The Sea of Forgetfulness.

 

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Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

The phrase Sea of Forgetfulness is not actually in the Bible. When people use this colorful phrase, they’re usually referring to several passages in Scripture that talk about God’s forgiveness, and our justification in Christ through accepting His death, burial, and resurrection. They’re banking on the great promise from God the Father that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive those offenses and never hold them against us again. He acts as if those offenses never happened.

It is doctrinal that God forgets our sins so completely it’s as if they had never occurred. Micah 7:19 says, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV). Verse 18 indicates that God pardons sin and forgives transgression. It is worth noting that all sin (yours, mine, your neighbor’s—past, current, or future) have been placed on Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross. Accordingly, when God looks upon us as born-again believers He sees the righteousness of Christ and not a lifetime of our iniquities. This is confirmed in Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (NIV).

God is omniscient. He knows all things. So He does not really “forget” anything. Although it is beyond human capacity to grasp, He encompasses all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future. I have come to understand that God is not constrained by time in any fashion. Time (whether it’s told by a wall clock, wrist watch, calendar, or sun dial) is merely a human invention. God is able to see everything that ever was, is now, and will be, all in the same instance. The word “omniscient” comes from the Latin words omnis (signifying all) and scientia (signifying knowledge). When we say that God is omniscient it means that He has perfect knowledge of everything there ever was and will be, including our works. It is impossible for God to fail to “remember” our sins. Rather, He chooses not to remember our sins. Moreover, He creates a void between us and our sins (Psalm 103:12).

Let’s take a closer look at Isaiah 43:25. God tells us He “blots out” our transgressions. The idea of blotting out sins is taken from the custom of keeping accounts and canceling or blotting out the charge when the debt has been paid. God had a plan for our redemption before the foundation of the universe. Because of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, our debt has been paid. Old Testament saints had a forward-looking faith in Jesus as the Messiah; New Testament believers have a backward-looking faith that Christ in fact died on the cross as our Sacrificial Lamb. When Christ said, “It is finished,” the debt was satisfied for all sins. No punishment can be exacted for those who are washed in His blood. We are pardoned.

As Far As East From West

Looking at Psalm 103:12, we see that God removes us from our transgressions as far as the East is from the West. This is equivalent to blotting our our sins. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (NKJV). God reminds us in Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (NKJV). In each instance, the verb is given in past tense. He has blotted. He has redeemed.

The Glory of the Gospel is That Our Sins Are Already Dealt With!

WHEN BROUGHT INTO THE LIGHT

When our sins are set before us in the light of God’s glory, our first reaction is (naturally) that they are altogether unpardonable. We may not be willing to voice this fear to others, but it is quite real. This sense of dread comes from the conviction that we can never earn salvation through “doing good.” But there us no pardon under the Law because the Law knows nothing about forgiveness. Rather, the Law says, “Do this and you shall live; disobey and you shall die.” The Law can only convince us of our inability to obey and condemn us for the failure to do so.

After we become awakened in Christ, we are made aware of our litany of sins. Of course, there is no awakening if we remain in the dark—lacking honest assessment and humble surrender. Paul noted in his first letter to the Corinthians that he gave no credence to how man might judge him, or whether the court might condemn or sentence him. Further, he did not see any benefit to judging himself. Although his conscience was clear, he remained concerned about the judgment of God. His advice was, “… judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart…” (1 Corinthians 4:5, NIV).

Typically, this so-called awakening involves five distinct stages, which Dave Ferguson aptly explained in his article at Christianity.com titled “5 Stages of Spiritual Awakening.” In his research and analysis, he noted that the story of the Prodigal Son applies to nearly every believer who has drifted away from the Father only to find his or her life wanting and miserable. Invariably, they determine (as did the Prodigal) that loss of “sonship” is not worth any amount of riches or physical comfort. Indeed, even the “father’s” servants have it better than the child who has walked away. 

