God extends His grace to the humble, but resists the proud (James 4:6).
Humility expresses a genuine dependency on God and others. Humility recognizes we live the Christian life in the same manner we become Christians – by the grace of God.
To those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). Both men appeared and sounded religious. But as the story unfolds, we quickly understand the focus of each man. The Pharisee trusted in himself and looked down on others. He was proud he was not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even the tax collector standing next to him. He looked on outward appearance and was consumed with his behavior to a fault. He spent little time evaluating the motivation behind his actions. He overlooked the fact God looks at the heart and is concerned about not only what we do, but also why we do it. The Pharisee was so rigidly self-righteous that he missed the opportunity for God to change him from the inside out. He overlooked the humility required to apply God’s grace to his life.
The tax collector, on the other hand, was keenly aware of his sinfulness, and looked to God for mercy and forgiveness. He recognized humility put him in a position to hear from God. We too, like the tax collector, understand the heart of God more clearly when we approach Him with dependence rather than smug self-sufficiency. Humility is an attitude of the heart. When God sees humility, He sees someone with whom He can entrust His grace. God responds to the humble prayer. Humility arrests the attention of God! The proud prayer is ignored, but the humble prayer is powerful. God says in His perfect timing the humble man will receive the proper recognition he deserves, while the proud man will be disgraced. There are at least three characteristic of humility we find in this parable.
First, humility is quick to confess sin and slow to point out the sin of others. The tax collector asked God to be merciful to him, a sinner. Humility asks God to surface sin, so we can repent. Pride, on the other hand, is slow to confess sin and quick to point out the sin of others. We can hear the pride in the Pharisees voice as he thanked God for not being like other men (v. 11). Outwardly, his actions looked right, but inwardly, his heart was ravaged by pride and selfishness. He was not teachable; he was not humble; he knew no compassion or mercy. To him, it was his way or no way. Pride says if you don’t look, talk, and act just like I do, you are wrong.
Second, humility asks for and receives God’s forgiveness, and in turn is quick to forgive others. Once we have received God’s forgiveness, we recognize the need to forgive others. We realize we cannot expect perfection from others until we get to heaven. A proud person, on the other hand, sees no need to ask for God’s forgiveness, nor does he forgive or seek the forgiveness of others. Pride says, “I will never forgive you.” This is where a lot of people are today. There is nothing the offending person can do to compensate for the wrong. Since the offended holds on to the wrong and does not forgive, anger, bitterness, and pride seep into his heart. Only through humility and forgiveness can the relationship ever heal.
Third, humility is content to be behind the scenes. A humble person is secure, knowing his or her service is just as important to God as the service of the one who is in the spotlight. Pride, on the other hand, insists on being in the spotlight; it wants everyone to know how much time and energy are being sacrificed for “God’s work.” Pride is always causing conflict because it insists on being the center of attention. Jesus said the proud love to hear the praises of people. Jesus also said the praises of people were their only reward – nothing more.
God hates pride. Pride made sin a reality in His creation and brought evil into the world. God has such a disdain for pride that He is willing to allow adversity in the lives of His children to inject healthy doses of humility and root it out. The tragedy, however, is some of us are clever enough to weasel our way through or around the adversity God intends to use. Through ingenuity and determination, we manipulate things in such a way as to temporarily bypass God’s plan for keeping us humble. This may work in the short run, but nobody outsmarts or outmaneuvers God forever. For a while, we may continue functioning as if nothing has changed, but eventually, what is true privately will surface publicly.
* Read more in my book: Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.