What Is Real Humility According to the Bible?
Adapted from Pastor James Wooten’s 11/27/22 sermon, Growing in Grace and Knowledge
“Be humble.” But what does that mean exactly? Does real humility mean brushing off compliments and avoiding conflict? Sometimes, it’s characterized as having low confidence and being a “pushover”.
Biblical humility isn’t self-debasement, running yourself down, and considering yourself worthless. God made no one worthless. He created us in His image, which is why He draws us to Himself through Jesus Christ.
So, what does biblical humility look like and why does God value it so much?
A humble heart sets God in His rightful place and doesn’t elevate himself above Him. God sees straight into the heart of man and where He stands. It’s why He chose David to replace Saul as king, and why He showed amazing grace to David even when he failed Him (hard).
If you want God’s undeserved favor in your life, you must be willing to give Him you–that is–your heart.
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation. Psalm 91:14-16
Insert your name into the above verses, replacing the pronouns. You can have this kind of intimate relationship with God. It’s simple–not easy. Humility happens when you recognize God for who He is and yield your life to His will. This opens the floodgates of His goodness in your life.
Let’s bring humility into a more detailed focus.
Real Humility Is Honesty With God
Real humility is grounded in the reality of who God is in contrast to your weaknesses. It presses you closer to your Almighty God.
The Apostle Paul clarifies the meaning of biblical humility in Romans 12:3:
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
What is Paul saying? That humility is being honest before God concerning the reality of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself in light of the Scriptures and who God really is. It’s understanding the gifts He has bestowed upon you and admitting your human weaknesses, sin, and failures. It’s being more concerned with God’s view of success than the world’s.
Humility isn’t glossing over, ignoring, or denying your faults and failures. If you ignore or deny the truth, you’re lying to yourself. And we lie to ourselves for prideful and selfish reasons, because that’s human nature.
Self-deception appeases your conscience so you can get what you want. And it keeps you from dealing with sin, so you can feel better about yourself.
But here’s the thing about prideful self-deception–we’ve all done it. Instead of creating a smokescreen to cloak reality, what we need is humble honesty about God, ourselves, and our continued need for Him.
Example of Real Humility
Real humility is best understood through an example. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more humble example than the Apostle Paul.
In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul wrote, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” It’s like Paul is saying that whatever seems good and admirable about Him is nothing but the outworking of the grace of God. It’s nothing to his credit. That is humility.
Why is humility so desirable to God? It tells Him you need Him and that you love Him more than you love yourself. Paul was acutely aware of His need for God and His grace, and to ensure Paul wouldn’t forget his dependency, God made his life uncomfortable.
Ouch! A bit harsh, don’t you think?
Paul might have thought so too, at first. He asked God three times to end the ongoing trial. He didn’t get the answer he hoped for. Instead, he was told that it was a thorn in the flesh intended to keep him humble.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 2 Corinthians 12:7
God didn’t say that Paul had already been lifted up in pride. He said that Paul would be taken in pride if He didn’t intervene. Since God knows all things, He certainly knew Paul’s vulnerabilities.
Humility In Suffering
Pain humbles us, doesn’t it? We are at our weakest when pain, whether physical or emotional, overcomes us. When life is hardest, we realize how much we need God.
Paul wasn’t suffering because of temptations he had already succumbed to. He was suffering because of temptations he would succumb to if not for the painful “thorn”. God was protecting Paul from falling into the sin of pride.
But how does Paul respond? Does he react in defiant pride? Does he argue with God, insisting he had done nothing to deserve this affliction? Does he shout about how unfair it was for him to endure this needless pain? Does he deny he could be tempted to pridefulness? Nope.
Paul trusted that God knew him better than he knew himself. He yields. It takes humility to submit to an unending, painful circumstance ordained by God. But God assured Paul He would reward his humble submission to this enduring trial:
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9a
God said His grace would flow in the form of sustaining strength that would carry Paul through His circumstances. God promised him, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power, my favor, my blessing, my goodness resting upon you underserved will give you the strength you need to go through this trial.”
Real humility understands that God knows what’s best for you.
“God, I Need You”
And what is Paul’s attitude as he lives with this suffering?
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10
Paul would rather welcome and rejoice in his infirmities (trials, weaknesses, problems) and have the power of Christ rest upon Him. In fact, he is willing to suffer to have God’s grace and power in his life. He prefers suffering to living without God’s favor and empowerment.
This submission to suffering is Paul’s way of saying, “God, I need You.” So, if you’re like Job and going through a trial without knowing why–trust that He does, submit, and witness His grace in your life.
Real humility allows us to boast in weakness, feebleness, and frailty, while taking pleasure in testing. Why? Because it shows us our need for Him and draws us to Him. It allows us to see His action, power, and faithfulness at work in our lives. It opens the gates of His all-sufficient grace.
God isn’t looking for a Christian who can stand on his own. He’s looking for a Christian who will stand by His strength.
Growing in Humility
“Yes, God. I want more of you and less of me.” If that’s your prayer, God will grow a more humble heart in you. It begins with your desire for Him. Then He directs your path and molds your heart.
Most of us won’t suffer to the degree that Paul did. But God will use circumstances, both good and bad, to bring you low enough to love Him more. He wants you to see how much you need Him.
The key is not to fight against it or miss what He is doing in your life. You can lament a broken washing machine and get bitter toward God about it. Or, you can realize that He’s teaching you to rely on Him and His timely provision. Sometimes, He also shows us what we can live without. A humble attitude says, “God, I accept this inconvenience.”
If you want real humility, pay attention to the ups and downs in your life, and let them press you closer to God. Trust Him.
Want to establish a personal relationship with this amazing God? Check out this video about how to receive God’s Grace.