What Is Humility?

Written on January 24, 2007

In my article titled Delighting in the Lord, I have pointed out that reverence for God is not a matter of our own intellect, but it is a matter of simple child-like humility and faith (See Matthew 18:2-4). Once we have such a simple reverence, it is not so much a matter of whether or not we should be proud, as if God has given us some rule to ruin our joy....but we then see that we really have nothing to be proud of in the first place. The apostle Paul made this point in the following verse:

“For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

I would now like to explain this in more detail. Rather than truly submitting to God in simple reverence of His awesome character, we can sometimes become too focused on our ability to surrender, or on our lack of ability to surrender. In doing so, we have not fully grasped the fact that our state, or what is in our heart, is not the object of our faith…but we are to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

If God Himself accomplishes our surrender, then we will realize that we have nothing to be proud of once we have truly surrendered. We then realize that to be proud is to be blind. And God does indeed accomplish our surrender: “of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Some people have implied that they are trying their best to live humbly…but the very fact that we would strive so hard to attain humility before such an awesome, perfect, and holy God only shows that we have not gotten an accurate view of His awesome character. If we got the view of God that Job and Isaiah did, and thus an accurate view of ourselves, then we could not help but, in simple child-like faith and humility, show reverence for the awesome character of God.

Just as pride becomes the very nature of the natural man, so humility becomes the nature of those whose surrender God Himself has accomplished. In this case, Jesus Himself has become our humility (I will explain more about that later in this article). On the other hand, if we are striving in the flesh to attain humility, or if we insist on believing that self-esteem and humility are the same thing, then we may only continually find ourselves becoming proud of how “humble” we are. The truly humble soul will acknowledge that it has a need for continual humility as long as it is on this earth. We will always need continual humility until Jesus is fully revealed, and we “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

For example, even the apostle Paul acknowledged that his thorn in the flesh was “lest [he] should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7). This apostle, who was full of such amazing love and godly wisdom still needed to be kept from being exalted above measure. Since that was the case with the great apostle Paul, we can be sure that it is also the case with us as long as we are on this earth. It is only when Jesus comes back to take us home that we will finally know, just as we also are known (See 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Some of the things which once seemed unfair and unclear to us will then be beautiful to us. I imagine that it will be embarrassing to find out about all of the blind spots that we had while we were on this earth, but at the same time we will then see the beauty in what we once saw as unfair. The reason that I mentioned that is because we often view God as someone who wants to ruin our joy, but we have it backwards. For example, we may be afraid to lose the vain, temporary, worldly joy that we have in receiving honor from one another…but in doing so, we have not truly believed, in simple child-like faith, that there is a much greater joy in Christ. Andrew Murray put it this way:

“Brethren! Nothing can cure you of the desire to receive honor from men, or of the sensitivity and pain and anger which come when it is not given, except giving yourself to seek only the glory that comes from God. Let the glory of the all-glorious God be everything to you. You will be freed from the glory of men and of self, and be content and glad to be nothing. Out of this nothingness you will grow strong in faith, giving glory to God. You will find that the deeper you sink in humility before Him, the nearer He is to fulfill every desire of your faith.” (Andrew Murray, Humility, page 72 - also available to read online for free).

Indeed, “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him” (Psalm 145:19). And once again, this simple reverence is not a matter of our own intellect. That should be obvious by now. It is an acknowledgement of our own utter helplessness and unworthiness before a perfect, holy God – and such an acknowledgment will come from getting an accurate view of His awesome character.

For many of us, it often takes a deep burden and despair for us to get a more accurate view of God. For example, Paul stated that “we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of our life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

This verse is not saying that God causes all of the suffering in the world, and I don’t believe that He does. In fact, the Bible even tells us that “He does not afflict willingly” (Lamentations 3:33). But, in a world full of suffering which has been brought on by the vanity of sin, a deep despair is sometimes what He needs to use in order to get our attention. This is sometimes what is needed for God to accomplish our surrender. It was not until I reached the point of utter despair and emptiness that God finally got my attention (See My Testimony).

So what is humility? It is the very nature of Jesus Himself. As we cloth ourselves with humility, we are actually clothing ourselves with the very nature of Jesus Himself. Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus [who]…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2:5-7). When God accomplishes our surrender, the humble personality of Jesus then becomes our personality, and we then see things the same way that He sees them. This is what it means to have the mind of Christ.

Jesus Himself said “I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). Just as Jesus was drawing on the power of the Father, so we must draw on His power. Just as Jesus could do nothing of Himself, but drew His power from the Father, so we can do nothing of ourselves. This is why Jesus said “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When He said “learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29), His desire was that we would be clothed with the same meekness, which is His very nature.

In order to understand this humility, we must understand that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve: “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came to serve” (Matthew 20:27-28). It is this same mind which He hopes to give us (See Philippians 2:5 once again). Any other kind of “humility” is false humility.

Once we truly have this humility, our love for God and for our neighbor than compels us to seek only His will, just as Jesus (who has then become our humility) did not seek His own will, but the will of the Father. With the realization that God’s glory is the only glory that will truly profit mankind, we then seek only for Him to be glorified, knowing that if we exalt ourselves in any way, God is thereby dishonored, and our testimony of His grace may then be seen by the world as bogus.

If you have noticed that this humility is lacking in you, please don’t be discouraged. If this humility is indeed lacking in you, then I just ask you to draw on Jesus’ power right now, and He will freely give you the humility that you ask for. Remember, without Him you can do nothing.


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