This article is part 4 of 4 in the series Not Ashamed of the Gospel of Humility

We live in a culture of pride. We take self-definition, self-fulfilment, and self-assertion for granted. The Bible is kind and honest enough to warn us that this proud self-focus is actually deeply destructive – it insults God and alienates us from each other. But the biggest problem with contemporary pride is how completely opposite it is to Jesus in his humility. We’ve surveyed all this in our first three posts in this series.

The Glory of Divine Humility

Reformed theology is traditionally distinctively ‘theocentric'[1]God-centred. One way Reformed theology sets itself apart from other theological systems (e.g. Wesleyanism-Arminianism, Pentecostalism, Liberalism) is we think of God as the beginning, end, and centre, of life, the universe, and everything. He created everything (Psalm 104; John 1:3; Col 1:16-17; Heb 1:2), keeps the whole universe operating (Psalm 104:27-30; John 1:4; Col 1:17; Heb 1:3 ), and is the goal, the purpose, of everything (Psalm 104:31-35; John 1:10-13; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). Thus the famous answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “humanity’s chief end [i.e. the ultimate goal and purpose of human being] is to glorify God and enjoy him forever”.

Yet because we’re used to proud, oppressive earthly rulers, when we think of God in his glory and power, we might think of him as distant, uncaring, and frightening. We might only think of his unapproachability – how in his holy glory (Is 6:2-5) no-one can see his face and live (Ex 33:20). The descriptions of his power and judgement might terrify us so much that we end up treating him like a cosmic school teacher, ready to smack us when we step out of line. We might end up thinking of him as a cosmic Nebuchadnezzar – “this is the great universe, which I created by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty. And you, mortal human, are a speck of dust in it”.

God is indeed holy, pure, righteous, and powerful. He deserves joyful glory and praise for creating the universe (Rev 4:11). And we humans are indeed, as the old hymn says, frail children of dust, and feeble as frail (Gen 3:19; Ps 90; Is 40:6-8, 14-15; 1 Pet 1:23-25).

The problem is – if we detach all this from God’s humility in Christ, we end up with a one-sided view of God. God is indeed unapproachable in his holiness – we can’t climb up to him. That’s why he, in humility, comes down to us in Christ Jesus! He is pure and holy, and cannot abide sin. That’s why he, in humility, comes to us in Christ Jesus as a sacrifice for sin! He is mighty and powerful. And in Christ, we see that power used, not to punish sinners, but to save them. God in Christ is mighty to save![2]Underlying all this is the theology of what’s called Divine Accommodation, or Condescension. Jesus is not the only place where God is humble and kind. All of God’s dealings with humanity, as recorded in the Bible, can be understood in terms of his willingness to ‘bend down’ – to ‘humble’ himself – to have fellowship with lesser beings. He was kind enough to meet with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, even before sin. And even under conditions of sin, he was kind enough to choose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; kind enough to rescue Israel from Egypt; to be patient with Israel in their repeated sin against him; to give them sacrifices of atonement, and send them prophets, so that sinners could have fellowship with a holy God. Jesus is the ultimate, final establishment of God’s willingness to bend down and lift us up. For more on this, have a look at K. Scott Oliphint’s book God With Us, summarised and reviewed by Credo Mag and TGC. Also check out this article from The Calvinist International.

Once we understand this, we can worship God fearlessly. We bow down before the one who knelt to wash our feet. We cast our crowns at the foot of the one who was crowned with thorns for you and me. We can humble ourselves before the humble God, in his humble Christ.

The Joy of Humbly Trusting Christ

It takes a lot of humility to trust Jesus. Trusting Jesus punctures our pride. We have to admit that we’re sinners – we’re bad people. We have to admit that we don’t deserve to be God’s children. We have to admit we can’t do anything to earn our way to God.

Dear reader – have you done that yet? Have you abandoned your pride? Have you taken the crown off your own head, and left it at the foot of Christ’s cross?

Because if we have, then we can be confident. Not confident in our selves – that’s worldly pride. We can be confident in Christ – that in his humility, he really does love sinners, and forgives us despite our rebellion against him. This is Biblical “pride”. This is why the Apostle Paul can say that he is “not ashamed” – he is “proud” – of the gospel (Rom 1:16). It’s why he can call us to “boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17).

This is what it means to “have faith”, to “trust”, and “believe”, in Jesus. It means more than accepting that Jesus existed. It means more than even accepting the facts of his death and resurrection. It means basing our whole life on the fact that Jesus, in his death and resurrection, reveals the one true God, and how to relate to that one true God.

God does not want us to look down, hanging our heads in fear and shame and guilt. He wants us to raise our heads and look up in confidence. But not confidence in our selves – our own ability. He wants us to look up to the risen Jesus, who bears the scars of his death for us sinners, and who now lives for ever to bring us sinners into fellowship with his Father. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, shed his blood, so that we could be proud of him – so that we could boast in him, and in his gospel.

And so we can sing the great old hymns, like In the cross of Christ I glory, towering over the wrecks of timeLift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, and When I survey the wondrous cross. And we can sing the great new songs, like Before the Throne of God Above, and In Christ Alone.[3]If you know some good new songs that celebrate Christ’s humble sacrifice, share them in the comments! And we can declare what another Reformation confession has as its opening question – this confession less well-known than Westminster, but just as good and beautiful:

What is your only comfort in life and death? 

That I am not my own
But belong, body and soul, in life and death, 
To my faithful saviour Jesus Christ, 
Who shed his precious blood for me.[4]Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1  

References   [ + ]

1.God-centred
2.Underlying all this is the theology of what’s called Divine Accommodation, or Condescension. Jesus is not the only place where God is humble and kind. All of God’s dealings with humanity, as recorded in the Bible, can be understood in terms of his willingness to ‘bend down’ – to ‘humble’ himself – to have fellowship with lesser beings. He was kind enough to meet with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, even before sin. And even under conditions of sin, he was kind enough to choose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; kind enough to rescue Israel from Egypt; to be patient with Israel in their repeated sin against him; to give them sacrifices of atonement, and send them prophets, so that sinners could have fellowship with a holy God. Jesus is the ultimate, final establishment of God’s willingness to bend down and lift us up. For more on this, have a look at K. Scott Oliphint’s book God With Us, summarised and reviewed by Credo Mag and TGC. Also check out this article from The Calvinist International.
3.If you know some good new songs that celebrate Christ’s humble sacrifice, share them in the comments!
4.Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1