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January 29, 2007

The 'Sin' of Humility

humility2.jpgTheologians tell us that the quintessential sin is rebellion against God - or pride. The 16th century reformer Martin Luther described pride as "man bent in upon himself." Not unlike the little child who prayed: "Dear God: My dad thinks he's you. Please straighten him out." The sin of pride is thinking too much of ourselves, of thinking we're God. It's the sin from which many of us need to be straightened out.

English pastor and Greek scholar J. B. Philips, who was something of a Eugene Peterson in his day, became a household word with his translation of The New Testament in Modern English (my first introduction to the Gospels as a new Christian over 30 years ago). In his autobiography Philips acknowledges he was at the height of his glory back in the 1950s, experiencing unimaginable notoriety and success when he realized it was all going to his head. He knew it had to stop. Finally one day he prayed, "Lord, make me humble?but not yet."

Of course, not all pride is bad. There's the pride of a creative accomplishment, of work well done, for instance. Like the way I felt when I made that wooden sawhorse and crock pot full of white bean chili from scratch. Or when I masterminded my mother-in-laws 80th birthday party or have preached an inspiring sermon. If this kind of pride were bad then one could argue that Almighty God who observed the newly created world and exclaimed, "This is very good!" was the first sinner!

Not all pride is bad.

And not all humility is good, either.

I wonder if there is not also something we might call "the sin of humility" - when we think too little of ourselves, when we are afraid to be human, when we are harder on ourselves and one another than God is, when we refuse to accept that God has lavished the grace of Christ upon us, and when we fail to accept our calling and refuse to celebrate our unique gifts and abilities.

The root word for "humility" and "humble" is humus, meaning "rich earth," or dirt - the material out of which humans are made in Genesis. But that doesn't mean we have to grovel. Indeed, when the Spirit breathes life into humanity we are, to use one theologian's phrase, "inspired mud pies," God-breathed, and created in God's image - and that's something we can be proud of.

When Eve was tempted to eat of the fruit with the promise that she would be like God, she could've responded, "What are you talking about? I already am." There is a proper pride. Perhaps this is why the congregation in San Francisco's Tenderloin filled with smelly and scraggly street people who have been beat up by life can be heard to belt out fresh lyrics to one of our most revered hymns: "?Twas guilt that taught my heart to fear / and pride my fears relieved / How precious did that pride appear / The hour I first believed." They are singing about pride in the good sense.

But let me press the point a bit more and suggest that each gender has its specialty sin. Not in every single instance, but more often than not testosterone-based human beings tend toward the sin of pride, of thinking too much of themselves, while estrogen-based human beings tend toward the sin of humility, of thinking too little of ourselves. Perhaps this is the last thing a woman needs to hear: that her low self-image is a sin, too. Just one more thing to feel bad about.

But of course, this is just my humble opinion. What do you think?


I personally do not believe that humility and low self esteem are the same thing.

Feeling as if I am nothing is not humility and knowing that I am nothing without God is not low self esteem.

I am not so sure the "humility" refered to in the article is really humilty. Viewing oneself lowely as Melissa points out may be better decribed as "Low self-Image/Esteem"

We are commanded to have the Humility of Jesus Christ in Philipians chapter 2. Christ was truly Humble and allowed Himself to be less than who He truly was for us... and by that definition, it is definitly not a sin.

I wish I could remember where I saw this and give proper credit to the author:
Humility is thinking of ourselves less, not thinking less of ourselves

It's hard for me to think of humility as a sin, but a chronic fear of success and the need to always put one's self down, is definitely not Christ-like.

I know people who have a low self esteem and are very proud and others with a high self esteem and very humble. humility is acknowledging God as your everything while appreciating the gifts, talents and uniqueness he has given you.

I read your article and gave it some thought as it would apply to the concept of women in leadership. I believe your most inspired line was "we refuse to accept that God has lavished the grace of Christ upon us, when we fail to accept our calling and refuse to celebrate our unique gifts and abilities." I agree with you wholeheartedly. Refusing to see what Christ has bestowed through His own initiative and grace is false humility. A humility that is driven by our concern over other's opinion of our position of leadership.

