The concept of humility has an unstable presence in our history, to the point that even while the definition did not change much, the perception of humility varied widely. The generational modification of it has influenced both the instruction and reception of people towards a humble lifestyle. The current culture of confrontational interaction signals the need for a modification to the manner in which people relate to one another.
There is a sense in which we are not surprised by the attitude of unbelievers and how those attitudes are conveyed in relationships. Being unregenerate, there is no recognition of sin’s entanglement. Yet, the voice given to those who incite violence, call for the deaths of public officials, and initiate a general hateful attitude is even too much for a secular society. As Christians though, it should be concerning to us when professing believers replicate this behavior because it represents a view contrary to Scripture. While much could be identified as an antithesis to the current temperament, humility is a legitimate contrast to be developed in Christians as they both engage and confront the cultural antagonism.
Consider what James writes in 4:6-10:
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Through these verses, James binds humility to the Christian life and the text exposes its profundity.
The Condition of Humility
Most English dictionaries will simply define the concept of humility as a low view of one’s importance. Such an elementary definition though lowers the threshold of true humility and gives an opportunity for false humility to prevail. More than simply having a low view of self, genuine humility is seeing one’s self as he/she truly is in light of who God truly is.
With this in mind, Christians must consider two distinct aspects of humility. The first is a right view of self. A humble person acknowledges his or her own sinful state, bringing that individual to a point of acknowledging legitimate limitations and need for help. Because of that, humility does not deny one’s abilities or inclinations – despite what many people perceive – but places those gifts in a right context by acknowledging their source (God) and motivation (God’s glory above one’s own glory).
The second distinct attribute of humility is who God is. The perfection of God, or his holiness, exists at a level beyond what most of us can grasp. Because we have not seen absolute perfection modeled in a physical way, slightly imperfect is considered perfect enough. But God is unique in that no mark or blemish can be found. There is no wrongdoing, he is perfectly just, perfectly gracious, and perfectly faithful. The inability to comprehend the profundity of that does not make it less true nor does it change the standard. Therefore, when we look at God’s holiness and recognize our sinfulness, the result is a natural level of humility that pours out of our lives. When James writes “Humble yourselves before the Lord” the reality is that we cannot humble ourselves apart from the Lord.
The Character of Humility
Humility is a characteristic that is difficult to ascertain. As James writes about humility it is interesting to look at the pattern of his words. He begins by making a simple point that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble and then he launches into a series of imperative for readers to undertake.Only after he has expounded upon these imperatives does James come back to the point of humility, calling on readers to humbles themselves before the Lord. The progression suggests that each of these activities inclines one towards a humble posture. There are several key commands to look at then, that include the following:
- Submit: The first call to action is submission to God. Submissions yields one’s will to the Lord’s, an act that necessitates humility to set aside personal priorities for God’s agenda.
- Resist: The second aspect is to resist the solicitations of Satan, who is quick to pounce upon our weakness of pride in order to further his own purposes.
- Draw Near: Resisting Satan implies a drawing nearer to God. Drawing near indicates the ned to constantly be developing our relationship with the Lord; more than a one-time submission, a relationship requires interaction and intimacy that develops and is learned over time.
- Be Wretched: The call to mourn and weep seems a strange command, but the context here is for one to be broken over his or her own sin. The seriousness of sin denotes a levity to who a person is. While a prideful person proclaims his or her own perfection, a humble person ponders his or her imperfection.
Humility then, is not a character trait bridled up in a single word, but an attitude configured by a combination of heart attitudes that soften the heart and reveal one’s true need for grace.
The Conclusion of Humility
While humility is an inward heart attitude generating outward human activity the results of a humble lifestyle are quite incredible. Humility is the result of God’s softening of an individual by the conviction and concentration of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. It settles one’s true position apart from God and makes a person ready for the gospel, or the reception of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That great act alone is magnificent.
Consider also, the long-lasting effect of the Gospel in one’s life combined with an ongoing humble spirit. Together, they incline a person towards God and others. Therefore, humility becomes a part of one’s being that is lived out on a daily basis, impacting how each of us interacts with one another. Humility forces us to extend grace towards others because through it, one recognizes his own position of grace. May God then, create a humble heart in us so that we may live for His glory.
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