Walking on stilts can make you seem taller than others, but it’s more dangerous and can bring a disastrous fall. Pride is stilts, walking on the ground like humility.
Humility is about living in reality. If there is an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving and all-good Deity, then humility makes perfect sense. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:17). God is the source of all goodness. To the extent that anyone is good, it’s a reflection of the author of virtue and creator of all things. There’s no room for boasting.
Try to think of even one of your achievements that is not traceable to God. You can’t.
Consider the excellent violinist received her innate abilities from her Maker. Her cultivated talent that came from hours of self-sacrifice and practice was due in part to her parents who taught her deferred gratification, who were in turn products of others who instructed them, who are ultimately derived from God. The violin itself was wrought from centuries of invention at the hands of master craftsmen. The violinist is just passing on gifts given to her.
Every good thing is ultimately traced back to him. No one is an island. The human propensity to “own” our achievements is as natural as sin itself. And as deceptive.
I’m very organized and self-disciplined. I would trace many of my achievements to these traits.
But my organization and self-discipline are traits partially born from my genetic predisposition to routine, traits I witnessed in my parents, traits I was encouraged to cultivate in my childhood and for which I was rewarded through my academic studies and in my various jobs. When I inwardly admire myself and “own” my accomplishments, I’m denying that I have inherited gifts for which the proper response is gratitude, not pride.
Isaiah writes about our righteousness, which is no better than “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Jesus derided the Pharisees for their self-righteousness—a self-righteousness that was illusory and prevented them from entering the Kingdom of God. If we think we possess whatever goodness we exhibit, then we can’t become truly good.
It’s only as Christ imputes his righteousness to us—a true righteousness that can cover our sinfulness through his atoning work on the cross—that we can enter the presence of a holy God who can’t tolerate sin. Paul writes in Gal. 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Humility is the correct response to created beings saved by grace and yet who continue to sin.
What doesn’t seem “correct” is that the God is humble. He who rightly deserves our constant devotion deigned to become a man. His Incarnation is shocking. But that he would become a carpenter, instead of an earthly king, is still more incredible. And to play the part of a servant to his servants, the Apostles, in washing their feet at the Last Supper is beyond amazing. Finally, to suffer an ignoble and unjust death to pay the price for our rebellion against him conclusively demonstrates that Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:30).
But doesn’t God seek people who will bring him glory? Isn’t that . . . proud? Why does God want our praise and constant devotion? Why is he a jealous God who forbids the worship of any other god (Exodus 34:14)? Wouldn’t a humble God be content to let his creatures give their devotion to others? And if Satan is wrong to desire our worship, why is it okay for God?
God wants us to bring him glory precisely because it’s best for us. Acknowledging and praising the source of all goodness brings us into the full light of truth. When we worship God we live in truth -- we thrive. When we deny truth, in word or deed, we wither. He wants our praise because he loves us, not because he’s “full of himself.” God doesn’t need our praise. In fact, he doesn’t need anything. He is self-sufficient. He wants our praise principally for our benefit.
I want my children to love, respect, and honor me. Unlike God, my motives aren’t always pure, and sometimes I want love, respect and honor for my own sake. But most of me wants these things from my kids for their sake, because I know they are more likely to lead a good life if they honor their parents. So when I chide them for disrespectful I am loving them and seeking their best.
God wants us to be humble and to honor him because we live our best lives when we live in reality.