The Grace and Greatness of True Humility
- Monday, March 06, 2006
CNN founder Ted Turner once remarked, "If I only had a little humility, I would be perfect." In a strange and almost perfectly ironic sense, this statement encapsulates the spirit of our age--an attitude that gives lip service to humility while celebrating self-promotion. Humility is hardly a hallmark of our age.
From the playing fields of athletics to the trading floors of Wall Street, humility appears to be an accessory few persons believe they can afford. The dominant personalities and cultural icons of our day are most often individuals adept at self-promotion and projection. Sadly, this confusion about the true calling of humility is found even in the church, where humility is too often seen as a gift granted to the few, rather than as the command addressed to all.
C. J. Mahaney seeks to set the record straight in his new book, Humility: True Greatness. The leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries--a group of highly-committed gospel churches--C. J. served for twenty-seven years as pastor of Covenant Life Church, located in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. C. J. is a friend from whom I have learned much, and in his newest book he has much to teach us about the nature of true humility.
One of the central problems of our times is the fact that our reflex is to define humility in basically human terms. Thus, humility can dissolve into an endless and pointless process of comparing ourselves with others. C. J. understands that this is just not the right place to start.
Instead, C. J. defines humility as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness." That sets humility in an entirely new light. "That's the twin reality that all genuine humility is rooted in: God's holiness and our sinfulness," C. J. explains. "Without an honest awareness of both these realities . . . all self-evaluation will be skewed and we'll fail to either understand or practice true humility."
From the onset, C. J. admits the awkwardness of writing a book about humility. "If I met someone presuming to have something to say about humility, automatically I'd think them unqualified to speak on the subject," he observes. So, just why did C. J. write this book? "I'm a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God," he explains. "I don't write as an authority on humility; I write as a fellow pilgrim walking with you on the path set for us by our humble Savior. I can only address you with confidence in the great and gracious God who has promised to give grace to the humble."
The eclipse of humility can be traced to our celebration of human pride. "The sad fact is that none of us are immune to the logic-defined, blinding effects of pride," C. J. instructs. "Though it shows up in different forms and to differing degrees, it affects us all. The real issue here is not if pride exists in your heart; it's where and how pride is being expressed in your life. Scripture shows us that pride is strongly and dangerously rooted in all our lives, far more than most of us care to admit or even think about."
In making this argument, C. J. is solidly within the Western tradition of theology, perhaps most magisterially represented by Augustine, the greatest of the Church Fathers. According to Scripture, pride is not simply one sin among others. In a very real sense, it is the very root of all sin--demonstrating the ambition of the human heart to assert the human will over God's will.
C. J. helpfully defines pride as "when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him." Of course, pride did not begin with human beings. C. J. helpfully points to Satan's rebellion as explained in Isaiah 14:13. "Led by the prideful Lucifer," C. J. explains, "powerful angelic creatures possessing beauty and glory far beyond our comprehension arrogantly desired recognition and status equal to God Himself. In response, God swiftly and severely judged them."
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