The following steps are critical to achieving a spiritual awakening:

  1. Awakening to Longing. Everyone eventually begins to question the value of his or her existence. It is not unusual to exclaim “there’s got to be more to life!” Each of us longs for love, a sense of relevance or purpose, and some degree of meaning to life. This is often the first of basic longings and is what goads us to set out on a journey. Although these yearnings are given to us by God, we often search for fulfillment everywhere but from Him.
  2. Awakening to Regret. Because we tend to seek fulfillment of primitive longings without God, we end up alone, directionless, and confused. I cannot count the number of times I’ve expressed the desire to start over. It’s worth noting that many individuals often get caught up in a loop between longing and regret.
  3. Awakening to Help. When we break out of the loop between longing for a sense of meaning and regretting the mess we’ve created, we have the potential to acknowledge that something needs to change. This amounts to coming to the end of ourselves. Finally, we throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this on my own.’ In recovery, this is often referred to as hitting bottom. We realize we need help.
  4. Awakening to Love. At this point, we come to believe that Jesus is the One who leads us back to God. As we make our prodigal journey back to the Father, we encounter grace. We begin to recognize God’s unconditional love. He is waiting for us with open arms. Unfortunately, many of us still have to deal with the shame and guilt that follows us home. If we give in to these emotions, we tend to doubt that we are loved and accepted just as we are.
  5. Awakening to Life. Finally, we are in a place where we understand when Jesus said, “I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, MSG). The Greek word for life in this passage is zoe, meaning “of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God.” We simply cannot reach this level of life without a spiritual awakening.

THE END OF ME

Jesus tells us the way up is down. In other words, we can only achieve greatness through humility. Admittedly, this is a quality I have been sorely lacking in for most of my life. My life has frequently been rather difficult and complicated as a result. I’ve heard it said that we can only change when we become coachable. I did not necessarily believe there was nothing wrong with me or my life. My difficulties came from thinking my problems were unique; that I was different and the tried-and-true solutions proposed to me by addictions counselors or 12-step sponsors. In addition, I was often in denial and tended to hide my feelings and actions through deception. Before I could ever hope to grow, I needed honesty and humility.

The evil companion to humility, at least in my instance, was pride. My knee-jerk reaction to advice from a fellow 12-stepper was usually, “You’re not going to talk to me that way!” I’d look at their “cheap” clothes, rusty old car, long hair, tattoos, piercings, and whatever else I decided made them “less than” me and decide they had nothing to offer. Pride. Pure and simple. It made me defensive and unwilling to hear what others had to offer. Even if it would save my life. This smacks of some imaginary hierarchy where I “outranked” the other person. Thankfully, I have put that rather glaring character defect at the foot of the cross. The minute I did so I began to notice others for who they were—children of God. I remembered something an oldtimer told me at a 12-step meeting years ago. He said, “Never look down on another alcoholic. You never know if that person will save your life.” Of course, I also had to admit my life needed saving.

Pride will often keep us from realizing how much we need God!

Pride is the ultimate issue of the human condition—not just one of the “deadly sins,” but the mother of all offenses. The late Billy Graham said, “…pride can be a very dangerous thing, blinding us to our faults and cutting us off from others. Pride also can lead us into doing things that are wrong, because we think they’ll make us greater or more powerful. The Bible warns, ‘Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Proverbs 16:18).

There is an amazingly powerful antidote for pride expressed by the apostle Paul that gives me goosebumps every time I read it. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[fn] of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-7, NIV). This is Jesus, the Messiah, equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, co-creator of the entire universe. I cannot fathom a better example of humility.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Here’s what I’ve learned: There is a real danger in making anything or anyone but Jesus a foundation for our confidence. This includes putting our self before Jesus, attempting to solve our own problems or “work” out a deal for our success. Unfortunately, being humbled is something we think of as a passive activity—that is, somebody or something humbles us. We are humbled by unemployment, by a failed marriage, by getting hurt on the job and having to rely on disability, by having to move back home with our parents. A shattered dream. But Jesus told us about a humility that is active—in this instance, we are the humblers. Jesus said, “Humble yourselves.”

It all starts with being honest about who we are in Christ and admitting we had nothing to do with our standing. It’s all Jesus. This attitude is something beyond humility. Meekness is closer to what Jesus is suggesting. Essentially, this amounts to submissiveness, without which we cannot hope to recover whatever the habit, hangup, obsession, or addiction. From a biblical viewpoint, meekness is synonymous with righteous, humble, teachable, patient when enduring suffering, forgiving, willing to follow Christian doctrine—attributes of a true disciple.

 

The Learned Humility of Paul

Sociological studies of the early Christian church indicate that the vast majority of Christians during the first three centuries belonged to the lower echelons of society, or at least did not fit well in the higher ranks. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent most of His time with poor, ill, and despised people. Paul, who belonged to a higher class than most of the earliest disciples and church leaders, does say that the majority of Christians in Corinth were ignorant, powerless, and of obscure birth. He spoke of them in this manner not from a lofty position or attitude; rather, he wanted to point out the lack of social and cultural connections of common Christians in the first century.

