Pride vs Humility

False Humility Exposed

By Grantley Morris

The Difference Between
Faith in God and Faith in Self

* * *


When is positive confession pride?

    As affirmed in Ephesians 2:8, we are born again by grace (God taking the initiative and offering us what we don’t deserve) and we receive this by faith (trusting God to cleanse us from our sin and give us spiritual life through Jesus’ sacrificial death).

    Paul agonized over the Galatian church because although they knew their spiritual life commenced through faith, they were beginning to think that the way to proceed to spiritual maturity was through their own effort. As he says in Romans 1:17 ‘For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last . . .’

    The following is a relevant extract from my web book Waiting for Your Ministry and another of my webpages.

    Glorious Failure

    Moses was in ‘the backside of the desert,’ says the King James Bible (Exodus 3:1). I’d steer clear of that expression, but there might have been times when Moses was tempted to use it. The desert drop-out stood before the burning bush a broken man, haunted by his inadequacy (Exodus 4:10-14). He was so long in the tooth ivory hunters must have started asking after his health. And excuses! When God called him, this word-masher’s comeback was packed with more ‘buts’ than a church pew on Easter morning. As he tried to stammer home his point he even had the audacity to imply that his deficiencies were bigger than God. What’s a stutter to the One who fashions mouths? What’s a mental block to the Maker of minds?

    Poor old tongue-twister – one foot in the grave, and the other in his mouth. Yet it was Moses the word-slurping geriatric, not Moses the headstrong royal, who was on the brink of greatness.

    Forty years earlier, fresh from his Egyptian education, strong in body, high in status and political pull, he was keen to help God’s people. But heaven had no use for a budding superstar. Heaven was waiting for a bumbling sheep-minder.

    Viewed from the final side of the grave, everything tackled in one’s own strength fizzles (Compare John 15:5). Only through God could Moses’ splash in time ripple for all eternity. Perhaps it took the full forty years for this realization to become an unshakeable conviction, but it was worth the wait. It became the secret of Moses’ strength, ridding him of the arrogant independence that would otherwise have fouled his service. He was the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3 ff). This precious quality is adorned with exquisite promises.

      ‘The meek will he guide . . .
      The meek will he teach his way.’ (Psalm 25:9)

      ‘The meek will increase their joy in the Lord.’ (Isaiah 29:19)

      ‘The meek will inherit the earth.’ (Matthew 5:5)

    Humility – joyous dependence upon the Lord – is the road to honor (Proverbs 15:33 b; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6-7). The glitter at the end of other roads is a mirage (Luke 14:11; Proverbs 16:25).

      There was a young man with rashes;
      All that he touched turned to ashes.
      Yet marigolds, azaleas,
      Lily bulbs, and dahlias,
      All grew in those wonderful ashes.

    (If you wrote poetry like this, you’d be humble, too.)

    The issue of pride and humility is a deathtrap strewn with confusion and false concepts. Let’s clear this minefield before anyone else is hurt. We’ll begin with the analogy of a lamb in Bible times.

    There’s a pride that says, ‘I can find better pasture than the Shepherd. I’ll always find water. I can handle bears, and lions are probably a myth invented by the Shepherd so he can dominate me.’

    Few of us are in danger of such stupidity. Our danger is the independent spirit that says, ‘I adore my wonderful Shepherd, but that grass over the rise looks particularly juicy. I’ll just wander over. I’m growing up. I’ve been out of sight before and everything went fine. If a lion comes I’m sure I can bleat loud enough and the Shepherd can run fast enough . . .’

    There’s an attitude masquerading as humility that beats itself miserable. ‘I’m dumb. I’m ugly. I’m hopeless.’ Give no room to this imposter. But there’s a humility that rejoices in the certainty that the Shepherd knows best. Having abandoned faith in itself or in luck, it puts all its hope in the Shepherd, believing that to leave him out of sight for a second is to flirt with disaster. This virtue hugs the Shepherd, delighting in his every whisper, feasting on his goodness. Sometimes humility is led over rocky terrain but ultimately it enjoys the best pasture and the highest security. Not only is it not mauled by predators, it produces the best wool and the best offspring. It sometimes staggers up hills to stay with its Shepherd but it frolics in the warmth of the Shepherd’s love.

    Just to be sure you have grasped the difference between this beautiful quality and the ugly imposter that beats oneself up, let me interrupt this by quoting from something else I’ve written:

        James 4:6  . . . God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

      For most of my life, scriptures like this have filled me with such dread of the dangerous trap of pride that I felt driven to avoid it at all costs. Tragically, this commendable attitude got me nowhere. My godly intentions were sabotaged by such a mistaken understanding of pride that all I managed was to fall into false humility. I wrongly thought I could foster humility by thinking negatively about myself. To my horror, I eventually discovered that false humility is itself a form of pride.

