If you look around Christianity you will find humility is a fairly common thread, at least in theory. Humility is in the DNA of salvation, for we cannot be saved unless we humble ourselves before God’s loving provision in Jesus’ death on the cross. Humility is a staple ingredient in spiritual growth, for we cannot stand proud and still find the growth that is needed in the spiritual life. Humility is a requirement in leadership, for we cannot successfully replace the servant leader model so central to Christian ministry.
And yet this thread which weaves through all theoretical Christianity is often more sparse in the real Christianity we observe. There are always gospel presentations that appeal to self-interest and doing what is best for yourself. There seems to be a never-ending stream of spiritual growth models that focus on our success oriented efforts to sort out our weaknesses and try harder to be good. And for every humble leader in the church, we tend to find another that reeks of arrogance and pride.
It is clear that humility is woven through the fabric of our faith, but there is also a strong tendency toward pride that saturates our fallen flesh and inclines us to find ways around humility in the Christian life.
Is humility optional?
Humility is not just a preference. It would be possible to view humility as a divine preference, one item on God’s wishlist for his people. I like potatoes, but if someone in my family wants to cook a meal for me, they know that they can cook a meal without potatoes and I will still enjoy it. Potatoes are a preference, but not really a requirement. Is this how God feels about humility? Is it a nice touch when he sees it, but not really a problem if it happens to be omitted? No, humility is not just a preference.
Humility is not an arbitrary demand. It would be possible to view humility as something God requires, one item on a harsh list of demands for his people. If I were a tyrant in my home, then I could make a list of demands on my family members. They might be able to satisfy my demands in some respects, but they might recognize that they could never do everything on my impossible list. They might hope that I would not pay attention to the missed demands if enough of the others were satisfied. Is this how it is with God? No, humility is not an arbitrary demand.
Humility is not a contrast. It would be possible to view humility as something God requires because it is the complement to his personality. Again, if I insisted on being the focus of all attention in my home, then I might require humility of everyone else so that nobody else would ever threaten the spotlight in which I insisted that I live. Is this how it is with God? No, humility is not a contrast to God’s character.
Humility is not just a preference, an arbitrary demand, nor a contrasting quality to God. Humility is in the DNA of Christianity because it is a distinctive feature of God’s character. We were created in God’s image, made for profoundly other-centered relationship, but when we fell into sin something profoundly corrupt perverted our core inclinations. As fallen humans we are turned in on ourselves, we are proud. We believe that we don’t need God or other people and we default to trying to be independent in any way that we can. The pull of that fallen tendency continues to exert force on every one of us.
Yes, Jesus entered our world and rocked our world with a profound contrast – willingly humbling himself not only to wash feet, but even to die a humiliating death in our place. God is nothing like the pride in you, or me. So we are invited to humble ourselves before the cross and find true life, not by our own achievement, but by the gift of God’s grace. We know that, and yet even as Christians, we still feel the tug toward prideful independence. Subconsciously we will drift toward self-effort and self-elevation. Our view of spiritual growth will tend to have the aroma of arrogance, and if we are not careful, then our efforts at Christian leadership will often be tainted by the stench of self-promotion.
Humility is not just something God prefers, as I like potatoes, but am fine without them. Humility is not an arbitrary demand we can hope to bypass. Nor is humility a contrast to God’s supposed demand for the spotlight. Humility makes sense in every corner of our Christianity. It makes sense because it is a key aspect of God’s character. It makes sense because he has rescued us, and is rescuing us, from our fall into pride. Humility is always a heaven-ward step.
What role does humility play in your spiritual life? What role does it play in your ministry and leadership? And I don’t just mean in theory. I mean in actual practice…
3 thoughts on “Humility Optional?”
Thank you for this, Peter. Another helpful artcle. (May I copy it for limited distribution to friends when suitable, with due acknowledgement of its source, please?)
* We want to appear humble to other Christians, but how much do we want the real thing, which is so contrary to our natural minds? God wants it for us infinitely more than we want it. I have recenty come accross Thomas Boston’s (1676-1732) ‘The Crook in the Lot’. Its depth far exceeds its length and is worth a read and a re-read… It explores how God uses providential dealings (what we would label ‘bad things’ ) to accomplish his design in the souls who are visited by Grace.
Thanks Terry – very happy for you to copy it with due acknowledgement. Thomas Boston is a great read, I shall look for that one!
Good one. It’s a blessing to our generation. Dr Babatunde Ogunbanwo.