point: Liddel said, “God made me fast.” Liddel acknowledged God even in his abilities.
But wait, didn’t Liddel run? Didn’t Liddel sweat? Didn’t Liddel sacrifice? He showed amazing discipline to be an Olympic runner, right? Yes. And every good gift is from God. Including Liddel’s ability to do each of those things and also his ability to breathe and his very existence was from God.
So, I believe one could evaluate themself as very good at what they do and that it required a lot of work on their part to become effective, without being prideful. How so? They acknowledge that it is all a gift. Discipline—a gift. Breathing—a gift. Etc.—a gift.
Perhaps the fundamental difference between “pride” and “self-confidence” as we are considering the terms is this: One is an exaltation of self without reference to God, the other can be confidence in God with reference to who He has made you to be.
The apostle Paul had a sort of confidence—we see it demonstrated through his letters and missionary work—but he also said it was not him but Christ in him (Gal. 2:20). Paul, after He met and was radically transformed by Christ, was not so much confident in himself as what God was able to do through him, though he was a mere disposable jar of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).
So, I believe it is right and good to have a kind of self-confidence in who God has made us to be even while we work at killing pride.
*Photo by Nicolas I.