Real humility is beyond our ability. It is released by God in response to our understanding of His holiness, something very different to humbling ourselves.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
It’s easy, when we hear expressions like ‘humble ourselves,’ to assume that humility is something we have to achieve on our own before we can come to God. It can hinder many who have been misinformed or who have misunderstood the difference from approaching God. For some, it can provide a convenient excuse to avoid spiritual intimacy. The real truth is that there is a very big difference between humbling ourselves and having humility. Neither provide any obstacle to coming to God and growing in worship and relationship with Him.
Humility is impossible without God.
When we consider that humility defined the nature of Christ of earth – along with obedience, which always goes hand in hand with humility – we begin to understand a simple but powerful truth. We cannot even begin to have the kind of humility God desires without Him. It’s physically impossible for weak, fleshly man to conjure, learn, or even understand it. Our natural attitude and inclination is so far removed from it that even desiring it can lead to a kind of pride. The moment we begin to imagine that we can have humility in our own strength and ability is the moment we turn it into pride.
To understand this, we must remember that Jesus – our example of perfect humility – lived completely and utterly in absolute obedience to the will of the Father. He provided the faultless image of what humility really is. But even Jesus, when He lived on earth as the Son of Man and human in every way, couldn’t achieve it on His own. Like us, He was utterly dependent on God to provide it. If Jesus needed to turn to the Father for this, how much more do we? Humility is impossible without God because it’s intrinsically tied to the holiness of God.
We grow into humility as God releases it in us.
Having humility is an entirely God-given, supernatural blessing. We receive it in response to and in direct proportion to our knowledge of the holiness of God. While every believer will readily agree that God is holy, our actual ‘experiential knowledge’ is limited. We simply cannot assimilate or comprehend the vastness that is the holiness of God. The way we see it today will be different and limited compared to how we see it a few years down the line. One reason is that we’re so weak and human and frail that we simply could not cope with a full, one-off revelation of the magnitude of God’s glory. It would destroy us.
A growing knowledge of and intimacy with God includes a deeper grasp of His holiness. It is an absolute fact that we cannot see even a tiny glimpse of this holiness without a spontaneous, responsive release of humility. Because God protects us, in His mercy, by limiting what we see to our spiritual ‘readiness,’ our release of humility is also limited. But God desires that we see and know Him as He truly is, so the process is unending. Each time, a little more is added, and our humility grows as our relationship with Him and our knowledge of Him grows.
We don’t ‘possess’ humility.
If anything, it possesses us – and don’t get waylaid by the connotations of ‘possessed’ popularised by horror fiction or demonic possession. There’s nothing sinister about the fact that I possess a car and the principle is much the same. We usually regard humility as an attribute or attitude, but it is really a way of life. It is something that is released in us, takes root in us, and begins to grow in us. It’s the life of Jesus made manifest. It’s a way of life that reveals the humility of Christ as something intrinsic – it becomes who we are.
This perspective explains powerfully just how impossible humility is for us in our own nature and abilities. Real humility cannot even be properly explained, let alone learned. In fact, those who display God-given humility are usually not even aware that they have it. If we’re conscious of it, we don’t really have it, and we cannot measure it. Anyone with real humility is focused on only one thing – the revealed holiness of God.
Humble ourselves is a precursor to humility.
Today’s verse highlights the difference between these two ‘versions’ of ‘being humble.’ In order to receive and grow into humility, we must humble ourselves and come to God. Humble, in this context, is quite simply laying down self. It’s a place of honesty, the place that acknowledges that without Christ, we are sinners all. We humble ourselves by acknowledging our sin, our weakness, our self-focus, and our disobedience. With that, we humble ourselves by recognising that everything we are or have done has been laid upon Jesus and paid for by Him. The crux of today’s verse is the brutal honesty that self, in going its own way, has caused a holy God to make Himself ‘unholy’ for our sakes. This is the beginning of humility.
While God cannot be anything but holy, Christ on earth was, in every way, completely human and utterly dependent on God to live a holy life. He was able to because He resolutely did the one thing we find it almost impossible to do – crucify self. The actual physical crucifixion was a material manifestation or representation of the spiritual crucifixion that Christ experienced. To humble ourselves is to make the choice to not go our own way, to choose to live by His example. Humbling ourselves doesn’t give us humility, but it opens the door to the God who does. We will never be in a place to receive a deeper revelation of God’s holiness and the humility that comes with it unless we first humble ourselves.
Like humility, humbling ourselves is a process.
We’re so very human. That means that humbling ourselves is an ongoing, daily decision. We can go to bed tonight with self securely bound and gagged. But, when we wake in the morning, it’s done a ‘Houdini’ and leers at us from the bathroom mirror. We’re back to square one, or so it seems. But God is bigger, and He’s right there with us. He desires us to have humility, because this brings us deeper into His holy presence. Each time we humble ourselves, He empowers us to draw closer than the last. As humility grows within us and we begin to live in the nature of Christ, He provides what we need.
God will never expect us to do and be what we cannot. He gives Himself to fulfil our lack. We don’t have to strive for humility. We need only humble ourselves at the foot of the cross to Christ in us. Thereafter, His grace makes the impossible happen according to His purposes, not our expectations.
Gracious Lord, we acknowledge Your holiness today. We confess our weakness and the consequences of allowing self to dictate our course. Forgive us for choosing our own way in sin and rebellion. Thank You for the grace that steps in when we simply cannot, and for Your patience to lead us step by step into the deeper place where You reveal Yourself and transform us little by little into the image of Your Son.