For an instant, I was speechless. It had never occurred to me to think of myself in those terms. Had he picked up the phone and said, “What’s up, basket case?” or “How’s it going, screw-up?” I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye; in fact, I probably would have assumed the Holy Spirit had given him a word of knowledge. But “man of God” - I wasn't prepared for that.
The Christian faith places a great deal of emphasis on humility, and for most of my life I guess I thought humility was the art of running yourself down. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Humility is an attitude of reverent awareness that what you have, and what you can do, you have and can do by the grace of God. Humility keeps one thankful toward God and merciful toward one’s fellow human beings. The alternative is arrogance, which leads to contempt for both God and man.
At its core then, humility is simply an acknowledgment of the truth: the truth concerning oneself in relation to God.
For this reason, running yourself down isn’t just counterproductive; it’s actually a form of self-delusion. Further, I believe it’s an affront to God. The scriptures are clear that those who belong to Christ have received the favor of God (Romans 5:1-11), even the right to be called his own children (John 1:12-13). We are to receive an inheritance along with Christ (Romans 8:16-18). Indeed, Jesus said that it is the Father’s “good pleasure” to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). He doesn’t merely tolerate us, he delights in us (Ephesians 5:1). We are important to him, first because we are created in his image, and second because we are being conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29), who is ever pleasing to him. When we look down on ourselves we effectively deny these truths and thereby subtly imply that the sacrifice of Christ that was designed to bring these things about really hasn’t done so.
There is a place for conviction in our lives. The Holy Spirit brings this about in his own gentle way, but he never rubs our noses in our failures and inadequacies. Given that we are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1), it stands to reason that we should not do these things to ourselves, either. Yes, it’s easy to become discouraged at times—especially as we reflect on the power and holiness of God, and as we compare ourselves to various famous names in the history of the faith—but as Christians we are called to be “overcomers.” A person who runs himself down is not overcoming; he is being overcome. Victory will never come to one who chooses to crown himself with defeat.
So, yes, let’s pursue humility, but let it be genuine humility—a humility that comes by way of the truth and that leads us into thankfulness and mercy, and onward to victory. Acknowledge who you are in Christ and what God has said about you in those terms. Know that, if you belong to Christ, then you are indeed a man or woman of God, no matter what you may feel like at the moment or how far you have yet to travel on the road to maturity. It isn’t easy to change a habitual pattern of thinking, as those who are prone to anxiety and depression know only too well, but it’s the essential first step and it is possible with prayerful determination. The alternative is futility, self-delusion, and insulting the father who has so graciously made us the children of his favor.
“For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that...we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” - Hebrews 6:16-18
*Scripture is taken from the NASB.