True humility would EMBRACE the gifts that Christ bestowed through His grace, recognizing the origin of and purpose behind those gifts - to glorify God and help to raise up a generation behind us that would do the same. Leadership gifts can and often are abused by those who possess them. Real humility is recognizing when we are guilty of that particular sin and repenting accordingly - not pretending we don't possess the spiritual gifts and abilities necessary to function as leaders. The successful leaders we read about in our Bibles didn't apologize to the people for being leaders. They repented before God when they exercized their leadership in a way that didn't glorify the God who granted it to them.

If we can not accept the gifting and will of God as pertains to our leadership, what are the chances we will be able to critique our own performance and ministry with any real honesty and insight?

A good friend once told me,
"Humility is the courage to be who you really are..."

There's been a lot of negative comments so I just wanted to say that I think you are right on. As someone so wisely pointed out to me recently, It's hard to love others, if you don't love yourself.

I believe that as the article progresses the author begins to describe what is often called "false humility," not the virtue of humility, and her article, within its space constraints, addresses such well. I am surprised by the negative comments. The reviewers bring up some good quotes, however, that help fill out the picture of the true virtue.

Indeed. I have wondered for a long time what real, Biblical humility looks like, and I think Heidi nailed it, given her space constraints. It's a great start in discerning where the line is between humility and low self-esteem, which can be incredibly detrimental to our lives in Christ. It is, however, a start, not a definitive, once and for all answer.
I think we all need to remember that we're all growing, and growing into humility is a part of that process. It's not like we can go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of humility, a box of integrity, a jar of love and a can of compassion and call it a day. Life doesn't work like that.

What do I think? I think that you did an awesome job with this blog, and should be darned proud of it (with a little humus thrown in, of course). :D

Why is it that the people who claim to love God are often the first to judge one? Why is it that pride continues to be so misunderstood and how is it that we want our children to be proud of their accomplishments but when they become saved and take pride in their accomplishments they are considered full of pride. Many babes in Christ and children are afraid to acknowledge when they do something well for fear of being called prideful so we again confuse people.
Can you operate in your spiritual gift without acknowledging that you do something well? Or should you operate in your gifting always wondering am I blessing the body of Christ as we are called to do?

Every one of these postings is good, and true. Humility/false humility/low self-esteem -hard to tell apart, especially from the inside. And pride/high self-esteem, equally hard.
But one thing nobody picked up on which seems true to me - the gender difference. Men truly do tend more toward pride, even when they have low self-esteem, and women probably find both real and false humility more natural. Nature or nurture? I do remember a teacher telling me to give up the idea of being an astronomer because girls could not aspire to the heights of mathetical achievement needed. Worse yet, although it made me angry, I believed him, and I never forgot.

Our problem today is not that we have a lot of humble people or worse still low-self esteemed people who need to be propped up to have a healthy view of who the Lord has made them to be. Our problem is that we have a great number of proud people both men and women who have a poor understanding of what it means that the Lord who is our Saviour says "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart..." (Matthew 11:29). This Lord tells us that when we have done our job (our calling or ministry) we should say "we are the unprofitable servant. We have done that which is required of us" (Luke 17:10), not to be proud and give accolades to ourselves or award ourselves certificates of good performance. He retains the right to award the certificate of a job well done. The problem with pride and taking pride is that in any way you look at it, you cannot ignore the fact that it is a defining character of Satan (Ezekiel 28:17) and is the object of God's resistance (1 Peter 5:5) wherever it is found. It is the starting point of failure (Proverbs 16:18) because as you begin to take pride in your achievements, you often overlook the fact that all your achievements were inspired and enabled from above. Nothing we are able to accomplish has ever originated from us. Our abilities originate from God and our satisfaction with our achievements should be expressed as a gratitude to him rather than a pat on our shoulders.

