A Failed Humility
St. Augustine once wrote, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men into angels.” Can a man humble himself before Almighty God? It has never been done. The Bible grants us a view of Moses and calls him the humblest man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3). As one reads the Pentateuch, it is apparent that Moses had issues. Those were caused by sin in Moses, and they caused Moses to sin all the more. There were consequences to his sin. If Moses is the epitome of humble, then, “Zion, we have a problem.”
Likewise in the New Testament, can we find one more exemplary than the apostle Paul? While ambitious Christians, with a penchant to learn church growth secrets from the great apostle, strive for greater performance, more discerning Christians look at his course of suffering, laid out for him by God (Acts 9:16; 1 Cor 4, 2 Cor 12).
Paul was extraordinarily gifted. He had an amazing intellect, a stellar education, a privileged family, and an incomparable zeal. In contradistinction, his life was almost nothing but suffering. God gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to slow him down (2 Cor 12:7). God was utterly committed to keeping Paul humble before him.
Ambition in the ministry is ugly. This is contrasted with zeal for God, His kingdom, and His glory. How insidious is even the slightest prowess in performance? Pride is crouching at the door. Simply put, men think more highly of themselves than they ought to. Pride comes before a fall and leads to destruction. Are you walking humbly with your God? (Don’t answer that!)
Here is the reason God will allow no self-generated performance of humility by His own people. Success at increasing humility can only lead to an increase in pride. The irony is stark. God alone must humble a man, set him apart as a saint, even more so as a slave (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 4:3, 7; 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2).
Christ emptied Himself of glory in leaving heaven and coming to earth in His first advent (Phil 2:5–11). There is no one else who can do the same. Men are too full of themselves.
Consider the man who has just scored a touchdown in football, or the man who has just slammed the ball through the hoop in basketball. What are his words and his gestures? How quickly he forgets the Spectator who made him, gifted him, in order to glorify Him. Sinful man is unwilling and unable to give glory to God because he is totally depraved by the fall (Gen 3; 6:5; Is 64:6; Jer 17:9; Rom 1:18–32; 3:10–12, 23; 6:23; 8:7). He is dead to God, as he is dead in sin (Eph 2:1, 12).
The Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11). He has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), and his heart has affection for God. Under the mighty hand of God, the Christian is humbled (1 Pet 5:6). He must be humbled by God because his sin nature and his sinful flesh prevent him from humbling himself. These war against the Spirit in him (Rom 8:4, 5, 6, 9, 13), and against his own soul (1 Pet 2:11).
The only reasonable boast from a Christian should be to boast in the Lord, who does all things well (Ps 34:2; Jer 9:24; 1 Cor 1:31). It is the indwelling Lord who is willing and doing every good work prepared beforehand for the Christian to walk in (Rom 8:9, 11; Eph 2:10).
God’s Spirit does the work (Phil 2:13), and God gets the glory for the great things He has done. The Christian can boast in nothing of his own, but how quickly he will allow the praise of men to visit him for good performance. Beware of any Christian who has an elongated history of sustained good performance. There is a real possibility that he is not a Christian, but God has turned him over to a reprobate mind and to the devil who gives him success in the eyes of the world. Far better to be in prison with Paul, having been forsaken by much of the church (2 Tim 4).
The Christian is the object of God’s sanctification (Jn 17:17; 1 Thess 4:3). God is the potter, and the clay vessel prepared for glory is the Christian (Jer 18:6; Is 64:8; Rom 9:21), who has received mercy day after day after day.
The Christian, who is constrained to be in the Scriptures, is confronted with the wrath of God he deserves (Rom 1:18). He is humbled by what he reads. The Christian confesses the weakness of his flesh (Mt 26:41; Rom 6:19), in fighting sins that so easily encompass him. All these things ensure he is being humbled under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet 5:6). There is more.
Christians are ordained to enter the sufferings of Christ (Col 1:24), joining with the rest of His body to endure various forms of persecution, by the evil machinations of men and devils in the world (1 Pet 4:12–19). The Christian is being humbled. It is her remaining course in this life. God will not share His glory with another, even His own, until the day of glory.
The Christian has no control over his design of being humbled by God. He is given grace to move forward along the pilgrim’s way (Jas 4:6), but there will be more trouble because we remain in the world. It is good for a Christian to be humbled, and God is working all things together for good (Rom 8:28), so His people will walk humbly before Him in reverence and awe (Mic 6:8). This is God’s grace to them.
Christian, your efforts of self-humility ensure a failed humility. Instead, trust Christ, who always leads us in triumph on the narrow way of suffering and humility. Give thanks for your non-performance…it is probably a good sign that you are being humbled.
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 24, 2022