Question: "What does the Bible say about conceit / being conceited?"
Answer: Conceit is excessive pride in oneself. Conceited people love to talk about themselves and their achievements, showing lesser regard for the accomplishments of others. Conceited people often take the credit for every good thing God has done in their lives and consider themselves intrinsically superior to most other people. The Bible has harsh words for the conceited because pride gets in the way of all God wants to do in and through us.
We need to note the difference between healthy self-worth and sinful conceit. Some believe that to be proud of any achievement is wrong, and they may go to the other extreme of belittling themselves. However, self-abasement is just pride on its back. It masquerades as humility but is, in fact, another way of gaining attention. Social media is a showcase for this kind of conceit. For example, a woman posts a seductive selfie with the comment “Feeling so ugly today.” What happens? Within moments, an avalanche of statements to the contrary flood her post. Conceit sometimes wears a mask, and conceited people usually know how to fish for compliments while appearing humble.
Saul is a biblical example of a conceited man. The Bible describes him as “the most handsome man in Israel” (1 Samuel 9:2). God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel, and he had a great future ahead, if he would obey the Lord. But Saul’s conceit grew with his popularity, and it did not take long for him to usurp God’s authority in his life and make decisions that put him in a good light with the people. Rather than obey God completely, Saul decided that he knew better. First Samuel 15 recounts Saul’s slide away from God’s favor. The man who could have had it all got too big for his britches, and the Lord removed him as king.
Humility is the opposite of conceit, and C. S. Lewis had a perfect definition: “Humility is not thinking less of myself. Humility is thinking of myself less.” The conceited think of themselves constantly. They may hide that self-obsession with self-deprecating remarks (“I don’t think I’ll ever do as well as I did last time”), but they can’t hide the fact that self is their primary interest. To overcome an attitude of conceit, we must be willing to see ourselves honestly, the way God sees us. We must come to terms with the fact that we are not the center of the universe; we must acknowledge the reality that no one is as obsessed with us as we are. We cure our conceit by shifting our gaze from the mirror to the face of Jesus. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
Conceit is one of the traits of wicked people in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1–5). Conceit is at the root of most sins because we choose to please ourselves instead of pleasing God or helping someone else. In contrast, Philippians 2:3 instructs us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” None of us can do this naturally. Our sin natures want to put ourselves first. But in the power of the Holy Spirit we can be intentional about humbling ourselves and agreeing with God about our worth (1 Peter 5:6; James 4:10). By faith we can develop a healthy self-image that blesses the Lord and those around us.