Are you humble? How to avoid falling into this trap

As a new Christian, someone told me that I was proud. I tried to change. I grew a little and 20 years later, while thinking I had grown, someone else told me the same thing again. Of course, they were right both times, though it was hard to hear. But having tried to grow as Christian, why was I still arrogant? It turns out I had thought of humility as a destination, a place I could arrive at. In reality, I hadn’t arrived at all. Though I still haven’t arrived, I have learned to think of humility as a pursuit instead of a destination.
When I began to change the way I thought about my pride and (lack of) humility, I began to adjust the way I thought about everyday things that happened to me. As I learned more about the flesh and the corruption that still clings to me, I began to see that there are reasons why I will not attain pure humility in this life.

The flesh clings to us

Pure humility is an elusive reality for a person who is clothed with the corruption of the flesh. So long as this corrupted flesh clings to me, I will never truly be humble, because the flesh constantly rebels against the Lord. The heart of this rebellion is pride. My pride essentially shakes its fist at the Lord of all the earth, who created me for His purpose. My pride says to Him that I don’t need Him, or that He is not worthy of my adoration. Neither of these things is true, but these beliefs are embedded deeply in my flesh.
Pure humility is an elusive reality for a person who is clothed with the corruption of the flesh.
God has revealed to us that there is coming a day when “this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53). When this happens, there will be no more corruption and decay within us. Paul explains that having been redeemed from sin, we now wait for the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23). When our bodies are redeemed, our corruption will be no more and will be raised imperishable, pure and incorruptible. But until that day, we will never be fully free of the corruption of our flesh.

We are continually called to pride

Not only is our flesh corrupted, but so too is the flesh of others. The collective corruption doesn’t just seep around us, it shouts at us. This corruption finds its way into the way we rule and dominate the earth (Gen 1:28), the products we make, the ideas and beliefs we hold, and the way we build society. Everything around us down to the marketing and packaging of products presents ideas, beliefs, desires, commitments, and intentions. These all carry the mark of our corruption in some way, shape, or form. For example, while rest is good and a vacation can be a great blessing, an advertisement for a holiday might tell us we deserve a holiday as if we’re worthy of it. This suggests some moral worth to us, and while there is goodness in working, work itself not simply a way to earn favor, rather, work is a blessing from the Lord. As those who rebel against the sovereign and good creator, we deserve God’s wrath. Rightfully He could justly destroy us. We deserve to perish. Instead, in His grace, God allows us the privilege of living and the satisfaction of working. In fact, in working, we reflect something about the nature of the God who works (John 5:17). Yet, in our corruption, we somehow construe this privilege as a merit! That is as some deed of our own doing which is worthy of our special attention – an expensive or lavish vacation! Therefore, our corruption infiltrates the way we market goods, which encourages the growth of our pride.
The world and our flesh collude together preventing us from escaping pride.

The Collusion of pride

The world presumes upon the corruption of our flesh and teaches us to think in accordance with this corruption. It calls us to pride and to exalt ourselves. The flesh inherently desires to exalt us against the Lord. We stack odds against our pride and the world joins in. The world calls to our pride, the flesh responds out of pride, and in its deceitfulness, our pride draws us to believe, desire and do things that perpetuate our pride. The world and our flesh collude together preventing us from escaping pride.

Pride is inevitable but humility should be a pursuit

As a result, we cannot escape our pride. Yes, we should be putting it to death continually and we should be growing more humble, but this side of heaven, we will never be perfectly humble. We will always continue to have corruption and therefore we will continue throughout this life to exhibit pride.

Living in light of perpetual pride

The question that remains for us is how should we live in light of this? It is tempting to think of humility in binary terms. Either I am or am not humble. An approach like this regards humility as a destination, an end point that we can possibly achieve. This is naive. It considers humility in the same way a child who climbs a small hill thinks they’ve conquered a great summit. Perhaps it is some sort of achievement, but you really haven’t conquered much and you still have to come down and learn the truth. There are several problems with approaching humility as a destination.
  1. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we’ve arrived. It is a well-stated axiom that whoever thinks they are humble has just demonstrated that they are not. Yet, our flesh would love us to think we have arrived and to settle us into a soul-destroying, sleep-inducing complacency. Once we “arrive,” we become just a little more self-sufficient, and this self-sufficiency allows pride to regroup and rebuild.
  2. We stop looking for evidence of our pride to put to death. If we have nothing to work on, we will work on nothing and effectively, we put our growth in holiness on hold.
  3. We will experience ongoing frustration or even anger as our flesh finds new ways to express our prideful corruption.
  4. We will live in a lie. The worst thing about living in this sort of lie is that others can see right through it. We become a fraud, a hypocrite.

Consider humility as a pursuit

Rather than approaching humility like a destination we can arrive at, we benefit from regarding humility as a pursuit. We will never fully achieve it, but we seek to continually grow in it. There are several benefits of looking at humility as a pursuit rather than a destination.
Adopt humility as a pursuit, rather than as a character destination.

Benefits of thinking of humility as a pursuit

  1. We recognize that we will always be striving for humility. We know we won’t “make it” so we are not offended when someone tells us we haven’t arrived. When someone tells us we’re proud, we can simply agree with them. Then we can ask for more details to help us discover how we can grow. We can take the discovery of pride in stride, knowing we are developing humility and we can’t do that without seeing our pride.
  2. We can approach life knowing that the Lord will work to humble us as part of His desire to sanctify us. With this knowledge, we can consider how to respond to the circumstances He sovereignly brings into our lives and specifically how we should allow Him to humble us through these circumstances.
  3. We can actively and intentionally trust Christ alone to make us right with God. Each day we need to remind ourselves that because of our pride-filled corruption, we depend on His completed work. Our standing before God is secure because of an objectively sufficient act Christ has completed once for all on our behalf.
  4. We can expect and therefore proactively look for signs of pride in our thoughts, desires, emotions, and actions and put these things to death where we find them. If we’ve arrived we simply don’t need to look for things to put to death. If we pursue humility, we can be looking daily and confronting what we find.
  5. We can rejoice and give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit in us, as we (and others) notice evidence that He is changing us.
  6. We can enlist the help of others in our pursuit of humility. While others may not say anything, they will often notice the indicators of our pride. We can enlist these observations by inviting others to provide us with feedback or asking them to point these things out when they see them. Such feedback can be quite overwhelming at first, but it rewards us with a clarity of direction and a specific focus area to read, study, meditate and pray.

Adopt humility as a pursuit

Because we live in with our corrupted flesh, and in a corrupted world, and because these two collude together, we will not be free of pride until we leave this corruption behind. Therefore, adopt humility as a pursuit, rather than as a character destination at which we will arrive. Thinking of humility as a pursuit allows us to live a life that recognizes, faces and confronts the reality of the world and the flesh we have. Facing this reality allows us to continue to grow and to make this growth a pattern of our life.
Are you consciously pursuing humility? If so how do you do it?

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  1. Pingback: 5 motivations to pursue humility that will test you - Darryl Burling

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