MOST THEOLOGIANS THROUGHOUT HISTORY have considered humility the queen of virtues. Why is that when the Bible seems to put the emphasis on love? For example, love is eternal. It is greater than faith and hope (1 Cor 13:13). Paul tells us that if we don’t have love we are a “clanging symbol” that means “nothing” and gains “nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Also love is the virtue by which others will know us as Christians (John 13:35). So, why do so many great men consider humility more important? Because humility is the precedent to love. Our capacity to love is according to our humility. That is why John Calvin wrote—
I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility;” and still more with those of Augustine, “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
It is also why the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, wrote even more emphatically that humility—
Is a great and most essential thing in true religion. The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new covenant, and all God’s dispensations towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect in the hearts of men. They that are destitute of this, have no true religion, whatever profession they may make, and how high soever their religious affections may be.The Works Of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 2
Edwards is making a preposterous statment. Because it is the essential virute, he is arguing that everything God does in our life has one ultimate end—humility. Is this true? Is Edwards exagerating? I don’t think so.
Why is it, then, that we hear so little about this crucial virtue? Why is that so few books about humility are in print? Why are Christians more disposed to buy books about anger management, self-esteem, shame, or guilt than pride and humility? Why do we hear so few sermons on humility?
The answer is simple. No one thinks they need humility. We universally think we are already humble. When my book Gospel Powered Humility came out my publisher took me aside. “Don’t expect big sales right away,” he warned.
Why? I asked with a discourage tone.
“People buy books to meet felt needs,” he responded, “and no one thinks they need humility.”
The Blinding Power of Pride
Pride is systemic to human nature. We enter the world saturated with it. No exceptions. Just as humility is the root and foudation of virtue, so pride is the root and foundation of Original Sin.
Most important to our argument, pride’s nature is blindness. It either gives us an inflated view of ourselves, blinding us to our sin, or it intensifies the awareness of our failings causing us to wallow in guilt and self-hatred. Both can be at work in the same person at the same time. The most common experience is blindness, and the sin to whose presence it is most conspicuously blinds is pride.
To be overinflated or deflated comes down to the same thing. A superiority complex and an inferiority complex are basically the same. They are both results of being overinflated. The person with the superiority complex is overinflated and in danger of being deflated; the person with an inferiority complex is deflated already. Someone with an inferiority complex will tell you they hate themselves and they will tell themselves they hate themselves. They are deflated. To be deflated means you were previously inflated. Deflated or in imminent danger of being deflated – it is all the same thing. And it makes the ego fragile.Tim Keller, The Freedom of Forgetfulness.
Therefore, even the worst of sinners feels very little need for humility. It is univerally true that we don’t feel proud. We all feel humble. It is others that struggle with pride. It is also universally true that we will not pursue the eradication of a sin of which we have no conscious experience. We will not pursue a virtue that we feel is already ours in abundance.
This begs the question. What is humility? Is it self hatred? Is it poor self-image? No. Humility is the ability to see life and all reality through God’s eyes. It flows from a big view of God and a small picture of self. It is an honest appraisal of myself in my weaknesses and myriad imperfections standing before an absolutely holy God, who hates even the smallest moral blemishes. That is what true humility looks like.
Humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents, God has given them to us, and let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have the lower we ought to lie…Humility is to feel ourselves lost, ruined, and undone. …Humility is to feel that we have no power of ourselves, but that it all cometh from God. ..It is in fact, to annihilate self, and to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as all in allC. H.Spurgeon, Metropolitan Pulpit
True humility arises from the gospel and finds its hope and solace in the gospel.
True humility arises from the gospel. Jesus died in my place. His death exhausted the wrath of God which I deserve. He died in my place to atone first for my nature (Romans 8:3). Then he died for the individual “sins” that my sin nature produces. Christ on the cross—the gospel—is most humbling.
I deserve that, you ask? Surely it isn’t that bad? Yes, it is that bad. In fact, your unredeemed position before a holy God is worse than your worst imagination. It deserves hell, and scriptures descriptions of hell are terrifying.
But our pride also finds its solace in the gospel. Why did Jesus go to the cross for one so unworthy? Because, despite my pride and arrogance, he loved me with a love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). Therefore, I am infinitely valuable to God. But this “value” is not something I can boast about. God doesn’t love me because I am good, but despite the fact that I am not. Therefore, the cross humbles and comforts me at the same time. It transfers all boasting from self and its virtues to Christ and his virtues (Romans 3:27).
So, the cross reminds me daily that I am much more proud and sinful than i have ever imagined, but I am also more loved than I have ever imagined and this is humbling.
The conclusion is simple. Gospel centered, cross centered Christians feel proud and pursue humility. That humility produces love and all the other virtues. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote—
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:18
Are you “beholding the glory of the Lord?” It is fully displayed at the cross. The fruits are eyes open to the radical presence of pride, and that will terminate in a life-long pursuit of humility.