I come from a background of extreme abuse, of every kind, and have long suffered with shame. It has kept me from doing many wonderful, beautiful things I could do, and has pushed me to achieve things I shouldn't have bothered with. One day as I was walking around my neigborhood, I was praying to God about this shame, asking Him to release me from it, and asking Him what He would want to give me in place of it. Very clearly He told me He would like to give me humility, and for the first time I heard that that could be a cure for shame. A bit surprised, I said "amen" to Him, not quite knowing what that would look like or feel like when He gave it. I can testify that in the humility of living life before God as if He were in deed God and I was not, and growing in the knowledge that He dearly loves me and all His grace is there for me in Jesus, there is a wonderful freedom to blossom into all that He has made me to be. There is no fear, no shame or crippling self-consciousness; simply a joy of moving and being in His presence no matter what I'm doing. There is a total freedom to learn from Him, run to Him when I mess up or see the darkness that sometimes is in my heart--- and rejoice when He calls me to move in whatever He's doing at the moment. Biblically, grace and geniune humility go hand in hand, and it is a sweet gift that sets free.

I come from a background of extreme abuse, of all varieties, and have most of my life dealt with crippling shame. This intense shame has kept me from doing some wonderful and beautifully good things and has driven me to achieve some things that in the end are worthless. One day as I was walking around my neighborhood praying, I was asking the Father to release me from this shame that so controlled my life. I asked Him what in Jesus He would want to give me in place of it: a sense of dignity is sort of what I had in mind. When He answered, He surprised me, as He often does. He said "humility". I trusted Him enough to say, "o.k., if you say so" even though I had no idea what that would mean. Not that I am anywhere near perfectly humble, but I can testify to the freedom that humility brings. To know that He is God and I am not, deep in my bones, and that He cares for us is a wonderful thing. There is joy in both the simplest and most profound things of life. There is deep gratitude in having Him invite me into His work in the church and the world and a confidence that He will indeed do the work He has set me to, all worthiness issues aside because of His choosing in Christ. There is a growing realization of His grace at every turn, and a growing ability to live in His love. I can run to Him when the dark things in my heart show themselves and know He cares and will transform them even as we both call them "sin". I can live in the freedom of a "learner" instead of an achiever, because I don't have to establish myself in my own eyes or anyone else's. God alone establishes me, and I can blossom into who He is creating me to be. The Scripture teaches us that God's grace and humility go hand in hand, and I believe we live into this grace when we allow God to determine who we are instead of striving to make that happen according to our desires and expectations. Humility invites us into a wide open space to dance and serve, sing and sacrifice in the empowering presence of our Heavenly Father, Maker of all there is.

Thank you for this article. I am Pastoring along with my husband. I just realized today that I think too little of myself and felt undeserved of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon me somewhat I realized ashamed. I thought I was just being bashful. God has often placed me in the company of people with great wealth. I didn't understand why! Now I know that he wanted me to agree with him that I am special.

Great thoughts, all of the above. PTL for you, Karen. As I think about self-esteem vs. humility, I recall a great sermon by my former pastor, Nick Krantz (Tukwila, WA), concerning self esteem. His point: Self esteem is not as important as God esteem. I.e., what doe God think of me? Nick was encouraging us to see ourselves not through our own eyes, or even reflected in others' but through God's eyes (we often talk about the benefit of seeing others as God sees them--rarely do we turn this effective corrective upon ourselves!). From this and other thoughts, I have arrived at a definition of holiness that works for me (helping me shed some of the trappings of my Catholic upbringing): Holiness is simply listening to God tell you who he has created you to be and living faithfully into that identity. And, oh, by the way, I've discovered that God does not need my help in figuring our who He created me to be... ;)

Ah! Yes! A struggle not unknown to me...daily evidence is my constant apologizing for things...such as the quality of the meal I have provided for my family. So the trick is to love ourselves and lift our heads...yet not become arrogant or hold others in contempt..after all, if HE loves us...

... we are the daughters and sons of the King. .. Think about that for a second. Let that Truth hit your heart.
We are children of God.. and yet we are also described as being like "dust."

I think humility comes when we realize that we are nothing compared to God ... yet realizing that because we live in God, as His .. we are worth immeasurably more than we can ever imagine.

