An Indispensable Virtue

In Isaiah 66:2, the LORD declares, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Humility draws the gaze of God.1 James explains, “God gives grace to the humble.” What large promises are attached to the virtue of humility!

My friends, do you cultivate humility? Do you long for more of this spiritual fruit--not just wink at it, but actually seek after it? Every Christian should endeavor to obtain the virtue of humility. It’s opposite, spiritual pride, kills. In fact, nothing undermines the very essence of faith more than spiritual pride, nothing that is more antithetical to the Gospel, and nothing more aligns us with the adversary of our Lord. Was this not the sin that cast him out of heaven? Was this not the sin that he incited our first parents to commit, which led to them to being cast out of the Garden? Is it not the root of all sin against God?

Christians, let us remind ourselves that we are in need of God’s grace as much today as we were on the day of our conversion. We wholly depend upon Him. The Christian who boasts of his or her progress in the faith is a pilgrim who has lost his or her way. Don’t we know that the works we manifest--the virtues we exhibit--and the fruits we bear still fall short of the standard? “Be holy as I am holy,” declares the Lord (1 Peter 1:16). Jesus said, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Our meager works do not impress God. Too often, we lose our way because we have allowed the sin of comparison entered our hearts. The Pharisee was blind to how little he looked like God, because he was entirely focused on how superior he believed himself to be in comparison to others (Luke 18:9-14).

The other day I asked my son, “Are you watching Sesame Street?”, he replied, “No, Sesame Street is for babies.” He then proceeded to turn on My Little Ponies. We think we have progressed so far, when it is but a trifling. God expects perfect righteousness. That standard alone should produce humility in Christians and propel us to mortify spiritual pride as much as we are able by the power of the Spirit.

How do we do this? We examine ourselves in order to confess our sins. We practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading the Scriptures. We look to God in Christ throughout our day, regularly confessing our need for Him. We promote others, not to flatter, but because we genuinely want to see them exalted. We pray and celebrate the accomplishments of others. We labor quietly by serving people in ways that will most likely never get us praise here on earth. We give praise and thanksgiving readily and think very little of the praise and thanksgiving we receive. And yet having done all this, we count it as nothing. It is all nothing. It is merely our duty and our joy. 

Most importantly, if we want to cultivate humility, we meditate upon the cross. Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross.” As the hymn writer also put it, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

When we look at the cross, we can’t help but to reflect on the fact that we are great sinners. My Savior hung on the cross because of my sin. I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to add to His work. And all the magnanimous thoughts we have about ourselves quickly dissipate. No proud man has ever stood before the cross and been able to say, “That is my Savior.”

Jonathan Edwards explained the excellence of humility when he wrote, “The pleasures of humility are really the most refined, inward, and exquisite delights in the world.” Do you really believe that to be true? If you do, then cultivate humility.

Every Christian is different. Some of us have this gift and others have that gift. Some of us have theological degrees and others don’t. Some of us come from a long line of Christian family members and others don’t. Some of us struggle with this or that sin and others don’t. Some of us possess earthly riches and others don’t. We can be different in so many ways, but in this way we are to be the same—we are all to be marked with humility.2

1. C.J. Maheny, Humility: True Greatness.

2. J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion.


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