William Farley has written an excellent book, “Gospel-Powered Humility,” (P&R Publishing, 2011) on the subject of humility. I first learned about it from a book review by Aimee Byrd written just a couple of months ago. I knew the minute I read that book review that it was a “must read” and I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been humbled by it.
As Farley states on the back cover of his book: “Humility is not a popular concept in our world today. It is seen as a weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation. Unfortunately, these worldly attitudes about humility have leaked into and influenced the church as well.
“Far from being weakness, humility is the crucial virtue. Not only is it integral to the process of conversion and sanctification, but from its soil sprout the fruit of the Spirit. Yet many Christians are unaware of this crucial connection . . . .”
I’ve touched on the topic of pride in a previous post (see “Our Default Mode”); however, this book is excellent in helping us to understand the differences between real humility and pride which is most often disguised as a type of pseudo-humility. Early on in the book Farley defines humility and pride in very clear terms:
“Humility is one of the least understood spiritual fruits. It is not self-hatred or lack of self-confidence. Humility and low self-image are not the same thing. Indeed, they are polar opposites. Increasing humility brings rest with self, with God, and with life’s circumstances. It produces real lasting joy and healthy self-image. Humility is the ability to see spiritual reality, to see things as they really are. It is the capacity to see myself in God’s light, in the context of his holiness and my sinfulness. In other words, it is the ability to see self, and this world, through God’s eyes [emphasis mine]. God empowers the humble person to increasingly see himself as he really is: ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’ (Rev. 3:17). The person growing in humility sees his gifts and faults, his strengths and weaknesses, with increasing clarity. Ironically, as we will see, this humility lays the sure foundation for real contentment and healthy self-image because the humble Christian also increasingly sees and feels God’s great personal love. The truly humble believer has a low view of himself, but an increasingly high view of God and his fellow man.
“Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride [emphasis mine]. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride—even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin—because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence. Even though God was speaking to me about my arrogance through Isaiah 66:2 and I Corinthians 13:12, because pride blinded me I could not see it. Dazzled by my own self-respect, I could not see my failings. Pride is a spiritual veil blinding us to the truth about ourselves and God. The proud person has a high view of self but a low view of God and his brother.
“ ‘There is no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. ‘If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed’ (quote from “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, pp. 109, 114).
“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. The humble man sees his arrogance. He sees it clearly, and as a result he aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn’t think of himself as humble. The proud man is completely unaware of his pride. Of all men he is most convinced that he is humble” (Ibid, pp.24-25).
The insidiousness of pride is what makes us think we are humble. It is, indeed, “a demonic Catch-22” as stated above. The prophet Jeremiah stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That goes against everything we want to believe about ourselves. In our pride we want to believe that we can be–indeed, that we are–humble most of the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I love what Aimee Byrd had to say in her book review of “Gospel-Powered Humility.” She starts off her review with, “I’m not perfect. Don’t we love to pithily drop that aphorism? What we really mean is, I’m pretty darn close. . . . Some of us are masters at hiding our pride—even from ourselves. We can even make it look meek.” She continues, “As he (Farley) broke down some of the symptoms of a prideful heart, like critical speech, spiritual elitism, grumbling, and avoiding confrontation, I started to see a picture of myself. I wasn’t so inspired.”
As Farley points out in the preface of his book (quoting Dr. Jim Edwards, p. 10): “American Christianity is suffering theological collapse. The primary commitments of church members seem to be peace, the search for personal fulfillment, and the conviction that God judges no one.” In another quote by David Wells (p. 10), he notes, “In America 45 percent (of Christians) say they are born again but only 9 percent, and maybe only 7 percent, give any evidence of Christian seriousness by way of minimal biblical knowledge for making life’s decisions.”
As Byrd points out in her review, “Our generation has done well preaching the love of God. The problem Farley points out is that we’ve stopped preaching and talking about the wrath of God. He points out the necessity of explaining the bad news so that we can even see the good news. Without the bad news of God’s wrath over our sin, we keep feeding our fantasy life steroids. Sure, we recognize that we are not perfect. But in our imagination, we aren’t too shabby. We think we’re pretty good.”
And that is the whole problem—we don’t see sin the way God’s see it. Hence, even in our sin we still think we “aren’t too shabby.” And we miss God altogether in our blindness—a blindness that comes from pride.
The final chapter of this book is on the power of a humble believer. As Byrd’s states in the last paragraph of her review, “After serving up a convicting gut check on intellectual pride, spiritual pride, selfish ambition, and pride in your giftedness, Farley offers up the most powerful part of his book: Hope for proud Christians. This is where he really brings our pride issues to the cross, to the One who was humbled in our place. He explains how Jesus atoned for our pride, that His life and death motivates us to pursue humility, how in love He helps us to grow in humility and that this good news should completely astound us! That’s gospel-powered humility.”
I highly recommend this book on a subject that is rarely preached on today—humility. It is at the heart and core of the gospel message. As Jesus humbled Himself to the will of His Father, so in like manner must we do the same to live a life centered on God, on others, and not on ourselves. From humility sprouts the fruit of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The Message Bible states those same verses like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
So if, as Farley states on the back cover of his book, you’ve been thinking of humility as a “weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation,” think again. “Far from being a weakness, humility is the crucial virtue.” This book will show you just “how much humility does matter . . . and what we can begin to do about it.”