Humility is a tough topic. It’s a familiar buzzword in Christian circles, but it has radical implications. Humility goes against the very grain of our culture. One side of the broader culture calls us to boastful self-confidence. Self-confidence in money, accomplishments, and coolness are the standards for which so many will grow up striving.
Humility is just as unappealing to the culture’s more sensitive side. You needn’t look further than a teenager’s Instagram or a pop star’s lyrics to find therapeutic messages of self-worth, self-love, and self-service. “You have to start thinking of yourself first,” this mindset preaches to resounding applause.
Against this backdrop, the Bible’s call to humility can seem a little out of touch. Does it sound accurate to say that a loving God only chooses to dwell with people who have a deep feeling of their unworthiness, their need of Him, and their sin?
Biblically speaking, the answer is yes. James 4:6 sums up the matter neatly: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (literally “the lowly”).
One reason for humility, rooted in our need to know and walk with God, is that God delights in humility. It’s what He wants. The Bible says God only spends time with “lowly” people.
In Isaiah 57:15, God says something unusual: He declares He dwells “In the high and holy place, and also with Him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (ESV). Later in 66:2, God says He made the heavens and the earth, but He looks on “he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at his word.”
Humility is also important because it is appropriate. Volumes could be written on the infinite gap between God and ourselves. Humanity brings nothing to the Almighty. David asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). In Psalm 90, we are reminded that our years are “brought to an end like a sigh” (Psalm 90:9).
It should bring us joy that we can come to a God who is so different than us when we humble ourselves before Him.
Finally, humility is critical because it makes us more like God. Perhaps the most liberating thing about the call to live humbly before God is the fact that God demonstrates the truest humility in the person of Jesus Christ.
The passage in Philippians 2 is so familiar we often read it without its significance hitting us: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself...He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (vs. 5-8). The God who stoops to interact with lowly sinners humbled Himself in the person of Jesus. We are free to not be impressive when the most impressive person who ever lived was completely humble.
If, at the end of all the commands to be humble you’re still unsure how to demonstrate it in your life, go back to Philippians 2. In the same context as the passage above, we’re given two radical, counter-cultural commands: “Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” and “In humility count others better than yourselves” (vs. 4, 3).
These commands may go completely against the tide of boastfulness or the self-love to which the culture calls us; however, they follow the tide of conformity to Christ.
So it can be said with Biblical authority God will only draw near, in a relational sense, to humble people. Christians are called to a radical, counter-cultural broken-heartedness over sin. What God calls us to be, He not only gives strength to do, but He embodies and demonstrates in the person of Christ Jesus.