Paul was aware that these “lesser” individuals placed a great deal of hope in the vision that Jesus would bring to the earth a Kingdom that would supplant the present Roman order—a New Jerusalem where God would wipe away the tears of those who were suffering under the social order of the Empire. Certainly, worship was one point at which Christians of all social standing could have a common experience as brothers.

“I am a Jew, from Tarsus.”

Paul was born and spent his earliest years in the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews outside the borders of the Holy Land. As a Pharisee, Paul was a Jew From Tarsus in Cilicia—a citizen of no ordinary city (see Acts 21:39, NIV). Tarsus was a city of half-a-million citizens on the southeastern coast of Turkey (ancient Asia Minor). In addition to being near an abundantly flowing river, a great international highway, connecting the west coast of Asia Minor to Syria-Palestine and points east, ran through Tarsus. It was the most important city of Cilicia, which brought the influence of many cultures and languages. It was an important educational center in the ancient world.

A large part of the prosperity of Tarsus was partially based on the manufacture of a material woven from goat hair and known as cilicium—the name given to the province. Cilicium was used mainly in the manufacture of tents. Although Paul has been identified as a tent maker before turning to religious study and leadership, it is more likely he was a leathermaker. At some point before he was born, Paul’s family became Roman citizens. This likely occurred during the lifetime of his grandfather or great-grandfather. McRay (2003) notes in Paul: His Life and Teaching, posits that Paul’s ancestors may well have provided Mark Antony or Julius Caesar with tents for the Roman army, a service that might have been rewarded by a grant of citizenship.

In any event, it is clear that Paul’s father was a Roman citizen because Paul was “born a citizen” (see Acts 22:27-28). Luke affirms that Paul was not only a Roman citizen but also a citizen of Tarsus (see Acts 21:39). We know Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage on three occasions. The first of these was in Philippi where he and Silas were imprisoned unjustly (see Acts 16:37). He initially allowed himself to be beaten without revealing his citizenship, which would have prevented it, we do not know. I would suggest it had something to do with Paul’s humility as a servant of Jesus Christ. The second incident was in Jerusalem after the completion of his third missionary journey (see Acts 22:25-29). As Paul was about to undergo public whipping, he made his citizenship known, thus avoiding the beating. The final occasion when Paul asserted his citizenship was at Caesarea, when he stood before Festus stopped his extradition to stand before the Jews in Jerusalem.

Of greater importance than his Roman citizenship was Paul’s Jewish heritage. He mentions in Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5 that he was from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained faithful to God after the death of Solomon, when other tribes broke away and began worshiping idols. King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin; this was considered a matter of pride. Paul remained humble following his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He called himself a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” (see Philippians 3:5). However, he was emphasizing the fact that he was Hebrew in the sense that he was a Jew who maintained the traditional Hebrew culture rather than being puffed up by his immersion in Diaspora Hellenization. Rather, he remained loyal to the Jewish faith and to being a servant of Jesus Christ rather than “modernized” by Greco-Roman culture. In other words, he remained a Jew rather than “made Greek.”

PAUL, A PHARISEE

Paul was likely born around the time of the birth of Jesus. We know this because he is described as “a young man” in Acts 7:58 at the time of the death of Stephen and shortly before his conversion. Most chronologies of Paul date his birth just prior to that of Jesus, at the same time, or shortly thereafter. Paul is said to have been a member of the Sanhedrin when Stephen was martyred. Accordingly, he would have met the minimum age requirement for membership in that religious body. The Talmud notes the minimum age as forty for ordination of a rabbi. Paul, as we know, was a rabbi who learned at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Traditionally, Paul would have learned to recite the Shema. From the age of five, he would have begun memorizing at least parts of the Hallel—the portion of the Psalms used at the Feast of Passover. When he was about six, he would have been sent to synagogue to learn reading and writing. At that time, the only textbook was the Scriptures, which the Jews believed contained everything one needed to know about the world, whether in the realm of science, religion, or law. Paul had a bar mitzvah or its ancient counterpart at age twelve or thirteen. He was now qualified to be one of the minyan of ten required to constitute a synagogue and made him accountable as an adult for violation of the Law of Moses. At age fifteen, Paul began studying the oral traditions that were later codified in the Talmud.

