What godly humility is not
It is not always clear to us what godly humility entails, particularly in shame-based cultures where we are nudged or coerced into being docile, compliant, submissive, and accommodating. Modesty, deference, and shame may look like humility, but the motivation may be to please people or shield ourselves, rather than to glorify God. Anytime we make anything about our reputation, popularity, or self-worth, we cannot truly say we are humble.
Galatians 1:10 ESV For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
1. Godly humility is not self-deprecating
Being humble is not about exercising self-deprecation, where we will trivialise, undervalue, or belittle ourselves.
Ultimately, self-deprecation draws attention to ourselves. Self-deprecating humour, for example, is often used as a way to make us appear more relatable and likeable. When we put ourselves down in a self-deprecating way, we dishonour the person that God has made us to be. It may be healthy to be aware of and acknowledge our weaknesses, but it is something else to pour scorn on ourselves in mock humility.
1 Peter 3:8,10-12 ESV Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Self-deprecation puts ourselves down. Humility, on the other hand, puts others first. The difference is subtle yet profound.
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
2. Godly humility will not compare
The ironic thing about humility is that the minute we see ourselves as being humble or at least not as proud as someone else, then we are no longer humble. There is no competition in humility. Truly humble people love to uplift and encourage others simply because they love God, rather than their own image.
Luke 14:11 ESV For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
3. Godly humility does not make us slaves to people
Godly humility submits to God’s will first, not to other people’s demands and expectations. For instance, it does not entail blind obedience to our elders or parents simply because of their position or age. We should always fear God first.
The fear of people can lead to various ungodly forms of humility. Here is one example. Some people will humble themselves before an unscrupulous boss because they fear losing their jobs and reputations. Hence, they simply comply with whatever their boss tells them to do, even if it is unethical. We can fall into sin by humbling ourselves before the wrong “master.”
Romans 6:16-18 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Godly humility will require us to actively decline to comply with the unconscionable, and in this case, humbly accept the consequences of refusing to comply, even if it means being fired. In the eyes of our ex-boss , we may appear to be arrogant because we refused to bow down to his criminal demands. Like Joseph said in Genesis 39:9, our conscience will not allow ourselves to do wicked things and sin against God.
Genesis 39:7,9 and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded… No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”
The Bible teaches us to humble ourselves before God, not people. Our reverence for God should always supersede that of this world. God humility does not turn us into doormats or slaves to anyone.
1 Peter 5:6 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
4. Godly humility will not judge
Humble people are not easily offended, nor are they quick to judge and condemn others. They will choose to extend God’s grace to those who, in the world’s eyes, do not deserve mercy or friendship. They will even extend grace to their enemies. They won’t elevate themselves so high that they are unable see that they too deserve to be condemned if it were not for Jesus Christ.
We are called to humbly follow Jesus and be good stewards of God’s grace by sharing it with others. The Bible says that when we are merciful towards others, God will be merciful towards us.
1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
James 2:13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
5. Godly humility will edify others and not reject correction
With godly humility, we will edify anyone who is in danger of wandering away from God. The Bible instructs us to “gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.” Hence, we would go out of our way to remind fellow brothers and sisters in Christ how much God grieves when they sin, even if it means they may reject and slander us. We would humbly value their walk with God because we know how much God loves them. True humility will always nudge us out of our comfort zones for other people’s sakes.
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Galatians 6:1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.
At the same time, we would be open to receiving feedback and correction, even from people we may not necessarily like. God can use anyone to speak life into us, and it takes great humility to listen to and reflect on words that may be uncomfortable to receive at first.
Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Philippians 2:4-7 ESV Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
6. Godly humility will not reject help
There is a form of modesty in Asian cultures where we shy away from “bothering others” and asking for help. This is not godly humility. It takes humility to acknowledge we need help and to ask for it. Believers are called to “obey the law of Christ” by sharing each other’s burdens.
Galatians 6:2-3 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Above all, God invites us to ask Him for help and wisdom to overcome the obstacles of this world. He says we only need to ask.
Psalm 121:1-3 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
7. Godly humility will not be impatient
Impatience is a sign that we are unable to humbly put other people’s interests first. We raise our own self-importance and judge others’ shortcomings. If we humble ourselves before God, we would patiently seek the good of others.
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
8. Godly humility will not reject compliments
Sometimes, we can feel uncomfortable receiving compliments from other people and respond by putting ourselves down and dismissing God’s blessings. This may come from a place of shame, rather than humility. Just as we are not to think too highly of ourselves, it is ungodly to also think too lowly of ourselves. We are called to have an accurate and honest assessment of ourselves; both our strengths and weaknesses.
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
What’s more, receiving compliments are a great time to praise God for His goodness. Let us not miss such opportunities.
2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
It is not always pride that obstructs humility
It is not always pride that stops us from humbly inviting God to sit on the throne of our hearts.
