Learning to Walk in Humility

May 1, 2021 | by: James Law | 0 Comments

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Drawing Near

Life-Altar-4x3-1I once read that pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig. We display pride and its viscous foliage with little effort. In other words, we don’t have to work hard for pride to be manifested in our lives. Even noble and good things can become soured by this pernicious sin. Pride flows freely from our fallen hearts and tracing its roots is not difficult. All we need to do is look back to Eden where Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit and catapulted the human family into the misery of this fallen world. Since then, we all contribute to the groaning of this creation, and that in large measure comes from the sin of pride in our lives.

Throughout Scripture, God is on record with what he thinks about pride. In the book of Proverbs, we read that God abominates “haughty eyes,”[1] and we are warned that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”[2] Jesus taught that it was “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”[3] The apostle James asserted that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”[4]  The word “opposes” describes God’s ongoing hatred and opposition to pride.  The apostle John referenced the “the boastful pride of life”[5] in his warning to believers against loving this present world system. 

What makes pride so elusive is how easily it flows into everything. Pride is a stealth sin that can fly under the radar and wreak havoc before we identify it.  With such a formidable struggle before each of us, what hope do we have of putting off pride and putting on humility? Thankfully, the counsel of God’s word is not silent on how we can recognize pride.  God has given means of grace, holy habits, that we are to pursue in our lives.

Paul wrote to his son in the faith Timothy, train yourself for godliness.”[6]  Paul uses the word gumnázō, which is translated “train” in the ESV. This word influenced the forming of the English word “gymnasium.”  Paul’s challenge and word picture are clear. Believers are to exercise, train themselves, for the purpose of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Holy sweat” is required, again not to earn salvation, but for the rigor of living for Jesus in this world. As we face the world, our flesh, and the evil one, God has given to us important exercises to help us walk in humility.

So how does one train for godliness? What exercises are given in God’s gymnasium? Well, this brings us to the potential pride busters called “spiritual disciplines.” I use the word “potential” because even spiritual disciplines can bring a major pride problem. Just look at the Pharisees![7]  

We find in the text of Scripture such spiritual disciplines as: biblical intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, and church life. [8] This is not an exhaustive list but representative of basic commitments believers should embrace to grow in their faith. 

I mentioned church life among the list of spiritual disciplines. This is seen prominently in the New Testament as believers are connected to a local church. You will search in vain for a believer encouraged to live the Christian life alone. 

Faithfulness to a local body of believers is a spiritual discipline that helps us live life on the altar. Involvement in a local church can be one of the most effective pride busters there is.  John MacArthur’s observations ring true when he wrote, “Obsession with self is not only deemed acceptable nowadays, it is considered normal behavior. Our culture has made pride a virtue and humility a weakness.” [9] In the ebb and flow of church life we should be learning what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:3, when he penned, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”  Often when I am with my church family I am gripped by the truth that Christ has purchased us with his blood and has established this community of believers for our growth until we see him.

I think it is accurate to say that a believer’s involvement in church, rightly motivated, demonstrates some level of humility. I am very aware that the opposite is true, namely that church involvement can breed self-righteousness that is appalling. Our presence in the assembly of God’s gathered people should communicate, “I’m needy. I need Jesus Christ. I need the Lord and his Word in my life. I need the fellowship of other believers to be sharpened, strengthened, and challenged.”  I fear many may take the importance of involvement in Body life for granted. Let me close with three ways faithfulness to a local church can help us pursue humility in our walk with Christ.  

-Giving of Ourselves to Others

First, church life gives us an opportunity to give of ourselves to others.  Followers of Christ are called to serve one another. In John 13, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and then commanded them to go and do likewise. This seems to beg the question, “Whose feet am I washing on a regular basis?” If we would have eyes to see the opportunities, Church life can place us on the front line of service to others, both in the church and to those outside. Jesus also said in John 13, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[10]  In coming posts we will spend time on what it means to obey the “one another” commands of the New Testament. There are over thirty such commands to minister to one another. In fact, Romans 12-15 account for ten of them which seems to emphasize Paul’s picture of altar life as love and service to others.

