In order to define humility, we will start by looking at the definition of humility’s opposite: pride. What is pride? Pride consists in attributing to ourselves and demanding for ourselves the honor, privileges, prerogatives, rights, and power that are due to God alone. Thus, it is the very root and essence of sin because pride, at its core, is idolatry of self. A proud person has put himself or herself in God’s place.
Humility, then, consists in an attitude wherein we recognize our own insignificance and unworthiness before God and attribute to Him the supreme honor, praise, prerogatives, rights, privileges, worship, devotion, authority, submission, and obedience that He alone deserves. It also involves a natural, habitual tendency to think and behave in a manner that appropriately expresses this attitude. In other words, the attitude of humility is always seen in humble actions. It means having a servant’s mind-set and always putting self last.
Now that we have generally defined humility, let us consider each aspect of this definition so that we can more fully understand this important quality. The more we understand in detail what true humility is, the better we will understand our own deficiency and great need of more of it in our lives.
First, a truly humble person has an abiding sense of his natural insignificance, as compared to God. Abraham exhibited this attitude when he said, “ ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes’ ” (Gen. 18:27). Abraham was deeply aware of the incredible insignificance of his knowledge and understanding compared to the wisdom of God. Job also showed this aspect of humility when, after being thoroughly tested by God, he said, “ ‘Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to You? I lay my hand on my mouth’ ” (Job 40:4). Job finally came to the place of recognizing God’s infinite natural superiority to man.
Humble people have a great sense of their ignorance, their weakness, and their unimportance. They know that if “the nations are like a drop from a bucket” in God’s eyes (Isa. 40:15), then they are far, far less than that. They recognize the insufficiency of their own power. They understand that only God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, all-wise, full of grace and truth and righteousness. They realize that they are totally dependent on God for everything: wisdom, health, safety, and even the ability to obey. In fact, it is only by God’s grace that we can even do anything that pleases Him.
Still further, humble people are deeply aware of their lack of greatness and lack of right to exercise authority over anyone. On the other hand, they are acutely aware of God’s greatness and God’s supreme right to rule over all. This means that truly humble people put themselves entirely under God’s authority. Whatever God says to do or not do, they obey completely and without question because they recognize the Creator–creature distinction. God is the Creator, and we are His creatures.
Second, a truly humble person has an abiding sense of his moral insignificance and sinfulness, as compared to God. Isaiah demonstrated this sense when he said, “ ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips’ ” (Isa. 6:5). The publican, in Luke 18:13, showed this aspect of humility as well when he stood at a distance from the altar, refused to look up to heaven, beat his chest, and said, “ ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ ”
To put it another way, a truly humble person has an accurate sense of his unworthiness before God. In Genesis 32:10, Jacob expressed this humility of spirit when he said, “ ‘I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant. . . .’ ” David also acknowledged his unworthiness when he asked, “ ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?’ ” (2 Sam. 7:18).
Indeed, truly humble people read a passage such as Romans 3:10–18 and think to themselves, “This is me! This is my heart that is being described”:
As it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Third, a person who is truly humble has a theocentric mindset. A person who thinks theocentrically puts God at the center of everything. God is his Master. This is in contrast to the proud person, who has an anthropocentric mind-set, in which man is at the center of everything. To be more exact, self is at the center of everything in the mind of the proud person. He is his own master, and everyone and everything else exists to please him and to serve his needs. As a result, he takes the throne in his own heart and, in reality, worships himself. Not only that, but he demands that everyone else worship him as well.
The humble person, on the other hand, has a servant’s mind-set. He desires to worship, love, and serve God at all times, and he demonstrates this mind-set daily by loving and serving other people. He would much rather deny himself than exalt himself or be exalted by others. He has the mind of Christ, who said that “ ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’ ” (Matt. 20:28).
Fourth, a person who is truly humble attributes to God supreme honor, praise, rights, and privileges. God alone is worshiped and exalted, as Jesus said in Matthew 4:10: “ ‘For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.” ’ ” A humble person is devoted to God in a way that he is devoted to no one else in his life. He acknowledges God as his supreme authority in all matters of life. What God says is what he does.
The humble man also recognizes that everything good that he has comes from the hand of God. He knows that God is the source of all things, the means of all things, and the goal of all things. He says with Paul, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). He realizes that it is his great privilege to live his life for the glory of God in everything that he does because He alone is worthy.
If we truly desire to grow in this quality of humility, we must be willing to take the time to honestly examine and evaluate ourselves in terms of this definition. Is our heart over- whelmed by the truth of our natural insignificance before the Almighty God? Are we painfully aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness before a Holy God? Is God the constant center around which our thoughts, desires, words, and actions revolve? Do we give Him alone our worship, praise, devotion, and obedience?
An honest appraisal of our hearts will no doubt reveal that we fall far short in all of these ways. None of us is truly humble as we ought to be and truly void of pride. Because I agree that pride is the first sin to rear its head when we’re born and the last to go when we die, and because humility is such an important, but forgotten and neglected virtue, I encourage you to seriously and expectantly devour and apply the material in this book. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan was on target biblically when he indicated that the valley of humiliation is a valley that every Christian will encounter and needs to encounter as he journeys through the wilderness of this world toward heaven. Praise God that He loves us so much that He is willing to humiliate us in order to rid us of our awful pride!