When we think about what it looks like to live as a Christian, we often forget many of the inner heart virtues that lead to the outward behaviors that would make our list. In the Beatitudes, which describe the character of the person who is a citizen of God’s kingdom, Jesus starts with humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. While we focus on everything a Christian does, Jesus says that our growth as Christians starts with who we are.
Humility, which is the poverty of spirit Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:3, serves as the root of our growth as believers. We cannot make any spiritual progress until we truly understand who we are in light of who God is. Seeing God in his holiness and ourselves as sinners in need of grace is critical for growing in our relationship with the Lord and growing in how we treat other people.
Humility does not come easily. Our flesh yearns for the self-assurance that comes from pride, the world tells us to assert ourselves and put ourselves first, and the enemy of our souls wants nothing more than for us to be mired in pride and arrogance.
If the world, the flesh, and the devil continually tempt us to pride, and humility is essential for spiritual progress, what are some practical steps that we can take to kill our pride and grow in humility?
Read the Bible
We have a tendency to give lip service to the Bible while not spending time it. We have unparalleled access to the Scriptures and writings to help us understand them, but we often allow this treasure to lie neglected. Instead of ignoring the Bible, we must give primary attention to it.
Reading the Bible reminds us of two truths that help us grow in humility– God is holy and we are not. This is most evident in Isaiah 6 when the prophet sees the Lord in the temple. He gets a glimpse of God’s holiness and his response is to proclaim his own sinfulness. The Lord responds by touching a coal to Isaiah’s lips and telling him that his sins are forgiven. This shows us that the beginning of humility is seeing the Lord for who he is, seeing ourselves for who we are, and seeking the forgiveness that can only be found in him.
Where do we see the holiness of God? Where can we be reminded that we have sinned against him? And, where do we hear the hope that only the Gospel gives? We encounter these wonderful truths most clearly in the pages of Scripture. Therefore, we would do well to read the Bible, study the Bible, memorize the Bible, and meditate on the Bible.
Spend Time in Prayer
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable for those who think they are righteous in ourselves and treat others that they consider to be less righteous with contempt. He tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee’s prayer is a textbook case of self-righteousness. He prays about his own goodness and places himself in favorable contrast with other people in general and the tax collector in particular.
What is striking about the prayer of the Pharisee is that he does not ask God for anything. He merely prays about his own righteousness. On the other hand, the tax collector makes one simple request, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Notice the difference between the two prayers. The proud Pharisee prays only about himself and asks for nothing from God. The tax collector in his humility makes a simple and powerful request from God.
You may think that the Pharisee asking for nothing seems noble. However, not presenting requests to God is a sure sign of spiritual pride. It means that we do not know that we are dependent people. In 1 Peter 5:6-7, Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Do you notice the connection he makes here? He commands us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We do this while casting our anxieties on him. When we pray, we acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We ask God for that which we do not have on our own and which only he can give.
Get Involved in a Local Church
Too often, we think about our spiritual lives in purely individualistic terms. We hear about spiritual growth and only picture ourselves in our rooms with our Bibles and then working hard on our own to obey what we read. Instead of continuing to run in this direction, we must learn how integral the local church is to our growth as believers, especially when we consider how many biblical commands we cannot obey unless we are engaged in a local body.
Being an active part of a local church helps us grow in humility because we surround ourselves with people who know us well. When we engage in genuine fellowship and develop friendships where we are being honest about our walk with Jesus, the people around us get to know our weaknesses, frailties, and sins. They love us and care for us, but they also know that we have feet of clay. In honest and genuine community, we cannot pretend to be something we are not. This is a good place to be.
In the local church, we also humble ourselves by serving others. Whether we are working in the nursery, helping to feed the needy, or listening to the difficulties a fellow believer is going through, getting outside of ourselves and serving others helps us grow in humility. We get to remember that we are not the center of the universe and that we were not made to live for ourselves.
Humility is the fertile soil in which our Christian lives grow. Pride chokes away our growth and leads us down paths we don’t want to tread. To grow in the vital gift of humility, we would be wise to immerse ourselves in the biblical text, the school of prayer, and the fellowship of the local church.