To be humble, of course, is the opposite of being proud or arrogant. The humble esteem others better, or more important, than themselves. The humble know their place as fallen creatures before the sovereignty and holy perfection of their Maker. Someone who is humble is someone who receives help and gifts gratefully. The humble are those who are truly sorry for their sins and mistakes; they apologize for the hurt and trouble they cause.
I recently saw a short article from Desiring God Ministries by Pastor John Piper entitled “Beg God for the Miracle of Humility.” (April 3, 2017)
On one hand (my pragmatic one), I thought “Be careful, if you beg God for humility He just might answer that prayer and it would likely lead into the crucible of trial and/or failure.” I remember as a young believer asking God for spiritual growth and saying such things as “Do what it takes Lord, I want to be more like Jesus” and singing “Have Thine own way Lord… Thou art the Potter I am the clay, Mold me and make me after Thy will….” Then our youngest son had a near drowning (and eventually fatal) accident when under my watch. It was (and continues to be) a very humbling experience; a long sad story, but one that God has truly wrought much good out of. I’m not saying that we should not ask for more and more humility; just understand what that might involve.
On the other hand (my theological one), I thought “Humility is not a miracle.” Assuming that humility is a miracle would destroy the spirit of the thing. I wanted to ask Pastor John (who I have a profound respect for), “Where does the Bible teach that humility is miraculous?” I don’t know the Bible as well as Pastor John but I know of no texts that teach explicitly (or by necessary inference) that humility requires God to work a supernatural miracle on our minds and hearts. Surely, humility is spiritual in nature but we are spiritual beings as well as physical. Humility is not a physical or a hard science kind of trait. Like love, honesty, gratitude, honor, hate, covetousness, and pride, – humility has no mass. There are no symbols on the periodic table of the elements for spiritual states of mind (or heart); but who could deny the reality of their existence, in everyone, Christian or otherwise?
Now, I would admit that pride comes quite naturally to me (no miracle required) but Jesus also used the humble faith of children as examples for adults. This would make little sense if humility could only be attained through a divine miracle. It seems evident that the ability to be humble, at least in some degree, is included in the common grace that God gives to everyone. The world would be a much worse train wreck if no one could humble themselves apart from a supernatural miracle.
The primary definition of a miracle is an effect or event that can’t be explained by natural causes, like walking on the water or reading minds. It seems evident that someone who would beg God for humility would already have some. They would naturally be aware of the horrifying threat that pride poses to their earthly and eternal joy. In the Bible, everyone is simply commanded to humble themselves and God gives ample reason to do so. (See God’s answer to Job, for starters. Ch 38…). But the only people who will be irresistibly humbled by God are those who die in their sinful pride and end up on the wrong side of the final judgment. If viewing humility as a miracle sounds strange to our ears – I think it should. It is not the way the Bible presents humility. It lends itself to some problems.
One problem is that it puts the entire responsibility for our personal humility on God since He is the only One who can deliver supernatural miracles. Humility, like love, would be perfunctory if not somewhat self-determined. If the common grace of God does not enable us to humble ourselves, at all, then it would not be our fault for persisting in our pride. Whoever made us proud should take the blame for it; otherwise, it would be like blaming a man born blind for not being able to see. This is one of the problems inherent in Dr. Piper’s Calvinistic system, where the biblical condition of salvation (penitent faith) is utterly dependent upon an irresistible miracle whereby God must literally make us humble. This should not be called a compatible mystery – but a contradiction. Humble faith loses its glory when it is presented as an irresistible response to the stimulus of irresistible grace. Admittedly, Calvinists would never describe their system in those terms BUT that is the essence of what they teach. Ask the average Calvinist if regeneration can be resisted by the elect and if those regenerated can still refuse to humble themselves. They will answer “No” to both. (Thus, no straw man here.)
Should we think that all the fruits of the Spirit require miracles? If so, they lose their glory as truly volitional worship. If we must be miraculously enabled to be loving, joyful, obedient, and humble then God would actually be robbed of the highest possible worship. Our love, joy and humility would be reduced to mere functions that could be no more resisted than rocks, which were miraculously enabled to cry out with God’s praise. It would be like a forced apology, the glory is not the same. If a god were to irresistibly force worship it would be much less glorious than the benevolent self-sacrificing Creator, which we see in Scripture.
So, should we ask God for more humility? Of course, but we ought not to view it as some kind of miracle, in which we play no efficacious role. At least Dr. Piper says we should beg for the miracle; therefore there would be a synergistic kind of co-operation in the process. The command to humble ourselves is found throughout the Bible but no one is ever told to beg for humility like we might beg for a supernatural healing or deliverance. The command to humble ourselves presupposes some ability, especially when the command is accompanied by the threat of eternal judgment. What glory would God receive for punishing the proud if they were never given the ability to humble themselves??
Now, let me briefly answer some Calvinists who might offer the typical response that, “Your (Pelagian) pride is inhibiting you from accepting the depths of your total depravity and total dependency upon God’s grace.” To which we might reply, “ Not necessarily. It could be a truly biblical sense of divine justice and our revulsion to the kind of Christianized fatalism inherent in real Calvinism.”
Or maybe we might hear, “What enables you to humble yourself and be saved and another to remain in their pride?” To which we might reply, “We couldn’t be sure of that any more than you could answer why you were chosen to be a believer and someone else was not. We are unprofitable servants, merely doing what’s expected. Some questions will not be answered and don’t need to be. At least our system presents a biblically consistent universal offer of salvation to every sinner and does not include teaching that some people are born into this world reprobate, with no actual hope in the gospel because they weren’t born elect.”