PAUL’S HUMILITY

Interestingly, Paul’s opponents at Corinth referred to his bodily presence as “weak” (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). The Greek word used here (asthenês) often means “weak,” “feeble,” or “without strength,” but can also mean “sickly,” referring mainly to bodily disability. Paul uses this same Greek word in Galatians 4:13 when he reminds the Galatians that it was because of a “weakness of the flesh” that he first preached to them. He is also quick to point out to the Galatians that “…you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). Paul may have chosen this particular imagery because there was actually something wrong with his eyesight. This gives some credibility to the idea that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a physical disability.

And he saw Paul coming, a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.—2 Timothy 4:19

In Romans 1:1, we read, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (NIV). Paul was noted for describing his converted life as the opportunity to live out, to incarnate, to speak, Christ into the lives of those he was called to reach. He arrived at this position or station in life with no regard for his life as a Roman citizen, a rabbi, a Pharisee who learned at the feet of the famed Gamaliel. He considered himself no more than a servant of Christ. He seeks to promote this very attitude in his ministry to the Gentiles. This is so different from our highly individualistic culture today. In America, competition is much more the norm, rather than cooperation. Everyone seems to feel compelled to stand out from the rest, to be different. This is unfortunately true even in the Christian church.

Paul indicates that he was from Tarsus, which we’ve learned was a city of importance. It was cosmopolitan in antiquity, and, as a melting pot, it was “the place” where the exchange of many diverse ideas commonly took place. Hellenization was alive and well in Tarsus. That Paul was exposed to views that arose beyond the borders of his own home town is something we can take virtually for granted. It is likely that Paul’s thinking was shaped to some degree by his great mentor Gamaliel. We know that Paul was immersed academically in the content of the Old Testament from a young age, as well as in the writings of the rabbinic scholars of his day. But to interpret Paul solely on the grounds of the teachings of the rabbinic scholars of antiquity would be to negate critical factors of influence in the development of Paul’s thought. It would seem to belie his humility.

Paul himself claims Jesus as the key influence in shaping his thought—not Gamaliel or the rabbinic scholars of antiquity. Obviously, when Paul writes his letters, he does not identify himself by saying, “Paul, a bond servant or slave of Gamaliel.” Instead, he says, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ.” It is the teaching of Jesus Christ—who revealed His perspective and His own mind to Paul—that stands as the very rock of the foundation for Paul’s theology. This is what makes Romans 6, 7, and 8 (the very crux of Christian doctrine) so powerful and so important. His words in these three chapters of Romans has absolutely nothing to do with Paul, or his rabbinical education, or the influence of a great teacher like Gamaliel. Moreover, Paul does not mention his Jewish heritage, or his bloodline (from the tribe of Benjamin) as qualifications for his ministry to the Gentiles.

ARE YOU HUMBLE?

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Are you modest? Are you sure? To fit the mold, you’d need to be meek and totally lacking in pride. You must be unassuming, humble, lacking in vanity. In other words, you’d have to hold a low view of your own importance. I’ve heard it said that if you think you have humility—if you’re convinced that you’re humble—then you might not be. Etymology of the word is of Latin origin, humilis. Paul would have used the Greek word which is equivalent to the English humble or modest. Certainly, humility is an important character quality in the Christian life. Although most of us know this, we also likely know that humility is one of the most difficult qualities to develop and consistently live out in our Christian walk.

We have a tendency as Americans to be envious, competitive, self-absorbed, prideful, and decidedly self-motivated. Much of this comes from today’s pluralistic, humanistic, morally relevant culture. Social media has taken this drive and given it a worldwide stage on which we can cultivate a meme we want to be known by. I’m guilty of trying to script my every move and explain my moral shortcomings in a light that hopefully makes me look less guilty of pride than I am. I truly have no human comprehension about humility. As a thirteen-year-old new Christian, I was hopeful that I would be used by God in a great way because, after all, wasn’t I great? I fell away from the Gospel shortly after high school graduation. The minute I discovered marijuana and Miller Genuine Draft, I lost all concept of selflessness, empathy, love, friendship, forgiveness, and putting others first. I became the most selfish, self-centered person I knew.

Highlighter Concepts from Luke.jpgAlthough this may sound like something you haven’t done since Sunday School, the Holy Spirit is ready to speak to us when we dive into God’s Word. There is so much we can glean from how Jesus taught and acted in the Gospels that can help us to cultivate humility. Pay attention to how He lived out his humanity in a humble way, even though He was fully God. The Gospel of Luke is rich with things we can learn and apply to our own lives—from studying how Jesus interacted with people and what and how he taught them. Jesus came not only to take on the sins of the world; He came to provide us with an example of how we should interact with others. He was God Himself, yet He described Himself as a servant. He said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He washed the disciples’ feet! (John 13:5-9). First John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (NIV).

