Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. — Thomas Merton
Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. — Ephesians 2:8-10 (The Message)
Humility is the antidote to pride. It is the primary character trait of Jesus’ own personality.
Humility manifests as self acceptance, which is the opposite of self centeredness. At its highest and best, self acceptance is a kind of personal forgetfulness that is more focused on others than self. It is not the same as humiliation and doesn’t look like self-deprecation, both of which are still focused negatively on self.
A person practicing humility has no need for self-protection because the preservation of self is not the dire need. When I am at peace with who I am — when I accept myself as I am — I no longer fear losing my identity (I won’t, in fact, because my identity is safe in Christ), nor am I obsessed with constructing my own identity. I accept that it is what it is and I am not ashamed of it nor protective of it.
Self-acceptance creates a posture that points toward God. Because I am not my focus, I have the time, luxury and room to focus on God. What a glorious release! What a sweet posture!
Do you remember what we said early on in the post about pride? We said that we tend to feel threatened when our sense of self is weak. No wonder Jesus calls us to find our identity in him! Knowing who and whose we are and being confident in that fact becomes a critical piece linking us to humility.
Jesus’ antidote for pride or self hatred comes as a three-part formula:
Deny your SELF. The key word here is not denial so much as self. This is about focus. One of our team members says that in her studies, she has learned that “to deny myself means to deny my own lordship. My focus moves from me to Jesus. It doesn’t mean to deny my feelings, happiness, or sense of worth. And to be honest, if I don’t find happiness, worth, and joy in following Jesus, then I’m doing it wrong.”
To deny self is to deny its survival the power to control my responses to life. But don’t I want my “self” to survive? Of course, but I’m not the one who can make that happen. Ultimately, that is God’s job. “Saving is all his idea, and all his work.” My worst responses will be at the point of my believing that I am the one responsible for my own salvation and identity.
Take up your cross. This means taking responsibility for this life as it is. This invitation to take up my cross and die to self is actually a lavish and attractive invitation. It is an invitation to learn how to “adult,” which flies in the face of so much that comes at us from every other direction. Our culture encourages us to pander to our inner child, to coddle his or her pain beyond good sense, to keep putting Spiderman band-aids on gaping childhood wounds so we never actually have to heal. We are encouraged to spend far more time accommodating (protecting, hiding) the child we used to be than encouraging the adult we can become.
This is an invitation not to meaningless suffering but to take on the challenge of growing into everything we are created to be. We will never get to the richness that is the good life if we never challenge ourselves to maturity.
Taking up a cross is a call to the good life.
“Follow me.” Not focusing on self is only half the equation. In his sentence (“follow me”), both words matter but the first is dependent on the second. I can’t follow Jesus if I’m not focused on Jesus. However, when I focus on Jesus, he gives me my sense of identity. It is rooted in him and he is goodness and light and truth and life. When his identity becomes mine, I will naturally accept myself. This isn’t self-glorification; this is Christ-glorification. Christ in me is my hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)! Hallelujah!
Where do I begin if I want to move forward in my sense of self identity and acceptance?
Allow these questions to jump-start a conversation with the Holy Spirit about where the gaps are in your spiritual maturity and where you might begin if you are ready to move forward:
- Listen for how often you talk about yourself and the language you use. Do you tend to be defensive or self-promoting?
- Listen for how you defend yourself, and how often. What are your triggers?
- Listen to the internal conversations you have. Around whom are they centered?
- Observe how you listen to others. How much of the time is spent waiting for them to stop talking so you can begin? How focused are you on the other person, and how focused are you on yourself?
- Listen for that interior voice of judgment. How much of your thought life is spent exercising the habit of externalization of blame?
- Listen to your prayer life. How much time is spent complaining? How truthful are you with God? How much time is spent listening?
- Have you learned how to repent without humiliating yourself? Does your habit of repentance reveal a healthy understanding of the character of a loving God?
- How much of your prayer life is spent listening for God’s voice? How much time is spent journaling what you hear? Are you honestly interested in learning and growing in grace?
- When is the last time you allowed others to honestly share with you what they see in you, for the sake of your own spiritual, emotional and vocational improvement? How do you approach evaluation — as a threat, or as a tool for renewal?
- How much time to you spend gazing on the face of Christ?
Remember: there is no shame in Christ. The more transparent we are with ourselves and Christ, the more likely we are to find healing in his wings.