It seems like many Christians have developed a false understanding of the word humility and have wrongly equated Christian humility with a self-abasing or self-deprecating perception of oneself. To fully understand humility, however, we must start with the fact that humility should have nothing to do with self.
In the book of Philippians, Paul outlines a framework for practicing true humility.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,…” (Philippians 2:3)
Paul instructed his followers that true humility, the kind that Jesus practiced, is about looking out for the interest of others by valuing others above self.
Notice that Paul did not say that we should de-value ourselves, just that humility is always “others” focused. (Again, if one were to make the devaluing of self the focus of humility, his humility would be misguided.)
This mindset, Paul says, was demonstrated by the fact that although Jesus was one with God, he didn’t use his position of authority for personal gain or advantage, but instead relinquished his rights, in order to serve humanity (Philippians 2:5-8).
Humility, therefore meets its fullest expression in humankind when we give of ourselves so that others can receive the life of God. Since this is not a natural way for humans to live, like Jesus, Christians must practice the art of humility.
The underlying premise of becoming a Christ-follower is dying to self in order to love God by serving others. Therefore, humility must be the ongoing practice of demonstrating the truth and sincerity behind our original profession of faith.
Is Christ truly our Lord? Have we really chosen serve him (and not ourselves) for the remainder of our days? If so, then we will demonstrate our subservience to Jesus by practicing humility and considering others’ needs above our own consistently, regularly, as a lifestyle.
Additionally, since God’s standard of truth, and his perspective and viewpoint on all issues of life is completely flawless, humility can also be defined as the ability to embrace the same perspective about oneself that God has.
This is why as believers it’s imperative that we build a proper perspective about our Christian identity based upon God’s opinion of us.
Look at what Jesus’ closest disciple John said about God’s vantage point;
“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
Because God’s opinion of man is always right, no matter what he says about us, we are compelled to believe it. This includes God’s favorable opinion of us once we are found in Christ.
When we pledge our hearts to Jesus, we are one with him, and even when our emotions or behavior are in conflict with this identity, the spiritual nature of this truth is unchanged. Saying of yourself the same thing God says, therefore, even if you don’t feel it, is what true humility is all about.
Admittedly, believing God’s opinion above our own, can be quite a leap of faith. But I suggest that embracing God’s opinion about himself was perhaps difficult even for Jesus.
As far as we know there was only one time when God audibly expressed to Jesus that he was in fact God’s son (Matthew 3:17). But by that time, it appears as if Jesus was already quite aware of his divine nature and calling.
Even as a young child Jesus was acutely aware that he was connected to God as his Father, and was compelled to be about his father’s business (Luke 2:49). Jesus went to be baptized in the Jordan River to fulfill the prophesy spoken about himself and John the Baptist before he ever healed a sick person, or debated with the Pharisees about the Law (John 1:23). Jesus even felt compelled to improve a wedding celebration by turning water into the best wine in town even though “[his] hour had not yet come” (John 2:4).
But how? How did Jesus know he was God’s son? How did Jesus become so convinced of his divine identity and ministry that he embarked upon his mission before he even heard God say it?
Besides the obvious assumption that his family had shared with Jesus the story about his miraculous birth, I believe Jesus discovered his identity in the same way we all must – through a personal revelation from the holy scriptures.
I see so many Christians with good intentions fret about what they are called to do (either in the Church or in their own personal lives), before they have ever learned how to established their identity in Christ. But without receiving a revelation of one’s identity in Christ from one’s personal study of God’s word, (the kind of revelation that was clearly evident in Jesus well before his ministry began), Christians have virtually no hope of serving others the way Jesus did.
In fact, most people who rush to get into a “ministry,” before they know who they are in Christ, do so more as a means to convince themselves of their own value than to be “obedient [to God] unto death.” If people truly understood what Christian living was all about, they would spend more time “counting the cost,” before diving in.
Whenever Christians try to live out their faith without first becoming fully persuaded of their identity in Christ (admirable as it may be), they often crumble under the pressure of what the Christian life and true discipleship ultimately requires.
Without developing the capacity to consistently serve others above themselves the way Jesus did, (and that without ceasing), often, when push comes to shove, and situations arise that demand an ongoing lifestyle of servant-hood, these well-intentioned people succumb to the pressure, quit “ministering” altogether, and launch a conveniently distant social media ministry, that no doubt removes them from situations that would challenge their self-worth – namely walking side by side and working one on one with very difficult people.
This is not the example Jesus gave us. Jesus purposely and regularly placed himself in the most challenging situations, where unbelieving, faith-less, wicked, and belligerent people openly questioned his life, doctrine, calling, spiritual pedigree, family heritage, motives, sincerity, knowledge, mental well-being, and associations, and he served them to the point of physically, emotionally, and spiritually giving up his life.
Living in this kind of humility is certainly not convenient, and not what most Christians sign up for when first accepting Jesus. But true Christianity (as lifestyle, not just a belief-system) can only really be accomplished when a believer has established his identity fully in the grace of God.
Only by God’s grace could one ever really become the humble servant Jesus was. With Jesus’ attitude of humility, he consistently and without fail, pointed the way to the Father to people who yearned know the truth, but were incapable of perceiving it without a living demonstration of a divine ability to embody the nature of a servant.