Most of us recognize the need for humility in the life of a Christ-follower, yet we also find it so elusive and difficult to develop. We desire to be humble in the sight of God and others, still we find ourselves full of pride. We often become discouraged and give up altogether. However, this issue is far too important in our relationship with Christ to give up so easily. I would like to offer several suggestions as to why I think we fail to grow in humility, followed by some thoughts as to how we might establish proper footing on the path of humility with Christ.
Problem #1: We approach humility as a character trait that we must develop. Our plan includes hard work, discipline, prayer, (but...mostly hard work!), in an attempt to figure out how to grow in humility. We try to humble ourselves. I know what you are thinking, "What's wrong with that, doesn't the Bible tells us to 'humble thyself in the sight of the Lord'?" Yes...it does, but I don't think it means that we have to humble ourselves by our own hard work and efforts. Humility is more of a posture that we assume than a work that we accomplish. Andrew Murray states it better than I ever could, "It (humility) is not something we bring to God or he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all [...] humility is simply acknowledging the truth of our position as creature and yielding to God his place."(1)
Problem #2. We focus on eliminating pride as a means to achieving humility. I find it very common in the Christian community to overemphasize what we are not supposed to do rather than focus on what we are to be about. This is exactly what we are doing here. We see pride as the problem so we focus on rooting out the pride in our life. Thus, we develop a plan for what I like to call "sin management." Our thought is something like this, "If only I could manage to sin less often, then I will become a better Christian. If only I could be less prideful, then I will become humble." Usually this leads to further pride and the development of self-righteous thoughts and behaviors. We must recognize that pride is a problem precisely because we are not humble people. Therefore, our focus must be on growing in humility rather than trying to be less prideful.
Problem #3: We are not willing to die. We think we want humility but we are not willing to die for it. The key to growing in humility is recognizing that you can't. Humility is such a foreign idea to fallen creatures that we cannot accept it. If we truly want to be humble people, we must die. To be clear, I am not suggesting that we cannot be humble until after we die and go to heaven. I am not talking about a physical death, rather a spiritual death and rebirth! Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35) Paul wrote to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20a) This is how we can realize humility in our lives, we must deny ourselves and create space in our lives for the humility of Christ to be at work. As the sinful nature is put to death, the life of Christ (including his perfect humility) will be manifest in our lives. Humility is the place of entire dependence on God where we abandon all to God and allow Him to be all in us. (2)
1. Andrew Murray, Humility: Beauty of Holiness, copyright 1896 (Scotts Valley California 2009 printing) p.16.
2. Ibid., 14.