It is important to note that humility and submission go hand-in-hand. This is precisely why humility did not come easily to me. I was inspired and motivated as a new Christian in my teens, but when my family “fell away” from the church, I began to get my validation from other sources. I began to doubt the existence of God in my third semester of college when I started studying psychology and philosophy. God became a “magical being” (and just one of many “religious” roads to paradise) rather than the Creator and Sustainer of the world. The road back was blocked by active addiction and ego. The further I got from God, the more carnal I became. When we cater to our flesh—when we give in to our mind, will, and emotions—we cannot hear the voice of God. We cannot see  what we need to see. It’s like the line from Strawberry Fields. McCartney and Lennon wanted us to understand this critical precept: “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

I couldn’t help but wonder who is the most humble man in the Bible? According to Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (NIV). Paul is one of the most humble people in the New Testament. Something even he does not take credit for. He wrote in Philippians 3:3-7, “…though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (NIV).

10 Identifying Characteristics of a Humble Christian

  • Trust in the sovereignty of God
  • Thankfulness and Gratitude
  • In awe of God’s goodness and grace
  • Able to rejoice with others
  • Preference of seeing unity with others through salvation
  • No longer “wise in their own eyes”
  • Easily forgiving others because of what God has forgiven of them
  • Possessing a “teachable” spirit
  • Focused on building others up
  • Possessing the heart of a servant
There is nothing that will put you in your place, nothing that will correct your distorted view of yourself, nothing that will yank you out of your functional arrogance, or nothing that will take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness like standing, without defense, before the awesome glory of God.—Paul David Tripp

References

McRay, J. (2003). Paul: His Life and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

The Law of Humility

“…the requirement of humility will result in honor.”

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Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” In our journey through life, it is tempting to take pride in the positive changes we make in our lives. We want other people to recognize our accomplishments. But in God’s plan, honor is something we receive only as we learn to live in humility. It is not something we should seek on its own. Humility is the path to being honored by God and by others. The law of humility is not the easiest law to write about because we can’t point to a day in our own lives when we have finally reached the state of perfect humility—it’s an ongoing, lifelong process, much like recovery from drugs and alcohol. Moreover, because of the self-abasement that now colors our life, we can’t talk about how often we’re admired by others.

We can’t speak of a time when we were so unassuming and self-effacing that we were honored and celebrated by our peers and colleagues—that wouldn’t be very humble, would it? But it can be said that we’ve had some moments of great pride that led to painful disappointments. We have spent too much time wanting to to be honored by others here on Earth rather than seeking the ultimate honor that comes from the One who struck the match to ignite the sun.

If you are at all like the rest of us, you’ve had times in your life when you were overflowing with pride so that there was no room left for God.

Perhaps you came to recognize your own pride, and have spent valuable time trying to appear humble. When we are full of pride, we do things just to be seen; we act in ways that will be noticed by others, hoping that no one will sense the false humility underneath it all. A certain degree of honesty must be part of your “searching and fearless moral inventory.” The most important ingredient in 12-step programs is honesty. Often those who fail at working the Steps fail in the area of humility. Honesty and humility are two sides of the same coin. Without it, recovering addicts and alcoholics are left with a sense of emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Trust me when I say the devil loves seeing us suffer under the lash of our emotions. We don’t see our obvious lack of power. Simply put, we cannot drag ourselves out of the dark pit by sheer force of will.

ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS

It is only a matter of time before we finally must accept our complete powerlessness and begin to cultivate a humble attitude. It is so simple to turn it all around and find a life worth living—a life that includes infinitely more than we might think. Proverbs 29:23 tells us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lonely in spirit gain honor” (NIV). When we speak of humility, we’re not talking about humiliation. When we get puffed up and full of pride, and think we can do no wrong, those are often the times we are humiliated.

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Usually, we have a hand in such humiliation. When humiliated, we tend to seek paybacks. But humility is a choice. It is, in fact, what starts the process of spiritual maturity. Choosing humility and recognizing our powerlessness are what it takes to stop all of our self-defeating acts of futility. When we are able to truly humble ourselves before God, life starts to work out again.

The Apostle James describes a life without humility. He says that all our battles come from evil desires within us. We make ourselves miserable because we crave more than we have, and are envious of those who have more. We forget to want what we already have, instead seeking to get what we want. When proud and arrogant, we don’t see the need to ask God for anything. Moreover, our motives are so twisted that He is not likely to grant us our requests. We come to a fork in the road, where we decide whether we will lay down our lives for God or seek to keep up with the world.

