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Humility: a neglected Christian virtue?

September 2017 | by Timothy Cross

‘I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think’, wrote the apostle Paul (Romans 12:3).

An apocryphal story relates how, at the funeral of a successful businessman, tribute was paid to him, saying, ‘Bob was a self-made man, and he worshipped his maker’.

Humour apart, such pride is antithetical to the faith of the Bible. When the Israelites were about to enter and inherit the promised land of Canaan — a land which, in contrast to the desert-wilderness, was characterised by great abundance — God warned them, ‘Beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth. You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

Here is a reminder that there is actually no such thing as a ‘self-made man’. Our years are given to us by Almighty God: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Even our developed gifts, talents and abilities are ultimately from him. If God saw fit, he could take away our health, wealth and very lives in an instant.

Arrogance or dependence

The words of 1 Corinthians 4:7 are apt for today’s boasting culture: ‘What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?’ In Proverbs 16:5 we read the stern and stark words, ‘Everyone who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished’.

Why, though, is an arrogant man, full of self and pride, so abominable in the sight of the Lord? Simply because such a person has no room for God. He or she lives a self-centred life independently from God, and does not give God the honour and praise which is his due. They as good as worship and exalt themselves, instead of their Maker. Such is idolatry and blasphemy. ‘Be assured, he will not go unpunished’.

The Bible condemns pride and arrogance in unequivocal terms. But, positively, it enjoins on us humility — a right view of ourselves — in a life of trust and dependence on God, and gratitude to him for the earthly and eternal blessings he sends our way.

God’s blessing comes to those who humble themselves before him, rather than exalt themselves before others: ‘thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit’; and, ‘this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my Word’ (Isaiah 57:15; 66:2).

Pharisee or tax collector

The Lord Jesus concluded his famous parable of the pharisee and the tax collector by affirming, ‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Luke 18:14).

The pharisee was a self-made man. He ‘blew his own trumpet’ before God, but he was lost. The tax collector, in complete contrast, admitted that he had nothing with which he could commend himself to God. He confessed himself a sinner and cast himself solely on the divine mercy. But it was this man who was saved. ‘This man went down to his house justified rather than the other’ (Luke 18:14). Perhaps Peter had this parable in mind when, years later, he wrote, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5).

The greatest blessing of all, therefore, namely God’s salvation, comes only to the humble. God’s saving grace is given only to those who realise their dire and desperate need for his saving grace.

The arrogant man cannot and will not admit his need of Christ. He is imprisoned in his own prison of complacency, self aggrandisement and congratulation. The Christian however has been saved by God’s grace. God has broken down the walls of complacency.

God humbles our pride. His Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and need for a Saviour and enables us to cleave to Christ alone as the answer to our deepest need.

No room for pride

So, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. There is and can be no room for pride and arrogance in the Christian life. ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’ (1 Corinthians 15:10). All that we have is bestowed by the grace of God and the God of grace.

A Christian gives glory to Christ alone, for salvation is not the result of self-effort but traceable solely to the grace of God in Christ. Truth be told, no Christian will ever graduate beyond being a sinner saved by grace.

Naught have I gotten, but I have received,

Grace has bestowed it, and I have believed,

Boasting excluded, pride I abase,

I’m only a sinner saved by grace.

Only a sinner, saved by grace, only a sinner, saved by grace,

This is my story, to God be the glory.

I’m only a sinner, saved by grace.

Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org)