      I correctly understood that if I thought I could achieve anything of lasting value without God’s help, or if I thought I were moral enough to gain God’s approval outside of Christ’s forgiveness, then humbling myself involved lowering my opinion of myself. My mistake was in wrongly concluding from this truth that the basic ingredient of humility is having a low opinion of oneself.

      Godly humility flows not from thinking lowly of oneself but from seeing things through God’s eyes. Pride is having the audacity to disagree with God. It is saying I know more than the God of the universe; my puny intellect knows better than the Almighty; the God of truth is wrong and I am right.

      Since the God of love sees you as lovable, and true humility involves taking God’s assessment of everything as gospel, humility requires you to see yourself as lovable. If God sees you through eyes of love, how dare you see yourself in a different light, as if your perspective is right and your Creator and Savior is wrong? If God forgives you, to refuse to forgive yourself is to have the audacity to imply that you have higher moral standards than the Judge of all the earth; that you are holier than the Holy Lord. Isn’t that the very pinnacle of pride? Please avoid this deadly trap.

      Make God your God by agreeing with him. He says you are the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Dare you exalt yourself above God by disagreeing with him? Stop wounding yourself by squandering your faith on a lie, thus robbing God of faith that should be invested in him. Refuse the sinful, pride-filled path that deceptively seems humble but is actually implying that you know better than the Almighty. Set yourself free. Embrace God’s truth.

    Even in Christian circles we hear so much about positive self-image that we seem to believe in the power of self rather than humility. ‘Negative’ confession seems to have done little harm to the following people.

      * ‘There comes one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose’ – John the Baptist (Mark 1:7).

      * ‘I am not worthy that you should come under my roof’ – the centurion commended for his faith (Matthew 8:8).

      * ‘I can of myself do nothing’ – the Lord Jesus. (John 5:30)

      * ‘ . . .  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.’ (1 Timothy 1:15)
      ‘I am the least of the apostles, and am not fit to be called an apostle.’ (1 Corinthians 15:9)
      ‘[I] am less than the least of all saints [ie believers] . . .’ (Ephesians 3:8). – the apostle Paul.

      * ‘I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself . . . For neither I, nor any such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul’ – Polycarp, revered Bishop of Smyrna, martyred c 166 AD.

      * ‘I, Patrick, a sinner, the rudest and least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to very many . . .’ wrote the fifth-century Christian who risked death to return to the godless country from which he had fled slavery. Before he died he is said to have baptized over one hundred thousand Irish, established more than three hundred churches and changed the course of history.

      * ‘[I am called] to be a new kind of simpleton’ – Francis of Assisi.

      * ‘I am a mere nothing’ – Madame Guyon.

      * ‘Oh, that I may . . . desire to be nothing and to think it my highest privilege to be an assistant to all, but the head of none’ – George Whitefield.

      * ‘ . . . though I am of little use, I feel a pleasure in doing the little I can do,’ wrote one of Christendom’s most obvious achievers, William Carey. ‘When I am gone,’ he said twelve years later, ‘say nothing about Carey. Speak instead of Carey’s Savior.’

      * ‘[I’m] the most overestimated man in America’ – D. L. Moody.

      * ‘I have often found that the place where I have seen most of my own insignificance, baseness, unbelief and depravity has been the place where I have got a blessing . . .’ – Charles Spurgeon.

      * Having been introduced as ‘our illustrious guest,’ Hudson Taylor replied, ‘Dear friends, I am the little servant of an illustrious master.’

      * ‘It isn’t Mary Slessor doing anything, but Something outside of her altogether uses her as her small ability allows.’
      ‘I am . . . nothing more and none other than the unworthy, unprofitable - but most willing – servant of the King of kings.’
      ‘I know what it is to pray for long years and never get an answer . . .’
      ‘I don’t live up to half the ideal of missionary life.  . . . We are very human and not goody-goody at all.’ – Mary Slessor, outstanding missionary to Africa.

      * Amy Carmichael’s personality and powers of leadership were such that, according to one biographer, she could easily have become a cult figure, had she so chosen. Instead, when her name appeared on the Royal Birthday Honors List she begged to have her name withdrawn, insisting she had done nothing worthy of the honor. It is said that whenever there was a task no one else wanted to do, people would say, ‘Ask Amy.’

      * Until her dying day, even after becoming a world-wide celebrity and receiving more acclaim than any single female missionary in modern history, Gladys Aylward believed she could not possibly have been God’s first choice for the ministry he gave her. God’s preference, she confided to a friend, must surely have been someone better educated and of the other sex.

    Such self-depreciation is so characteristic of truly great Christians that finding the above quotations was nearly as easy as finding noses in a group portrait – provided I looked beyond the last few decades. That so many people could accomplish so much while having such a mind-set is an enigma to the gurus of positive thinking. It boils down to this: succeeding in situations where others would succumb, necessitates defiant faith in either yourself or in God – and which of the two you spend your faith on determines whether your achievement will be temporal or eternal. You might build an empire by believing in yourself. In time, however, every empire falls. Only by abandoning faith in self can you build for eternity.