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, all our doing and building and serving in order to look good before others becomes meaningless. It is much easier to humble ourselves from a place of powerlessness than from the pinnacle of pride and self-reliance. To move toward true humility, we must look inside ourselves and uncover our impure motives. We must also acknowledge that on our own we are nothing and He is everything. As we move toward true humility, we must set aside the false humility behind which we often hide. Humility simply means that we recognize God as the source of every good thing. Authentic humility leads us to the conclusion that if anything good is going to come from all the pain, filth, and struggle in our lives, it will come from God.

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One important benefit to humility is the opening of our eyes and hearts to see and celebrate the people around us. When we get outside of ourselves—a phrase I’ve heard often at 12-step meetings—we can humbly evaluate the impact of our behavior on others. This is the very crux of empathy. Because we care about other people, we want to do whatever we can not to repeat or perpetuate the things we’ve done in the past that were hurtful to them. When we’re truly humble, we care enough about other people that our own pain is no longer the focus of our existence. We do what we can to understand their pain, and what we might have done to contribute to it. We seek to help to alleviate it.  More than humble living, this is the life of an honorable person.

Humility allows us to celebrate our success and progress.  When we hit bottom and go ten days without giving in to our addiction, for example, or when we pick up a 30-day chip at a 12-step meeting, God brings honor to us through other people who have been where we are. He honors us through those who almost didn’t make it out alive, and through those who have never stopped building their character, deepening their peace of mind, and fulfilling their dreams by reaching out to help others.

GOD’S GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that allows the worst of the worst of us to find honor in Him and and through doing His work. When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he identified how living a humble life of serving others brings honor to God (and to us as well). In 1:12 Paul says, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God asks us to give up on our self-engineered crashes, admit that only He can restore us to sanity, and lay ourselves at His feet. That’s it! Recognize that you will never be strong enough or clever enough to defeat the challenges you face. But God can give you the strength, wisdom, insight, and  courage you need, if only you will humble yourself before Him and seek to know His will.

HUMILITY VERSUS PRIDE

Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend. How many recent sermons have you heard on humility? Probably not many. We hear surprisingly little from our church leaders about either of these subjects. Price and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the famous — indeed celebrities of all sorts — and even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people. Unfortunately, few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and our love for others.

Humility is often seen as a weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. After all, it was through pride that Lucifer was cast down from heaven, becoming our chief adversary, the devil.

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Pride is an anti-God state of mind. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of all sin. Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using pride as the means to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying in order to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being God-like. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she opted for autonomy and disobeyed God.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire —when it has conceived—gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

Throughout the Bible, we see the outworking of pride and unbelief in the affairs of individuals, families, nations, churches, and entire cultures. The result is a suppression of the knowledge and wisdom of God. Spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs. In their mind, God becomes smaller and they become larger. Powerful in their own right. The very essence of their being shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their own world, and God is pushed to the periphery. The result is familiar: People exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride begins to grow exponentially; arrogant or abusive behavior rears its ugly head. Every man for himself.

THE BIBLE ON PRIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

James tells us, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (4:10, ESV). Proverbs warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18, ESV). Pride leads to isolation, disillusionment, despair, and lack of breakthrough. Think about the so-called know-it-all. They tend to drive people away. A prideful person is not likely to ask for help because they are not willing to admit they need it. They choose to go it alone. Even when help is offered, a prideful person will reject input, and push the other person away. When this becomes habitual, they make others feel unwanted. This leads to isolation.

This can lead to disillusionment — a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We lose faith. I’ve heard it said that disillusionment is sometimes the aim of a seminary professor. The instructor will argue, “I want to shatter my students’ romanticized notion of church life and replace it with one that is more realistic.” After all, much damage has been caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. Disillusionment, as you can imagine, can be quite overwhelming. We would much rather hold on to our dreams.

Jesus one day washed the feet of His disciples. He asked, “Do you understand what I am doing for you?” Of course, He knew the answer before He asked the question. Jesus warned Peter in advance that he would not understand what was about to take place. To our ears, Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet sounds admirable. Humble, even. Only moments ago His disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. But there is an edge to Jesus’ reply. Why does He rebuke Peter instead of praising him? You would think that He would have been happy to see that Peter recognized there was someone at the table who was greater than them all. Peter was not putting on airs. He was entirely sincere. But he was also arrogant.

