On the path to Christian maturity, we arrive at a number of decision points. Rather than coming to faith, non-believers can reject the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus offers. Rather than becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, many believers would simply prefer salvation without transformation. Yes, at every turn there are opportunities to veer off the path.
The decision to advance down the road or drive off into the proverbial ditch hinges on the single trait that scripture repeatedly defines as the essence of our faith – humility. Countless stories in the Bible convey the importance of a person’s humility or arrogance in determining whether they receive healing and blessings or rejection and condemnation. Pride is the origin of sin – with Satan taking advantage of Adam and Eve’s desire to be like God. Arrogance drove Pharoah to lead Egypt to the brink of destruction, Goliath to fall and the Pharisees to draw the ire of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s response to nearly everyone in scriptures and still today is directly related to their humility: “God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets himself against those who are proud.” (1 Peter 5:5)
It follows that humility (grounded in love) is the most important trait of a Christian. It is the very essence of our faith. Conversely, arrogance does more to separate people from God than anything else. We have placed our faith in the most powerful yet humble Leader the world has ever known. God Himself performed the most humble act in world history. Despite His omnipotence and righteousness, Jesus “though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
“Humble” does not mean what Webster defines as a lowly self-perception. Instead, it is a realistic understanding of our place relative to God – acknowledging the Lord as our Creator and mankind as His creation. It is the recognition that we are all equal in terms of our design in God’s image – holding everyone in high esteem as eternal souls (what is unseen) and not judging based on their appearance, behaviors or words (what is seen).
7 Forks in the Road…
The following 7 steps plot the path to becoming a Christian and maturing as a believer. For each of those steps, humility determines whether someone moves forward, stagnates or jumps off the path entirely:
1. Listen – Humility tolerates alternative or opposing positions, willing to patiently listen to a Gospel presentation and consider its implications. That’s the actual meaning of “tolerance”.
“Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise.” (Proverbs 13:10)
Veer off the Path: Selfists who dominate mainstream American media and culture see tolerance as the polar opposite – the right to avoid exposure to alternative points of view. To protect our identity bubbles, Selfists intimidate and ridicule any speech that doesn’t agree with their world view. Many Christians feel it is becoming more difficult to witness today because fewer are willing to listen.
2. Respond – Humility recognizes the truth about the depths of our depravity and need for a Savior. It leads those who are humble to investigate the veracity of Christianity, where they will discover that it is unique among the world’s religions. Only Christianity is Gift-based, believing that God alone holds the keys to eternal life. God had to reach down to save us because we cannot “earn” our way into heaven. All other religions are Wage-based – either via legalism where our good must outweigh our bad, or via inner divinity where we seek to discover our own immense power inside of us.
“But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
Veer off the Path: Even those who see the need for forgiveness and understand that it is only available through Jesus can choose to continue in sin, “enjoy” life and be their own boss. Rather than humbly turning to God, most seek self-actualization, happiness, health and well-being. Selfism, the fastest growing “religion” in America, assumes a good human nature where pursuing “what’s in their hearts” will lead to the right decisions – for them.
3. Repent – Only the humble see the enormous gap between our sinful nature and the holiness of almighty God, and bow in submission. Possessing the humility to Listen to the Gospel message and to Respond by investigating (and concluding that it is true) does not necessarily mean that a person will Repent and turn to God. Changing one’s thinking and changing one’s behavior are two different things – and repentance requires both. Giving up old ways starts with humbly confessing that nothing besides Jesus can bridge the otherwise insurmountable divide.
“Then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Veer off the Path: Since pride is the essence and origination of sin, then it is pride that causes people to choose sin over repentance. They reject forgiveness, retain control, give no credit to the Lord, deny their need for a Savior, shut Him out and go on with their lives. Yet it was God who gave them life itself and all of their abilities and possessions. They implicitly tell the Lord that He overestimated the cost required to reconcile mankind to Him when He sent His Son to die for us.
4. Accept – Humility is the first prerequisite for accepting God’s grace and starting down the path to becoming a disciple. Humble is the first word the Lord uses to describe those granted salvation – His followers. The Sermon on the Mount begins with a long list of those who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven – opening with those who are “humble”.
“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them”. (Matthew 5:3)
Veer off the Path: Christianity is not an “attractive” religion to a proud, self-absorbed people. Other religions teach, “We have the answers within us” or “We control our eternal destiny by our actions.” That’s a far more enticing message than “We’re sinners in dire need of a Savior who must die to ‘self’ and surrender our lives and plans to Jesus”.
5. Obey – Without humility, we won’t confess our sins, repent and exchange our old lives for new ones in Christ. Once we have accepted Christ as Lord and are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is clear in Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:31-46 and in all of his interactions with the Pharisees that He expects His followers to live in line with their beliefs. We are transformed in an instant in God’s eyes when we are saved and cannot lose our salvation – but was a profession of Christ as Savior authentic if that person goes on sinning without any conscience or regard for the Lord’s commands? And the greatest of His commands was to love the Lord and love our neighbors.
“Those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galations 5:24)
Veer off the Path: Many believers subscribe to “cheap grace”, arrogantly believing their salvation is secured and resorting to the “Christian” version of Selfism – looking out for own interests. They do not follow Jesus’ primary mandate – to love above all else. They revile non-believers, rarely share their faith, and do very little compassion ministry – yet are eager to show off their knowledge of all things religious, often believing that all those who “know” less are destined for hell. It was people like them that Jesus shut down at every opportunity for their arrogance. And it is those same religious elitists who are principally responsible for the public perception today that Christians are more about judgment not justice, condemnation not compassion, self-righteousness not selflessness, and hypocrisy not humility.
6. Serve – Christians should model the grace and mercy that accompanies belief in a God who provided the ultimate depiction of humility. We can’t love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls and minds or love our neighbors as ourselves unless we humble ourselves before God and our fellow man. Only when Christians and churches exchange angry words for humble kindness will our impact and influence cease to dissipate.
“But Jesus called them together and said, “Among the heathen, kings are tyrants and each minor official lords it over those beneath him. But among you it is quite different. Anyone wanting to be a leader among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)
Veer off the Path: Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900+ years. But today the average church spends less than 1% of its budget on local missions and only runs occasional outreach events. Rather than building disciples who reach out compassionately to those in need, dollars have shifted to building institutions. Church leaders have become hesitant to challenge members to personal discipleship, missions and evangelism – fearing those demands on their time would drive them away. It is interesting that church plants are more humble and courageous, investing much more in discipleship and compassion, most likely because they have much less to “lose” at inception.
7. Share – Every Christian is called to humbly witness and make disciples, not arrogantly criticize and disparage those who do not believe. According to recent studies, the words of Christians are driving people away from the Lord, not bringing them closer. Jesus healed and fed first, then told people who He is, understanding the proper sequencing of Prayer, Care and Share – acting, then speaking. He knew even His perfect words wouldn’t sink in unless He demonstrated His love first.
“Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true.” (2 Timothy 2:25)
Veer off the Path: In America today, the prevailing church growth model is “Invite, Involve and Invest” or what I call the “rallying cry of the internally-focused church”. The formula entails elevating pastors to the exclusive role of evangelist and simply asking congregants to invite their friends to church next weekend – largely abdicating their intended roles as the personification of “church” between Sundays. Worse yet, there is the highly religious “frozen chosen” who see no point in evangelism since God has already decided who is going to be saved.
It’s Your Turn
Do you see any other forks in the road where pride inhibits conversion or stifles growth in Christian maturity? Are there forks that you or others are facing right now where you see an opportunity to swallow any pride and steer straight?