Humility: The Beauty of Holiness # 8
Humility and Sin
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first (1 Timothy 1:15)
Humility is often identified with repentance and remorse. As a consequence, there appears to be no way of nurturing humility except by keeping the soul focused on its sin. We have learned that humility is something else and something more. We saw in the teaching of our Lord Jesus and in the Epistles how often humility is taught without any reference to sin. In the whole relationship of the creature to the Creator, in the life of Jesus as He lived it and communicated it to us, humility is the very essence of holiness, the fullness that is in Christ. It is the displacement of "self" by the enthronement of God. Where God is all, self is nothing.
Man's sin and God's grace bring a whole new layer and dimension to the topic of humility. We only have to look at a man like the apostle Paul to see how, through his life as a holy man, the total awareness of having been a sinner remains at the forefront of his mind. We all know the passage where he refers to his life as a persecutor and blasphemer. "For I am the least of the apostles, for I am not worthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the congregation of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace towards me was not in vain, for I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of the Christ (Ephesians 3:8). [I was] before a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious, but I was received unto mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first (1 Timothy 1:13, 15). God's grace had saved him. God remembered his sins no more forever, but he could never forget how terribly he had sinned. The more he rejoiced in God's salvation and his experience of God's grace filled him with joy unspeakable, the more he was aware that he was a saved sinner. Salvation had no meaning or sweetness except when it was looked at through the lens of being a sinner. This made it precious and real to him. Never, for a moment, could he forget that it was a sinner God had taken up in His arms and crowned with His love.
The texts we have just quoted are often looked at as Paul's confession of daily sinning. They only have to be read carefully in their context to see that this is not the case. This recognition of sinfulness functioning in humility causes the ransomed to bow before the throne, as those who have been washed from their sins in the blood of the Lamb. They can never be anything but ransomed sinners, but the understanding of grace allows them to see their sin, and salvation from it, as a demonstration of God's love. The humility that accompanies his admission as a sinner takes on a new meaning when he learns how it enhances him as a creature. Humility produces adoration and praise in the context of God's wondrous redeeming love.
The true importance of what these words of the apostle Paul teach us comes through strongly when we notice the remarkable fact that, through his whole Christian life, we never find from his pen anything like confession of sin. Nowhere is there any mention of shortcoming or defect, or any suggestion to his readers that he failed in his duty or sinned against the law of perfect love. On the contrary, there are several passages where he defends himself in language that means nothing if it were not for the faultless life he lived. "Ye are witnesses, and God also, of how holy and just and irreprehensible our behavior was among you that believe (1 Thessalonians 2:10). For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with carnal wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world and more abundantly towards you (2 Corinthians 1:12). This is not an ideal or an aspiration; it is a statement of what his actual life had been. However we account for this absence of any confession of sin, everyone will admit that it points to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is seldom experienced or expected these days.
The point I wish to emphasize is that our only place of joy and our constant position before God must be to confess that we are sinners saved by grace. Daily sinning is not where the secret of deeper humility will be found, but in our constant position of abundant grace.
With Paul's deep remembrance of having sinned so terribly in the past, before grace met him, and the awareness of being kept from present sinning, he always remembered the dark, hidden power of sin only kept out by the presence and power of the indwelling Christ. "And I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing; for I have the desire, but I am not able to perform that which is good (Romans 7:18). This describes the flesh as it remains until the end. "For the law of Spirit of life in Christ, Jesus, has made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). The glorious deliverance is neither the destruction nor the sanctification of the flesh, but a continuous victory given by the Spirit as He puts to death the deeds of the body. As health expels disease, light swallows up darkness, and life conquers death, the indwelling of Christ through the Spirit is the health, light, and life of soul. With this, the conviction of helplessness and danger continuously transform faith, in the temporary action of the Holy Spirit, creating a sense of dependence in the one who is disciplined by it. In this way, faith, joy, and humility work together in the grace of God.
The three passages quoted above all show that it was the wonderful grace given to Paul, of which he felt the need every moment, that humbled him so deeply. The grace of God was with him, and enabled him to labor more abundantly than all the rest. This grace allowed him to preach to the heathen the unsearchable riches of Christ. It was this grace which kept his consciousness aware of having once sinned, and being bound to sin, so intensely alive. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). This reveals how the very essence of grace is to deal with and take away sin. It will always be that the more generous the experience of grace, the more intense the awareness of being a sinner. It is not sin, but God's grace that shows a man and reminds him of what a sinner he was and keeps him truly humble. It is not sin but grace that will make me know myself as a sinner, and make the sinner's place of deepest humility the place I never leave.
I fear that there are many who desire to humble themselves, and have to confess with sorrow that a humble spirit with its accompaniments of kindness, compassion, submission, and perseverance is still as out of reach as ever. Being occupied with self, even to the point of hating yourself, can never free us from self. It is only by the revelation of God, not by the law condemning sin but by His grace delivering from it, that will make us humble. The law may break the heart with fear, but it is only by grace that sweet humility becomes a joy to the soul and its second nature. It was as God revealed Himself in holiness, as He drew near to make Himself known in His grace, that Abraham, Jacob, Job, and Isaiah bowed so low. It is the soul where God the Creator becomes the "all" of the creature in its nothingness. God the Redeemer, in His grace, becomes the "all" of the sinner in his sinfulness. It is in this place where the soul of the creature will find itself so filled with His presence that there will be no place for "self". The promise will be fulfilled: "The haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day" (Isaiah 2:17).
It is the sinner dwelling in the full light of God's holy, redeeming love, in the experience of the full indwelling of divine love, which comes through Christ and the Holy Spirit, who can be humble. Not to be occupied with your sin, but to be occupied with God, brings deliverance from self.
(continued with # 9 - Humility and Faith