Peter’s problem was not that he couldn’t see Jesus clearly. He couldn’t see himself. He was too humble to let himself be washed, but too proud to do the washing. He doesn’t wash his own feet. He won’t wash the other disciples’ feet. And despite his conviction that Jesus is greater, he doesn’t even offer to wash Jesus’ feet. Peter’s objection looks like humility. It sounds like devotion. It is really pride masquerading as false humility. Interestingly, pride attacks us not on our weak points, but on our strong ones. Remarkably, pride is just as willing to encourage self-deprecation as self-congratulation.

LACK OF BREAK-THROUGH

It should be clear that pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride naturally gives us a sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. When that happens, we close ourselves off from learning, from listening, and from opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing. We tend to close ourselves off from break-throughs because we think we have it all figured out. Solution? Humble yourself, let the Lord lift you up to new heights never imagined. “Some never get started on their destiny because they cannot humble themselves to learn, grow, and change.” —Author Unknown.

THE MIND OF CHRIST

How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves?  To put on the mind of Christ, we need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitude must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness, and His exemplar for the same, must take hold of our thinking, our desires, our conduct. What did Jesus mean by humility? The Greek word tapeinos means having a right view of ourselves before God and others. Paul discusses this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

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Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationship with others. As Paul says to the Romans, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16). And as he said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significantly than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). As we refuse to be preoccupied with ourselves and our own importance, and seek to love and serve others, it will reorient us from being self-centered to being others-centered—serving and caring for others just as Jesus did for us.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s Word, and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God. It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root in our souls. I’ve learned that I can only be humble when I decrease and He increases.

Pride Can Halt Recovery

With all the interest in self-esteem and self-worth, there is another element to think about when we consider pride. Some of us come from families where we were not taught healthy emotional language and habits. We did not get a balanced perspective on the world and on relationships. Some of us actually got a distorted view of where we stood in relation to the rest of the world. We felt less than. In order to make up for that, we learned to exaggerate and lie and blow our accomplishments way out of proportion in order to feel of some value. To  succeed in our recovery and in life, we have to stop thinking we are worth less than others. We need to see the glass half full instead of half empty. We have to get rid of feelings of inability before we can make progress. As we learn more about how false pride has held us back from our full potential, we come to see that our main problem centers in our mind rather than in our body. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that we alcoholics don’t just have a drinking problem; we have a thinking problem.

Many of us still think our value as a human being is in what we do or don’t do, rather than who we are. We think our value is about results – the car we drive, the person we marry, the house we live in, the job we have, where we go for vacations, or the clothes we wear. We’ve shifted the emphasis from who to what. This is not emotionally healthy. Taking a look at pride means gaining a new perspective and looking again at who we are, not exclusively at what we have or what we do.

Out-of-control pride is dangerous. Too many people are convinced they wrote the book. They take false pride in their accomplishments and feel they have nothing left to learn. They are eager to tell everyone how much they know. They become unteachable. This is a sure way of closing a mind that needs to remain wide open. This kind of pride becomes arrogance, and it turns many people off. False pride and settling for inferiority will accomplish nothing. We have to stop choosing to have low self-worth, or to settle for less in life. We ask, “What value do I have as a human being? What do I have to offer others in the way of service, wisdom, and help? Who have I become, and who am I becoming in order to increase my value to the rest of humankind and myself?” The thought that must go with us constantly is, “How can I best serve you Lord? Your will be done, not mine.”

Although pride is at the top of the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, the real sin is having arrogance or false pride. Healthy pride is a necessary part of self-esteem and character growth. Remember, pride goeth before a fall. This is speaking of unhealthy pride, including character defects such as egotism, grandiosity and arrogance. No harm will come to spiritual growth from the pride experienced when we freely admit to ourselves that our progress is not made by us alone. Humble pride acknowledges the guidance of others and a faith in and reliance upon God. With humility and God’s help, we learn to have healthy pride in our progress and growth in our recovery.

When people give up an addiction, they have a great deal to feel proud about. They have managed to escape a condition that was ruining their life, and could easily have led to their death. If the individual puts enough effort into their sobriety, they will have many more things to feel proud about in the future. Feelings of pride can be one of the rewards of recovery, but care needs to be taken that this emotion doesn’t become excessive. Some people can become so full of pride that it stops them from making any further gains in sobriety. They start to believe that they already have all the answers, and may start to view other people as inferior. We have every right to be pleased with our accomplishments, but we should never allow our pride to become a liability.