1. Unbelief or ignorance about God’s sovereignty
The first stumbling block that many of us face is the false belief that we have the wisdom or power to control the world at large – when we can’t. We are alive simply because God has allowed it. We have fallen for the false belief that human wisdom and intelligence can bring about peace, justice, and all good things, so we choose to handle things on our own without God.
Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 NLT In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.
Proverbs 3:7 ESV Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
We don’t understand that God is absolutely sovereign over His universe. He is the Author of light and darkness, prosperity and disaster. He has created everything for His glory and will share His glory with anyone who is united with Him in heart and mind. This unity only comes through humble submission.
Isaiah 45:5-7 ESV I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.
One major obstacle to humbling ourselves before God is fear; we fear that He will take the fun out of our lives, that He will mislead and disappoint us, that He is mean and cruel, and so forth. Sadly, these qualities are more descriptive of Satan than our loving Father in heaven. Also, see Testing our hearts for a healthy fear of God
Romans 8:1 ESV There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
3. Judging God
Another possibility is that we subconsciously judge God. When we have endured or witnessed suffering in this world and are unable to see an immediate reason for it, for instance, we can start to form a judgmental view of God. We may form the false belief that “God wants all His children to suffer. He wants me to suffer. He is not loving. He is bad. He is untrustworthy.” Therefore, we resist humbling ourselves before Him. We don’t realise that God sometimes allows our faith to be tested, as a means for us to become “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Will we still choose to love and obey God or will we follow the god of this world by rebelling?
James 1:2-4 ESV Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
By judging God, instead of going to Him for love and comfort, we fail the test of our faith. We demonstrate that perhaps, we don’t really know God’s character and will.
Romans 5:3-5 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
4. Inner vows and past offences
Unpleasant memories or traumatic experiences can lead us to build emotional barriers for ourselves. We promise ourselves that, “I will not trust anyone,” “I must be the one in control,” or “I don’t give in to anyone so easily.” As a defensive measure, we begin to detach ourselves from people. We don’t trust others so easily and are prone to judging them in self-defence. After spending so many years isolating and defending ourselves, we now find it hard to humble ourselves before God and fully trust Him too.
Proverbs 3:5 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
5. Religiosity and self-righteousness
Some Christians develop (spiritual) pride out of a genuine desire “to be good.” This righteous-sounding aspiration may have been born out of good intentions but we do not realise that it is ungodly. Even Jesus, when addressed in His humanity as a “teacher”, said not to address Him as good. He pointed a ruler to see that only God is truly good. It takes humility to admit that we can never really be good, and only the Holy Spirit can teach us how to live righteously.
Luke 18:18-19 ESV And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
“Being good” can become an idol in itself. The (self) righteous desire to do what’s good is the basis for legalism, judgment and religiosity. Because we want to maintain our “good” image, we can end up doing certain things that may look good to us, but not to God. We make plans that are contrary to God’s will for us. We also fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with who’s good and who’s not.
Isaiah 30:1 NIV “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin;
6. Demonic strongholds
One’s readiness to bow our hearts before God can sometimes be hindered by demonic strongholds. One example are generational curses. We may come from families where our forefathers dedicated all first sons or all descendants under the “guardianship” or lordship of idols, village gods, or even one’s ancestors.
Another example is Freemasons, a secret society that usually targets men, where every member must make various oaths to mutilate and rip themselves apart if they ever dishonor the society. Such ungodly offerings are demonic. When one of our forefathers makes a Freemason oath, we will be affected spiritually too because we are descended from them. All links to the society, their oaths, rituals, and members must be renounced in the name of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:20 ESV No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.
Thankfully, through prayer and fasting, God will show us if there are indeed such unseen demonic strongholds. God will save us when we humble ourselves before Him and ask for His help. He makes us more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:37-39 ESV No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7. Shame and self-accusations
Shame, self-doubt, and self-accusation can keep us from humbling ourselves before God. Because we feel unworthy of God’s love and grace, we want to figure things out first or become a “good” person before we bow down before Him. Such thinking is unbiblical and flawed. God knows all our frailties and accepts us just the way we are. He is the only One who knows how to transforms us into what is acceptable and pleasing to Him. When we try to save ourselves, we will fail hopelessly.
Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Being humble does not come naturally to anyone. We are all tempted to exalt ourselves in some way. Yet humility is something we need to consciously choose to do.
Have you ever noticed that humility is not part of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? It is not something God grows in us, it is something we conscientiously choose to “put on” in worship of God. Let us make conscious choices to be humble every day, entrusting all our old ways, fears, and shame to Him. We can be sure there will come a day He will exalt those who humble themselves.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Colossians 3:12 ESV Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
1 Peter 5:5 ESV … Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another…
James 2:10 ESV Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Also, see 10 ways to reflect God’s humility
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