Humility is one of those things in life I have always struggled with. It is considered a pillar of Christianity, and an attribute we should demonstrate regularly as Jesus’ coheirs, who supposedly bear his image to the world. Any sincere Christian who has read the gospels can see that, in light of the self-righteous Pharisees, being prideful is downright disastrous. Yet all my efforts have failed miserably. After countless sermons, books, admonitions, conversations, and teachings on humility (some of which were my own), I find myself entrenched in a pit of self-righteousness. It’s not that I haven’t tried; I’ve welcomed brokenness with open arms at times. And it’s not that I haven’t had periods where I felt progress was being made. Yet I always find, sooner or later, Holy Spirit unmasking my humility as false and revealing that I hadn’t left my self-righteousness at all. In spite of some massive effort to die to self, my pride always seems to elude the hammer, allowing the rest of me to absorb the masochistic blow.
It has gotten to the point where I am wondering whether I have any understanding of what humility really is. I have heard numerous definitions over the years, some more helpful than others. But in the end I believe that either 1) my conception of humility is completely wrong, or 2) that I am the most resiliently prideful man ever to walk the face of the earth. I could tell you that number 2 is more probable, and it probably is, because (true to form) I don’t for a second believe it. If I spent the rest of this article trying to convince myself of its truth, I would only succeed in breeding much false humility which would have to be exposed later for my own sake. And yet these days, while I can see the truth in the second option, I am also stirred greatly by the first. I wonder if both aren’t true. What’s more, I wonder if they aren’t connected.
Over the past few years I have increasingly found myself on a journey discovering what the Kingdom is. Part of that process has involved a rigorous contemplation on the origin of brokenness, sin. It sounds very simple, and yet I understood so little. Previously I considered the common assertion that sin is the evil things we think and do, as axiomatic. Yet I find myself reexamining that notion, and concluding that it is far from unquestionable. In fact, I find myself wondering if it is actually antithetical to living in the grace of Christ.
My contemplations have pointed me toward another definition of sin. I am beginning to understand the knowledge of evil and good as the source of brokenness. After all, it was the fruit of that second tree in the garden that fractured relationship between God and man. The result of its fruit was exactly that: knowledge of good and evil. This flies in the face of conventional piety. But it makes sense, for in judging what is good and evil for myself, I have taken God’s place, effectively removing Him from the picture; thus, the fractured relationship. Not to mention, that in removing God, I remove the only true source of wisdom.
This is where that elusive prey humility comes in. I have always defined humility in terms of my judgement of good and evil. I judge pride to be evil and humility to be good; therefore, humility is simply the opposite or even absence of pride. And this is where it all breaks down, for in standing in judgment over myself of what is prideful and what is humble, I am acting in pride. In fact, whenever I eat of that second tree and take the place of judge, I am living out of pride. For what else could it be, when I presume to take God’s place as judge? Thus, because my position of judge is inherently prideful, whatever I judge humility to be, always ends up being false humility. In other words, it is impossible for me to live in true humility while being the judge of good and evil. I have found this new thought to be so groundbreaking that it is redefining my understanding of humility. I no longer think humility is the absence of arrogance, instead I see it as the absence of being the judge.
You see I realized that whatever standards I set as humble, the moment I begin to believe I am fulfilling them, pride grows up around my supposed success. I cannot fulfill my judgment of humility without revealing its falsity. I guess that is where the whole “being separated from wisdom” thing comes in, for apart from Him, I cannot accurately judge what humility is. This is why I could never attain my goal. It is why time after time I was deluded into feeling progress was being made, only to discover I hadn’t left my pit of self-righteousness. It is why, though I spoke of abundant life in Jesus, I was always haunted with the notion that there must be more.
Now, there is a fear that creeps in when considering this new revelation. If I stop judging good and evil, will I end up living in evil unintentionally? The assumption behind this fear presupposes several key things: 1) that God is very small and unable to lead us into truth; 2) that your judging of good and evil is somehow less evil than whatever unknown evil pitfall you may wind up in; 3) it neglects the reality that giving up our position of judge is a massive surrendering of the deepest parts of our soul, into Holy Spirit’s loving hands. I have never heard anyone describe that process as a slippery slope into evil. Besides, it is not as though we won’t recognize something that violates love, because we are living intimate relationship with God who is love. Stepping down from the place of judge does not mean that we can’t identify loving and unloving things; it means that we no longer get to judge ourselves or each other. Ultimately, that is what I was doing in my previous quest of humility. I was judging myself and others based upon my limited understanding of humility, and that is precisely what always negated my efforts.
Unfortunately, men have before, and will again, use this kind of thinking as an excuse to sate their evil desires; but that is all it is: an excuse. It is not a true surrendering of one’s heart, for when one is truly in the process of surrender, they begin to live in His grace, and manifest that unfathomable love He demonstrated on the cross. And that is true humility.
Written by M.C. Lang