-Receiving from others

Secondly, I have needs in my life that I cannot meet on my own. That is true of every believer. One of the strong pulls of pride is for us to say to ourselves, “I don’t need church. I can meet my own spiritual needs in my own way.” We must do battle with those kind of thoughts because it is contrary to the instruction of God’s word which warns us against the neglect of the church gathering.[11]  Spiritual implosion occurs as we neglect the means of grace God has given. The evil one’s strategy is to get us alone, tempt us to be self-sufficient and isolated by our own pride, and then commence to beat the life out of us. The local church is God’s answer to that assassin’s plot. We need the accountability and the sharpening that can only come through a covenant membership in a local church. Humility acknowledges freely that I need to receive from others as an important part of my spiritual growth.                                                           

-Embracing the Frustrations and Pain in the Family of God

Thirdly, I mentioned in the last post that I have experienced the best and worst of church life over thirty years in the pastorate. In fact, my first Sunday (nearly three decades ago), 120 people left the church to start another church across town. I wasn’t the cause of their exodus, other than the fact that I was 28 years old walking into a spiritual warzone, and many thought there was no way that the likes of me could right the ship. And they were certainly correct, without the Lord, I can do nothing. I’ve learned in the pastorate that no one loves the church more than Christ, and my focus in ministry is to do what he has commanded me to do: preach the word and shepherd his people.

I entered a church that had been in turmoil for years and was very much divided.  As I look back over these years, I have come to see that every frustration and pain has been worth it all because it is part of God’s sanctify work in our lives. The joys that come to those who persevere in God’s grace are priceless, and they are found among living in community. 

Mark Dever has impacted my ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) more than anyone. He once shared a conversation he had with a distant relative that his mother wanted him to meet. This relative was one that he hadn’t seen in a long time, and so they met up at a coffee shop. The conversation was going along wonderfully until his mother mentioned that her son (Dever) was a pastor of a local church.  At which time the conversation evaporated. This relative looked very nervous and uncomfortable suddenly. Her coffee became a lot more interesting.

She said, “Oh, local church huh? I really don’t have much time for organized religion.”

Dever said, “Really?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I think it is a pit of vipers.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

He said, “And do you think the world outside is really so much better?”

She said, “Well, no I guess not. I guess they are vipers too, but at least they know they are vipers.”

And Dever replied, “Well, you know you might be surprised how much I agree with you.  I’m a Christian. I know a bit of what it is like to not be a Christian and to be a Christian.  I know the world outside is a pit of vipers. I have no doubt about that, but I also know that the church is a pit of vipers too. I know that. I would never be involved in a church which didn’t know that. I think the only difference, where we disagree, is I don’t think those outside know it, and I think the ones in the church know it, and that is why we are there. And you know what? If you ever want to, you are welcome to slither on in anytime.  We’ve got room.”

God’s intention for his children is to live life in the context of a local church, in a family where we allow ourselves to be known, and where we get to know others. It is here we learn to walk in love and humility as we seek God’s kingdom together. 

[1] Proverbs 6:17

[2] Proverbs 16:18 (NASB)

[3] Mark 7:21-23 

[4] James 4:6

[5] I John 2:16

[6] I Timothy 4:7

[7] Luke 18:9-14

[8] There have been a number of works written in the last thirty years that have been extremely helpful to me personally in pursuing a disciplined Christian life.  My two favorite are: Donald S. Whitney. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. NavPress: Colorado Springs, CO., 2014; R. Kent Hughes. Disciplines of a Godly Man. Crossway: Wheaton, IL., 2019

[9] John MacArthur, https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170109/~  accessed April 27, 2021.

[10] John 13:35

[11] Hebrews 10:25

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