In this article we’re going to see what genuine humility is as opposed to false humility (Colossians 2:18-23), such as self-loathing or pretending to be meek. And then we’ll observe how humility is key to receiving God’s favor, i.e. grace.
This passage is a good starting point:
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he [God] jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace (charis). That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor (charis) to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Verse 6 stresses that God shows graciousness to the humble and is a quote of Proverbs 3:34, which Peter also quotes in his first epistle (1 Peter 5:5). As such, this truth is conveyed three times in the Bible, which means it’s something God wants to get through to us. It reveals a vital axiom about the importance of humility and how to unlock God’s favor (i.e. grace) in your life.
‘Humility’ in the Greek is tapeinophrosune (tap-i-nof-ros-OO-nay), which means “inner lowliness” or “lowliness of mind.” It’s not self-loathing or self-belittlement, but rather a healthy sense of one’s littleness in the grand scheme of things regardless of position, possessions or talents. It’s a modest opinion of oneself and describes a person who depends on the LORD above self. You could describe humility as an inside-out virtue that is naturally produced when comparing oneself to the Almighty Creator rather than to other people, which of course helps keep one from being a self-exalting, self-inflated blowhard.
Have you ever met someone who regularly brags on himself or herself? It’s a huge turn-off, isn’t it? If it’s a turn-off to you, how do you think the LORD feels about it? This explains the words of wisdom:
Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
an outsider, and not your own lips
Two good examples of humility in the Bible are Moses (Numbers 12:3) and David (1 Samuel 18:23). It goes without saying that God used these men greatly, which is why 3000-3500 years after their passing people all over the world still talk about them and their exploits, like us right now. They were mighty men—very talented individuals—but they were also genuinely humble, which is what attracted God’s favor — his grace — and explains why the LORD was able to use them so mightily.
Humility attracts God’s Grace
God’s favor/graciousness/kindness is wonderful and he offers this grace to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or location—which indicates that God has no favoritism—but the LORD does not give favor to the proud who are too proud or too stubborn (one way or another) to recognize it, let alone receive it.
Now someone might point out that Christ taught that God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35) and “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). This shows the LORD’s general grace — kindness — toward fallen creation, which is intended to attract people to the Creator and his grace of salvation. Unfortunately, many proud souls disregard God’s general grace and scoff at the Almighty, even denying his existence; some palpably hate the LORD or any notion of an Almighty Maker (Psalm 14:1 & 53:1).
God is greatly patient with such people (2 Peter 3:9) and we’re called to intercede for them (Matthew 5:44), but if they stubbornly continue in their arrogance, hatred and unbelief—disregarding God’s general grace, not to mention any additional grace offered to them through the intercession of the saints—they’re not going to receive God’s grace of salvation. And, if they’re too stubborn to recognize and receive the LORD’s grace of salvation they’re certainly not going to grow in personal grace, like Jesus did (Luke 2:52) and Peter instructed us to do (2 Peter 3:18). Why not? Because—again—God opposes the proud, but gives his grace to the humble!
Humility—and the Corresponding Repentance & Faith—is What Makes People “Worthy of the Kingdom of God”
The New Testament speaks of those “worthy” of the gift of eternal life. Notice for yourself from the very words of the Mighty Christ and apostle Paul:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5
As you can see, Christ spoke of those considered “worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection of the dead” while Paul spoke of those “worthy of the kingdom of God.” In both cases they were talking about genuine believers worthy of the kingdom of God and the resurrection unto eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). The Greek word for ‘worth’ in each passage is kataxioó (kat-ax-ee-OH-o), which simply means to “deem worthy.” This of course does not refer to being deemed worthy of eternal salvation due to religious works or rituals (Ephesians 2:8-10), but rather being “deemed worthy” due to genuine humility characterized in repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
In conclusion, anyone who wants God’s grace of salvation, it’s free and you don’t have to work for it or purchase it, but it can only be received through humility; and humility is reflected in the willingness to repent and believe in response to God’s revelation, in this case the message of Christ. This is how you “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8) as opposed to disobeying the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17). These kinds of verses send “radical grace” preachers into coronary because they hate the word ‘obey’ in conjunction with God’s grace of salvation. But obeying the message of Christ does not mean working for salvation or trying to buy it; however, it does mean responding with humility to God’s gracious offer of salvation—which is manifested in repentance and faith. Why? Because it’s humility that attracts God’s grace as opposed to pride which naturally repels His favor (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5 & Proverbs 3:34).
The Key to Growing in God’s Grace
If you want to grow in God’s grace, as we are instructed to do in the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:18), the key is humility, which means not being a pompous, self-praising, bloviating fool who thinks he/she is all that and a bag of chips. Paul put it like this: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).
The Two Kinds of Pride
There are two types of pride, one is bad and the other good, which can be observed here:
3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.
Verse 3 details the negative kind of pride wherein the individual is full of himself/herself. Those infected by this kind of pride revel in boasting and putting others down, which is arrogance. Gossip/slander is their favorite weapons since it allows them to destroy others behind their backs.
This is contrasted by the positive kind of pride conveyed in the remainder of the passage characterized by the individual taking pride in doing a good job, which is a spirit of excellence (this includes taking pride in keeping a nice yard/home, properly raising children, etc).
These two kinds of pride correspond to…
The Two Kinds of Wisdom
The earthly kind of “wisdom” is unspiritual, selfish and demonic whereas true wisdom is pure, peace-loving and godly. Arrogance has to do with the former and humility the latter. See for yourself:
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
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