Article by Emmanuel Njoroge
One of the things that I have appreciated from reading Mahaney’s book on Humility is the truth that I am not humble! It was and is encouraging to know that I am not alone on this journey. In his words, he says, “I’m a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God.” At the heart of his book is the promise of God, that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). If God has made this promise, why would we not give ourselves to pursuing humility? Not only has God promised us grace in response to our humility, but he has also given us the grace to pursue humility. His grace is ours both in the means of getting grace–pursuing humility, and the end of humility –more grace. It’s double grace indeed!
With the promise of grace for the humble, Mahaney argues that humility is our greatest friend, whereas pride is our greatest enemy. In Isaiah 66:2, God says, “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” What great motivation and comfort to know that “Humility draws the gaze of our Sovereign God!” Mahaney says, “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” This, he says is “the twin reality that all genuine humility is rooted in God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” I have been challenged to assess myself in light of the call to humility. Am I increasingly seeing myself through the lenses of the holiness of God and my sinfulness? This will lead me to the cross again and again, for only at the cross are my sins dealt with decisively, and God’s wrath towards my sin done away with exhaustively. How can I boast or be proud of anything in me really?
Pride, our greatest enemy, Mahaney says, “is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him…” The essence of pride is, man “contending for supremacy with God, and lifting up our hearts against Him.” God hates pride! In fact, the Scriptures say that God opposes the proud! (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). I have oftentimes underestimated the potency of pride in my own heart and life. The gravity of pride manifesting in my heart and life is being opposed by God! There’s no doubt who’s loosing, and no doubt who’ll get it rough. I will. God is opposed to pride and opposes the proud. Such a reminder only makes me more zealous to pursue humility like never before.
Mahaney winsomely points us to Christ who not only modeled humility but also died for us, so that, we who are proud sinners could become humble saints after his likeness. How in the world could James and John who wanted the best spot in glory be the very same who were martyred for the sake of Christ? How could they come from aspiring “greatness” in worldly terms, to pursuing greatness as Jesus defined “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). Here’s what Mahaney observes, “James and John were ransomed by the Savior’s death and forgiven of their pride and all their sins. And they would be transformed as well, from self-confident men into humble servants who would live to serve others with the gospel for the glory of God.” The person and work of Christ is potent to transform proud sinners and make them humble saints who selflessly serve others for God’s glory alone! This is good news for me and for you!
How then do we increasingly cultivate our greatest friend humility? Mahaney offers a number of things but I will highlight a few of them that have really impacted me. First is to “reflect on the wonder of the cross of Christ.” Quoting from John Stott he says, “The cross never flatters us. Far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness, and we can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit.” At the cross, we are not only confronted with how sinful we are but also of how holy God is! Not only that, but we are also pointed to the love of God which melts our hardened and prideful hearts to softened and humble hearts. Secondly, studying the incommunicable attributes of God, those attributes that distinguish God from us. To know God in his distinct being from us reveals to us our utter dependence on Him. We need Him, He does not need us! Isn’t that humility? To know that we are insufficient in and of ourselves and that we desperately need the all-sufficient God! Perhaps on that caught me off-guard was “laugh often, and laugh at yourself.” He quotes “Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego.” Oh, how I pray to be a man who laughs heartily!
Two more highlights; to see the evidence of God’s grace at work in others is a way to cultivate humility. God is always working in the life of fellow saints (Phil 2:12-13). I am often too critical of others and quick to point out their flaws. Mahaney notes that “only those who are humble can constantly identify evidence of grace in others who need adjustment. It’s something the proud and the self-righteous are incapable of.” Lastly, inviting and pursuing correction cultivates humility. We always have a “Cream cheese moment,” that is to say, there’s always a flaw that we cannot see that others can see in us. Indeed, “sin is subtle, sin is deceitful, and sin blinds you. And you need feedback from others in order to understand your heart.” Here are a few questions he suggests in inviting and pursuing correction: “Do I confess my sin consistently? Do I confess specific instances of sin and not just general categories or general references to sin? Do others find it easy to correct me? Do others know the areas of temptation in my life at present? Do they know the most pronounced patterns of sin in my life at present?
I have tremendously benefitted from C.J Mahaney’s book on humility and would encourage you to read it. I am not any humbler reading it, but most definitely helped in my pursuit of humility! The promise is sure: God gives grace to the humble.