There is no secret that, as fallen humans, pride is the great sin that plagues us all. It doesn’t plague you? Then it is worse than I thought. Our entire sin problem could be boiled down to a pride issue. We have decided that it is our worth and value and glory that is to be trusted in, displayed, and treasured most highly rather than God’s. This exchange is the measure of audacity. Those who would admit that they are a little cocky would not go so far as to say that at the core of their very being they are arrogant and boastful. But that is the honest truth. For the nonbeliever, even the most meek and mild among them are slaves to their own pride. The natural man can’t help it. We love ourselves. This “sin” has translated into a million and a half “sins.”
When we are born again we are finally freed from the slavery of sin. However, the battle of pride is not over even thought it is won. Christ has taken the wrath of God due our pride and has given us his perfect humility by faith, but that does not mean that the old man inside of us all does not rear his ugly head. We strive to be humble. The Bible commands us to. The Bible also promises us that God will humble us. Sometimes God must make us lie down in green pastures. In His kindness, He shows us just how lowly we are. It takes the lens of the gospel to beget any true humility.
So just what is true humility? The world tells us that humility is never having an opinion and if you do happen to have one you need to keep it to yourself. Humility never tells anyone that they are wrong, no matter what the consequences of their wrong might be. Humility is “tolerance.” Unfortunately, this definition of humility has become increasingly commonplace among the professing church of God. He who is most humble is the one who believes the least. It is prideful to say that your doctrine is superior to the other. It is preposterous to disagree. We say that there is not much we can know and we are fine with that. Humility is doing what feels right and wanting others to do the same.
GK Chesterton saw that this was not humility in the biblical sense. He wrote: “But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert–himself.” Chesterton is saying that doctrinal fogginess is not a virtue but a vice. Alistair Begg quips that we are raising up a generation of men too modest to affirm the times tables. So claiming to be humble, we have become proud. Think of the famous illustration of the elephant and the blind man. This has been used by skeptics and postmoderns to illustrate how various religions are really after the same god. We are all just blind men, feeling around on the same elephant. One may feels his trunk and proclaims, “this is a large vine!” The next man feels the tusk and explains it to be a bronze pillar. Still another man feels a wall out of the elephant side. But as Kevin DeYoung has pointed out, this analogy fails on two levels. One is that the teller of this parable is coming from the vantage point of omniscience. He knows it is an elephant and therefore knows that they are all wrong. But more importantly, what happens if the elephant speaks? What is he blasts his mighty trunk, leaving no doubt what he is? Do the men continue to be humble if the elephant speaks?
Modern Evangelicalism has largely been content to blindly feel around the “elephant” of the Bible. But this elephant has spoken. It is not humility to act like He hasn’t.
So then, what does true humility look like? Unfortunately, even those who know the truth about the Bible are sometimes blatantly arrogant. This is not because they know too much about what the Bible says. It is because they have not experienced this truth to the fullness of its intent. More truth, not less is the remedy for pride. Humility is taking God at His work and responding accordingly. It is not humble to say that God hasn’t chosen some for salvation. He has. It also isn’t humble to affirm that God has and then be brazen and rude. The truth about God should point us outside of ourselves and towards the great God of the truth. Truth sets us free from pride because it is in the truth that we see ourselves rightly.
Humility is not saying, “I don’t know” when the conversation comes to you. We are obligated to speak where God has clearly spoken. But we must labor to be flattened by gospel doctrine. Humility is not saying “I don’t know, ” but rather “why do I know ?” Why has God chosen to save me? Why has God chosen to teach me these things? I cannot give an answer. Our humility wants other people to see that the Bible is right and it is a joyous thing that it is. It is not that we are right and they are wrong. The Bible is right. May we be more zealous for people to see God than to know that we know more than they might. God is for God. Our humility must ultimately be to reflect the character of a God that saved us from our self-interpretation. Study hard, feel hard and be humble. Or God will humble you anyway.