    In terms of mass impact, I suspect positive mania has been gaining momentum and creeping over the globe only in the last few generations and the modern move seems to have gravitated particularly to America. A world-wide survey of mathematical ability in thirteen-year-olds was most revealing. Of the six countries studied, America came dead last, yet 68% of the Americans rated themselves ‘good at mathematics,’ while a mere 23% from the top-scoring country (Korea) rated themselves so highly. The American youngsters had a wonderfully positive attitude as they limped home last.

    In God, native ability and confidence in self amount to nothing. A frail old lady with child-like faith in Christ can make a muscle-bound, positive-confession-crazed he-man look like a cringing weakling. She could turn an intellectual giant into a fool.

    A radio’s usefulness rests entirely on which frequency it is tuned to. Anyone trying to tune into a point somewhere between faith in God and faith in one’s self, will produce little more than static, no matter what the volume of its output. When the tuning slips slightly off God, positive thinking becomes humanism. Faith in one’s self is so intoxicating and the two types of faith are so easily confused or amalgamated, that we are unlikely to see the error of our ways while our misdirected faith seems to be producing results. That’s why total failure is often a necessary preliminary to outstanding success.

    Sweet Smell of Defeat

    The secret of an earth-shaking ministry is to by-pass our limitations and tap directly into the power of the One who holds the stars. We’re in union with the Creator of sapphires and seraphim, molecules and galaxies. In him is all power, all wisdom, all love. Why, then, do we act like those who have no God? Empowered by him, our accomplishments should excel anything godless humanity could contemplate. Yet the more content we are to draw solely upon human resources, the more ‘God’s work’ is riddled with human frailty.

    Love and good intentions are never enough. It was love for Jesus that caused Peter to blurt out words that had such the opposite effect to Peter’s wishes that Jesus retorted, ‘Get behind me Satan’ (Mark 9:31-33). Job’s counselors seemed to have been motivated by deep concern for Job and genuine love for God when they unwittingly became Job’s tormenters and sinned against the God they thought they were defending (Job 2:11-13; 4:17; 5:8-16; 8:3,20-22; 42:7-8).

    We could be like little children redecorating the house for Daddy without waiting for instructions or help. Daddy might not even want the television painted. Sadly, our loving, enthusiastic efforts could prove worse than nothing. Oh, we may think we have done a marvelous job – until we meet Father face to face.

    A disastrous failure could therefore be a great blessing. There is nothing like it for excising the tendency to draw upon human, rather than divine resources. If allowed to spread, that cancer would destroy an otherwise healthy ministry.

    Any hurt that causes me to cling more firmly to Christ is a hurt for which I will be forever thankful. Any ‘defeat’ that has this result is a victory. What seems an obstacle to service ends up an essential stepping stone. Brought to God, a string of failures becomes a rainbow, at the end of which lies golden success (Psalm 37:23-24; Proverbs 24:16; Micah 7:8; Romans 8:28).

    If the following lines mirror your feelings, you’re headed for glory.

        I need the Lord, my Maker,
        As rivers need to flow;
        As flowers need the sunlight;
        And seedlings need to grow;
        As marksmen need a target,
        And arrows need a bow.
        I’ve feigned my independence,
        But failed to improvise.
        I need the One I’m made for,
        As eagles need the skies.
        You’re my breath and my light,
        My food and my wine.
        I’m the brush, you’re the artist,
        I’m the string and you’re the harpist.
        Tune me for your glory.

        I need the Lord, my Maker,
        As falcons need to see;
        As the clay needs a sculptor,
        And a lock needs a key.
        As a ship needs a rudder;
        And coral needs the sea.
        I’m done with empty living;
        Success that’s make-believe.
        I need the One I’m made for,
        As creatures need to breathe.
        You’re my strength and my hope,
        My peace and my shield.
        I’m the hands, you’re the healer,
        I’m the sword and you’re the victor.
        Wield me for your glory.

        I need the Lord, my Maker,
        As an arm needs a hand;
        As a babe needs its mother;
        And a dove needs to land;
        As a car needs a driver
        And a glove needs a hand.
        I’m tired of ‘great achievements,’
        Of life that’s just a game.
        I need the One I’m made for,
        As deserts need the rain.
        You’re my life and my joy,
        My truth and my guide.
        I’m the song, you’re the Singer,
        I’m a well and you’re the water.
        Fill me for your glory.

    Blessed are they who know their labors have failed, for they shall learn to serve God his way. But woe to them who vainly imagine God approves of their labors. They have their reward already.

    False confidence leads to chaos (Compare Proverbs 3:5,7; 28:26).

    Related Pages
    Spiritual Secrets: The Power of Denying Yourself

    Boost Your Self-Esteem: Fighting False Humility

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When is positive confession pride?