If people are excessively proud, it is referred to as hubris. The definition of hubris is “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence; exaggerated pride or self-confidence.” In other words, their self-esteem is unrealistically high. They overestimate their importance in the world, and may look upon other people as inferior to them. An old timer named Wally C. used to share in AA meetings that we should never look down on another alcoholic or addict no matter what their station in life. We never know if they are the one who might save our life. (Wally died sober late last year.) Even those individuals who generally suffer from low self-esteem can exhibit excessive pride in an attempt to hide their true feelings. Most people who have fallen into addiction also suffer from low self-esteem. They can regain their feelings of self-worth once they are sober and are able to rebuild their life. A healthy level of self-esteem for people in recovery is fine, but it needs to be realistic and tempered with humility.

Humility does not come easily. I’ve heard it said that if you think you’re humble, you probably aren’t. Benjamin Franklin said, “In reality, there is, perhaps, not one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.” To develop humility, we need to examine our own actions, words, feelings, and thoughts. If we regularly probe ourselves, (asking “When have I been arrogant, vain, snobbish, self-absorbed?”), we are likely to reduce the pleasures of vanity, arrogance, and the like, and loosen their hold on us.

One dimension of humility is realizing your progress in recovery is not a matter of self-sufficiency in your actions and accomplishments. You become willing to receive advice and correction. You are able to acknowledge the contribution of others to your success. This rules out hyper-autonomy, which is the excessive desire to go it alone, to be the sole author of your accomplishments.

It is significant that Peter tells us, “In the same manner, you who are younger, submit yourself to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because , ‘God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.'” (1 Peter 5:5, NIV) The first aspect of this renewed mind the Apostle Paul mentions is humility. Paul describes for us how the renewed mind thinks. In the Greek text, Paul uses the verb “to think,” or some aspect of it, four times. This shows us that humility is a matter of how we think before God. Often we can see the attitudes and behaviors of pride in others. When I act from a position of pride, I assume my recovery is complete. I begin to feel as though I am better than others. Before I know it, I believe the lie that I don’t need to work on my recovery any more. I forget that I am supposed to work out my salvation daily with trembling and fear. When in this particular frame of mind, I begin to justify my actions. Once again I live by my rules.

It is very important to note Paul’s struggle with this same issue. In his letter to the Romans, he writes,”But I need something more. For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help. I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it! I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway…I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” (Romans 7:17-25, taken from the translation The Message by Eugene Peterson)

Even if we could hide our pride from others, we cannot hide it from God. This is a mindset that we have to develop before God, where we watch for episodes where we depend solely on ourselves, thinking “I got this!” Then, instead, we affirm our dependence on God, grateful that He is there. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” I have come to the point in my recovery that I am able to humbly admit I can do nothing by myself. My addiction is too strong. It waits during periods of abstinence for a weak moment when it can take me hostage once again. The convincing evidence of this is that I can stay clean and sober for 10 months, 12 months, and, on one occasion, 18 months, only to fall off the wagon.

I cannot continue to let my addiction make me do things I would not normally do. I am in the presently in the very midst of the struggle Paul speaks of in the above passage. I see now how it applies to me; especially to my struggle to stay clean. I must work on my recovery daily. I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling on a daily basis. How is it that I forget to be humble? To admit defeat? To accept help, not only from my sponsor and my pastor, but from Jesus Christ who made recovery and redemption possible? How is it that I can hurt the ones I love without setting out to do so? How can I break this addiction? By remembering that there is power in the Name of Jesus to break every chain. I no longer need to know why I can’t drink like other people, or why I can’t safely take narcotic painkillers. It is as much a fact of life for me as it is for people who have diabetes and can’t eat certain foods.

When I feel the urge to get my hands on narcotic painkillers, even through taking them from someone else’s prescription bottle, I must remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.” It is a matter of not giving in to my flesh. Of not letting the disease of addiction dictate what I am going to do. It is at these times of temptation that I must remember I can do nothing by myself, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13) Once again, I have returned to the place in my recovery where I make it a habit to thank God every morning for my continued sobriety, and I submit daily to His will for me. I ask Him to keep me away from a drink or a drug for the next 24 hours. I say to Him, “Lord, if something is not true, I pray that I don’t say it; if something does not belong to me, I pray that I don’t take it; and, if something doesn’t feel right, I pray that I don’t do it.” If I do these things every day, I will be granted a reprieve from my addiction one day at a time. To deviate from this can lead to jails, institutions and death.