When we studied the great priority of the Christian life, we saw that ultimate love for God is based on God’s unchallenged status as the only God. Humility gets the human into the posture for worship: acknowledging that Yahweh is God, and there is no other; there is no God besides him (Is 45:5). Humility acknowledges the ‘solitariness’ of God: that he is solely God. The humble Christian recognizes that God alone deserves worship, and that he alone deserves ultimate need-love, and gift-love.
For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. (Psalm 96:4-5)
If we are to live in God’s presence and come to know him and love him, then we must deny ourselves, “deflate” ourselves, so that we are once again truly in our correct place under God. We reject the “I AM” and “I will’ attitudes of pride. This is simply a just posture: a correct evaluation of our standing before God.
The humble man lives a doxological life. He is happily self-forgetful, and his creed is Romans 11:36:
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Not God In Our Image
Humble people do not pick and choose what they want God to be. To live in the humble fear of the Lord is to stop making God in our own image, and devote ourselves to seeing God as he is in the Word of God. The first principle of living in God’s presence is this: We must treat God as he is, not as we want him to be. We must act truthfully with the light we have if we want to receive more.
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (Psa 50:21)
But God is not like us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9)
Humility and the fear of the Lord comes when we embrace God as he is – even the parts that make us uncomfortable. If we keep editing what the Bible says of God, we are not being honest. We are actually becoming idolaters, taking bits and pieces of Yahweh to make up a new god that comforts us.
Here we see the reason for the foundational nature of humility. Pride obscures our relationship with God by treating God as smaller than he actually is, and treating ourselves as greater than we actually are. Pride is a distortion of reality. God can no more work with pride than reason with a lunatic. Pride is a kind of moral madness, where we see ourselves as gods. With pride goes unbelief, which is refusing to accept what God says about us, himself and reality. When we doubt what he says in his Word, we call him a liar.
He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. (1 John 5:10)
Francois Fenelon said, “Two things produce humility when combined; the first is a sight of the abyss of wretchedness from which the all-powerful hand of God has snatched us, and over which he still holds us, as it were, suspended in the air, and the other is the presence of that God who is ALL.”1
The posture of humility will be cultivated to the degree that we see the glory of God revealed to us in his Word. Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter, James and John all saw the majesty of God, and the result was humility.
The Lord has endlessly creative ways to humble a soul. He can give us problems too big for us to solve (Jehoshaphat, 2 Chr 20:12), answers or mysteries that we cannot understand (Job), commands we do not like (Jonah), tests that we fail (Peter, Mat 26:35), methods we do not understand (Naaman, 2 Kings 5:11-12), consequences we cannot avoid (David and the census), or consequences that we cannot hide (David and Bathsheba). He can set up roles that reverse (Joseph and his brothers), judge us with limits on our bodies and minds (Nebuchadnezzar, Dan 4:31-32), ensure our rejection by men (Jeremiah 7:27), or return our planned evil on our heads (Haman, Esther 7:10).
God lays siege to the pride in our souls, cutting off the things that supply our self-rule and proud independence. The longer the siege goes on, the harder it goes for the inhabitant of that proud human castle. The sooner we surrender, let God be God, and acknowledge our place under him as creatures, children and servants, the better will be our enjoyment of God and the life he has given us.
Humility is no burden to the worshipping heart. “It is impossible to express the great pleasure and delight which religious persons feel in the lowest prostration of their souls before God, when, having a deep sense of the divine majesty and glory, they sink, if I may so speak, to the bottom of their beings, and vanish and disappear in the presence of God, by a serious and affectionate acknowledgement of their own nothingness,” said Henry Scougal2.
This is why James urges us to embrace trials with joy, seeing that they work in us the humility of patient endurance. If we will listen, trials will teach us to joyfully submit, to gratefully receive God’s choices for us, to sweetly acquiesce to his providential rule. Trials show us our impatience, our controlling natures, our selfish ambition, our vanity, our ingratitude, our self-sufficiency, our impenitence, our fearfulness, our fickleness and our desires for sin. More than revealing our sinfulness, they also show us our frailty, our ignorance, our weakness, our mortality, and the transient and fleeting nature of our lives.
Humility is not the end of the cross-like posture of death. Humility works hand-in-hand with brokenness and repentance. We turn to that next.