3 Misunderstandings About Humility

One might argue that humility is the first step toward becoming a Christian. I’m not trying to disagree that we come to Christ by grace through faith; not at all. But one might say that even before you get to “by grace through faith” you might come to your knees in humility. That’s because coming to Christ means recognizing not only something about Him, but also recognizing something about yourself.

When you come to Christ in faith, you are recognizing that He loves you. That He died in your place. And that He has grace enough to forgive you of your sins and put you in right relationship with God.

At the same time, though, you are recognizing that you cannot do any of those things for yourself. You can’t make yourself right with God. Even your best works are tainted with sin. You have no means or power by which you can stand before God, and it’s only in Christ that you can be saved. This is the essence of humility.

But despite the fact that we must exercise humility in coming to Christ, it is nevertheless a characteristic we seem to be confused about. Here are three of those misunderstandings:

1. Humility means thinking less of yourself.

Humility is not self-loathing. To be humble does not mean to hate oneself. It certainly does not mean to punish oneself or to think oneself worthless. In fact, this kind of self-hatred is not only not humility; it’s also dishonoring to our Creator who made us in His own image:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well (Psalm 139:13-14).

Self-loathing is a denial of these truths. It’s an inward defiance of the truth that God really did create us as individuals; that He really did form us intentionally; that He did not make mistakes in our physical and mental make up. Hating ourselves is not humility; it is instead a dishonor to the creative work of God.

2. Humility means not accepting compliments.

Similarly, denying that we are good at anything is not humility. When someone gives us a compliment, to look down at the floor and deny that we actually did do a good job, or really are smart, or creative, or whatever is not humility.

Sometimes we think accepting a compliment means robbing God of His glory and taking pride in ourselves, but this is not so. If someone compliments one of my children because of something they’ve done, it is not dishonoring to me as their father if they simply say, “Thank you.” It’s actually the opposite. I glory in my children for who they are and who they are becoming because who they are and who they are becoming is also a reflection of me. A compliment to them is a compliment to me. The inability to acknowledge that we have done a good job or are talented at something is not humility; it’s immaturity.

3. Humility is unattainable.

Humility is a tricky thing.

It’s tricky because those who are truly humble do not necessarily recognize themselves to be. In fact, the moment you start to recognize your own humility then you have started to drift into an insidious kind of pride – you are proud of being humble. That kind of humility is just a mask for pride.

Because of that dynamic, most of us have the misunderstanding that true humility is something that either you have, or you don’t. And any effort to actually pursue humility is a waste of time. Contrary to that, we find that humility is actually a command in Scripture:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

We are, as Christians, to pursue humility. We do that in any number of ways – by serving in such a way that we know we won’t be recognized, by reminding ourselves of our own sin and condemnation apart from Jesus, and simply by praying for it. We are, in other words, to take a very active stance when it comes to humility, and to go hard after it.

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