Feeling Humble? (You Should) – Part 1

Part 1 of 2

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6. NIV

God’s opposition to pride reveals pride’s true character. He opposes it and should do so because it is so contrary to love. Love values each person according to their intrinsic worth; the proud value themselves disproportionately and in doing so, devalue others (including God) to gain for themselves. In contrast, God values and makes provision for the humble.

There may be few qualities as important, as thematic, to the Christian life as humility; and perhaps none more misunderstood. Humility is an aspect of God’s own character clearly revealed in Jesus and He challenges us to the same (Phil. 2:5-8).[1] But what is it?

It is often confused with humiliation. Some think that humility must involve being shamed or denigrated in some way, “I’ll know that I am humble when I am humiliated.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, humiliation is a demonic, twisted, destructive version of true humility. Humiliation is an attack upon one’s value and worth; humility is a proper understanding and expression of one’s worth. Humiliation is intended to tear down; humility is the way to wholeness and health in our lives and relationships.

Some equate humility with self-denial. Some of the monastic movements in history went the route of severe asceticism to both produce humility (in their minds) and show their piety. For them, there could be no humility without some sort of rigid restriction of bodily desires or even self-inflicted suffering. As “out there” as that might seem to us, they saw it as the road to humility.[2]

Now, self-denial is part of the Christian life; Jesus summoned us to give up our life and follow Him in a cross-bearing lifestyle. But denying one’s self in and of itself is not humility. In fact, self-denial might just be a form of pride, “Look at me, how sacrificial I am.” Rather, it is when we see the truth of God’s incredible love and sacrifice, we will want to emulate Him (Eph. 5:1-2) and in this way self-denial becomes part of our lifestyle of humility. But humility and self-denial are not to be exactly equated.

Some think humility means never saying anything good about yourself nor letting others praise you. “What a great job you did when you led worship at church!” “Oh, no brother, it wasn’t me, I can ‘do nothing of myself,’ it was Jesus.” We might think, “how humble!” But humility is not denying reality (“I didn’t do anything…blah blah blah”) but acknowledging reality. A better response might be, “Thank you so much for your encouragement.” Of course, the person receiving the praise knows that without God’s help, they really couldn’t accomplish anything. But false humility can be nothing more than “worm pride” – “I’m just a worm, you know, nothing good in me.”

Humility is a conscious decision to seek and embrace truth. Humility recognizes that we cannot fully or accurately see as we should on our own. We need the perspective of other truth seekers; but mostly we need God’s! Humility recognizes our limitations. Humility knows the truth about itself – that it is not sufficient in itself. Healthy interdependence is the mark of a humble life and lifestyle.[3]

Humility is to know and tell the truth, as best we can. It is the willingness to be known for who we really are – and that includes good things as well as the not so good things about us. We might think humility is really only about seeing how bad we are. But humility is seeing the truth about ourselves, good and bad. Many believers need to practice humility because they never have really been willing to acknowledge what is good and true about themselves from God’s perspective.

I was once praying for a person and God had me say to them, “You really are God’s daughter, that’s how He sees you.” (Cliché, I know, but that’s what God gave me) Their eyes were closed (mine were open) and as I said this they shook their head side to side in the negative. When we had finished praying I asked if they had remembered doing this and they said, “No.” So entrenched was their false thinking, they had reacted almost unconsciously and negatively to truth. They needed humility to begin to say what was true about themselves from God’s perspective, regardless of how they felt or how deep was their wrong personal image. While pain and hurt can leave us deeply wounded, humility can open our lives to God’s healing grace and wholeness. But we must believe and act on truth.

Humility is a choice that we make. Some might hold that if we think we can choose humility that somehow only shows how proud we are! “Who do you think you are, thinking you can be humble on your own.” Such a misunderstanding encourages passivity and misses the point of humility altogether – humility is a decision I make to seek God for the truth and respond to it.

For some, to say we are seeking to walk in humility is an oxymoron, “you are really proud of your humility aren’t you.” Humility is not an “it” that is somehow given to me. Note that the James’ passage does not say that we get humility from grace, rather that our humility opens our lives to grace. Clearly, we must do something. To not choose humility is to choose pride, these are the only options. To choose humility is not an act of pride.

Humility comes out of my relationship with God as I fully embrace the truth He gives and respond appropriately to it. Humility is a relational response to truth – about God, others and myself.[4]

Go on to Part 2

Copyright by Mike Huckins March 2017

[1] Especially, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” The English word “attitude” leaves too weak an impression as the description of Jesus’ “attitude” in the next verses shows (2:6-8). The Greek phroneo is here better translated as “orientation of life” or “life purpose” and this fits the context well. The orientation of Jesus life was that of humility, self-sacrifice and servanthood. In this He simply reflects the heart and orientation of God!

[2] Some of those who God most used went through a time of trying to “humble” themselves in these ways. Luther, Wesley, Whitefield and others discovered that it is God’s love that draws us into a life of humility, not our own self-abasement. Consider George Whitefield. He describes a time in his life, before he came to know Jesus, when he thought that extreme deprivation was what Jesus meant by self-denial. He writes in his journal, “Whole days and weeks have I spent lying prostrate upon the ground…. Having no one to show me a better way I thought to get peace and purity by outward austerities (outward acts of deprivation).  I began to leave off eating fruits and such like, and gave the money I usually spent in that way to the poor. Afterwards I always chose the worst sort of food, though my place furnished me with variety.  I fasted twice a week. My apparel was mean (poor condition or simple). I thought it unbecoming for a penitent to have his hair pow­dered. I wore woolen gloves, a patched gown (clothing of the 18th century) and dirty shoes, and therefore looked upon myself as very humble.

[3] Independence says, “I don’t need you.” Dependence says, “I need you too much.” Interdependence says, “I need you and you need me, but mostly we all need Jesus!”

[4] Many of the NT contexts which talk about humility are about our life together as God’s people (James 4:1f. 1 Peter 5:5. Romans 12:3, 16). It is essential to our relating rightly together; it is very much a relational idea.

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