It seems to be one of the over-riding delimas of Christian women. Humility vs. low self esteem. I believe it is simply this: We were created from dust and given a place of royalty. That underserved grace is the source of our humility. The fact that we are now defined, by the God who saved us, as a child of the king--royalty-- gives us our esteem. We cannot afford to confuse what we "deserve" as sinners, with what have been given, a crown of righteousness. I think for some of us it is a daily struggle to keep that balance in our thoughts and in our hearts

Thank you Heidi for writing this article, I completely agree with your points and wholeheartedly believe that often women struggle with a lower self-image and men often struggle with the opposite overabundance of pride, yet I wonder how this issue can be challenged. How do we change the heart of the issue, how do we challenge believers to change these issues by finding true identity in Christ. As cliche as this sounds, unless a person can find their image in their relationship with Christ, they will never find contentment. How do we motivate believers to find their identity in Him in order to overcome pride or low self-esteem.

One of the best plays of all time, Les Miserables says it best...
"To love another person is to see the face of God." If our identity is truly wrapped up in who God is, our image will reveal Him. The love of God can overcome every aspect of pride or self-esteem.

I completely agree with you. Unless our image is rooted in Christ, we will never be content. Though this is generally true that most women struggle with low self-esteem and men struggle with pride, there are always exceptions. However, I believe the answer to each issue is that our identity needs to be in Christ, no matter what our issue or struggle, the answer is found in the life of Jesus Christ. As believers, we need to find out identity in our personal relationships with Him.

One of the greatest plays of all times says it well, "To love another person is to see the face of God." As we learn to love God and love others, we will be able to reveal Him to the world around us.

I agree with some of the comments made concerning the "sin" of humility. I would be wary of calling humility sin because of the fine line between humility and low-self esteem. I am not sure that the "sin" of humility being spoken of in this article biblical humility. I appreciate the thoughts, and I also encourage many to read Romans 12:3f where Paul urges us to be sober in self assessment.

Low self-esteem is thinking of ourselves less than what the God of the Universe created us to be. In Genesis God said "Let us make man in our image." What part of this do we forget, especially us women?! He knew it is was not good for man to be alone and made him a helpmate(ezer kenegdo). When all of creation was completed (not to mention He left the woman for last - His greatest creation of all I believe) seems like went on to say, "I did a pretty good job!" He praised Himself for His own creation. Do we call that pride? I don't think so.

On humility: It's knowing that without Him we are nothing. It's recognizing our gifts, talents and abilities are God-inspired as the Word states, however, keeping in mind that it is by His grace and His alone that we can accomplish that which we do. If you are complimented on accomplishing that which He gave you anyways, just say "Thank you." Remember to give God the glory. He says in the Word "Humble youselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time." Just be you. He longs to display His beatiful creation every day to others. Why can't we just see that and accept it?

If He believes in us, why can't we? If He loves us so much, why can't we? If He accepts us unconditionally, why can't we?

Why must be ever so critical of one another and worry as to the humility/low self-esteem factor? Why worry so much about what others think and walk on egg shells around one another? Why can't we be free in Christ if He indeed has made us free? Call it humility, call it low self-esteem....they definitely are different. Humility: Knowing what you have and can do, yet acknowledge who is behind the scenes and still be able to say "thank you" when complimented, etc.
Low self-esteem: Confused about who you are in Christ and how He made you in His perfect image. Wow! Enough said I think.


This is an interesting issue. I personally think that humility cannot ever be a sin. The sin is an unhealthy dose of low self-esteem whereas a biblical definition of humility would never leave room for sin--so if one is humble I don't think there is any sin. This is simply semantics.
Check out Romans 12:3f where Paul urges us to be sober in self assessment.

Perhaps what is meant here is a false humility. In trying to study false humility most of what I have come across is an attitude of pride along with a false showing of humility. Is that false humility? Or is false humility what is stated above: thinking less of yourself and not acknowledging your God given gifts.
To think less of myself is a sin, yet how do you change that? How do I make myself believe that I am something more than I think I am? Faith? Healing? Lightning?


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