Humility Is Not About Us
There are many terms tossed around in culture today that are misunderstood and incorrectly used. Our understanding of a single word has the potential to influence our perspective on what we consider and communicate to be reality. The number one most critical term to rightly understand is “God.” Misunderstanding who God is has eternal implications. Every aspect of our lives, the big and the small, depend entirely on who we say God is. The way we worship is influenced by our understanding of God. The way we pray, teach, study, evangelize and love all stem from the roots of our understanding of God. If it is most important to understand who God is, then it is just as important to know our relationship to Him. And this is what the term “humility” addresses.
Scripture has a lot to say about humility, and the command given to us to walk in it (Micah 6:8, James 4:10, 1 Peter 3:8). So let’s take a look at what humility is not, to more clearly understand what humility is.
What Humility Is Not
Humility is not about our sinfulness. Too often people talk about humility like it is a painful whip intended to remind us of our failures—to keep us thinking of ourselves as dirty rotten sinners covered in the filth and stink of sin. Scripture is very clear on the unclean state of an unregenerate person. And, apart from the righteousness of Christ, this kind of description is accurate. But the truth for believers, by the grace of God, is that we are cleansed and are standing, by faith, in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are to rejoice in this incredible truth (Romans 3:23-25).
Humility is not talking badly about ourselves because we recognize man’s fallibility. Christians are supposed to be people set apart, marked by joy in eternal hope, not marked by the shame and guilt of error. Mark Dever writes that, “the church is the gospel made visible”. If humility (a virtue of every Christian – 1 Peter 3:8) is about our sin and shortcomings, then we present a gospel of shame and guilt. The “gospel” means good news, which makes no sense if the visible church is marked with shame and guilt. Some people think that the stronger our self-condemnation, the humbler we are and that contrition is all that is needed for humility. If we misunderstand humility in this way, then we misunderstand the person of Jesus Christ who was humble in all of his ways and without sin (1 Peter 2:22, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 3:5, Philippians 2:1-11).
Humility is not termination of recognition or encouragement. Most commonly, humility is associated with an individual receiving recognition for accomplishing difficult feats or earning distinguished honors. Familiar understandings of humility say that we are not to be looked at for recognition or considered for encouragement. To take it a step further, it is seen as sinful if we enjoy such recognition, encouragement and care. If humility terminates recognition and attention, then we misunderstand God’s purpose for blessing, recognizing and visibly presenting His children as lights among the world’s darkness. We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, intended to represent him among the world. We are not to be prideful in our recognition, but are called to imitate Paul who gives credit to God and His grace as in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is in me”. When we are recognized for doing good things and living obediently to God’s Word, He is glorified. Also, if humility terminates encouragement, then Paul’s urging to encourage and build up the church should be shut down and marked as an incorrect practice. If we misunderstand humility in this way, then we misunderstand our priorities as believers and disagree with Scripture, which has eternal implications. We are to recognize and reward godly good works, and encourage each other with the aim of building up the church. In this, God is glorified.
Humility is not the same as silence. To be Christian is to be active in faith, love, exhortation, discipline, repentance, evangelism and much more. We call out injustice, forgive with grace, and share a God given wisdom intended for all to hear. If humility is silent, then Paul was filled with sinful pride as he spoke openly of his convictions about Christ. What about Jesus? He spoke openly about the Kingdom of God and the way of eternal life (himself). Jesus taught in the synagogues and on the streets, as well as in houses and on mountains. But we know that Jesus exemplified humility, while also calling out injustice, guiding his disciples, speaking wisdom, working miracles and declaring truth. Jesus was seen and heard, and yet remained the perfect example of humility.
Humility is not about us. It understands who we are, but it is ultimately not about us. In the previous points, the focus was on ourselves, our sin, our shortcomings, our shame, our guilt, our achievements, our honor, our position, our recognition, and our encouragement. And sadly, these are common focuses of humility in the world around us. If humility were about any of these things, then humility is a means of destroying God’s gift of joy in our hearts. How does God expect us to be humble and joyful at the same time? Aren’t we supposed to pursue them both? Yes. But we must begin at the understanding that humility is not about us at all.
What Humility Is
Humility is all about God—the Creator and Sustainer of our very being. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed” (Revelation 4:11). You and I are created by God’s perfect will, giving us the title of being God’s creatures, and by God’s grace we are sustained in life on this earth. There is not one molecule in the universe out of the sovereign control of the Creator. Where humility is so often viewed through the lenses of self, God shows us that any measure of self actually reveals pride. Humility, as Andrew Murray writes, is “the place of entire dependence upon God.” – when we become nothing and God becomes everything. Murray also writes, “As Christians, the mystery of grace teaches us that we lose ourselves in the overwhelming greatness of redeeming love.” As the creation is always fully dependent on the Creator, we are always fully dependent on God. Any step toward self is a step out of full dependence and a step into pride. When you become emptied of self, you can become full of the Spirit. Therefore, the moment we lose ourselves in the light of divine glory we experience true humility.
Humility is a virtue of virtues. It isn’t just another piece of the Christian identity, but the root of all other virtues in the Christian life because it understands the true meaning of who God is and who we are. God is the source of all existence. To know this is to know that we are not.
Humility is perfectly represented in Jesus Christ. We have an example. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus came to the point of entire nothingness and was exalted to the highest place. He obediently followed the Father’s commands to serve Him by serving others. Being full of power and deity, Jesus continually responded with humility. Look at his statements of full dependence:
“The Son can do nothing by himself” (John 5:19)
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30).
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will” (John 6:38).
“My teaching is not my own” (John 7:16).
“I am not here on my own” (John 7:28).
“I have not come on my own; but he sent me” (John 8:42).
“I am not seeking glory for myself” (John 8:50).
“The words I say to you are not just my own” (John 14:10)
“These words you hear are not my own” (John 14:24)
Humility in conformity to Jesus Christ is coming to the state of complete nothingness in ourselves so that God may be everything. We are to live our lives humbly in service to God by serving one another. Our prayer ought to be that God trains us in true humility, so that we may experience less of ourselves and more of Him. To misunderstand humility is to misunderstand God, and misunderstanding God has eternal implications. It isn’t easy to be humble, but we rejoice and trust that God is able, so we let go of our lives and follow Him.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.”
Ryan was born and raised in Dumas, Texas, graduated from West Texas A&M University and is currently working as ministry intern at First Baptist Church in Canyon, Texas. Ryan plans to attend seminary and pursue vocational ministry. He enjoys drinking coffee, reading books, the outdoors, and time spent teaching others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.