Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. - John 12:24
I’m not humble. I want to be, but I’m not. I have a white board at home that I write on from time to time. Usually I write something I’m studying at the moment that I want to share with my wife, other times I write a question that I can’t answer. So, it sits there awaiting a response. For about a month now, I’ve had the question, “What does it mean to humble yourself?” Until this past Tuesday I had no idea how to answer it.
I’m blessed to be part of a church that finds herself deeply seated in God’s blessing. Each Tuesday night around 40-50 men gather to talk theology, confess sins, and honor one another. Those nights have been for me like oxygen to a dying man. This past Tuesday I was able to finally put my finger on what I must do to humble myself – I think.
Currently we are looking together at Milton Vincent’s fantastic book A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love. Most recently, we read these words from the section titled “All Things Crucified, Part I”:
God is committed to my dying every day, and He calls me to that same commitment. He insists that every hour be my dying hour, and He wants my death on the cross to be as central to my own life story as is Christ’s death to the gospel story. “Let this same attitude be in you,” He says, “which was also in Christ Jesus…who became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
And later on:
I should expect every day to encounter circumstantial evidence of God’s commitment to my dying; and I must seize upon every God-given opportunity to be conformed more fully to Christ’s death, no matter the pain involved.
When my flesh yearns for some prohibited thing, I must die. When called to do something I don’t want to do, I must die. When I wish to be selfish and serve no one, I must die. When shattered by hardships that I despise, I must die. When wanting to cling to wrongs done against me, I must die. When enticed by allurements of the world, I must die. When wishing to keep besetting sins secret, I must die. When wants that are borderline needs are left unmet, I must die. When dreams that are good seem shoved aside, I must die.
“Not My will, but Yours be done,” Christ trustingly prayed on the eve of His crucifixion; and preaching His story to myself each day puts me in a frame of mind to trust God and embrace the cross of my own dying also.
Sitting in a room full of men reading and meditating on this section of the book, I had a moment with God as Philippians 2:5-8 rung in my head: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
I had a glimpse of what it looks like to humble myself. And I felt a freedom wash over me as I pondered what it meant. I felt as if the risen Lord himself was caressing my soul, saying to my proud heart, “David, listen to me. Look at what I’m asking you to do. Look at what I did for you. Trust me. Follow me. Love me because I love you. If you don’t believe me now, let me prove it. Let me love you. Give yourself up.”
I’ve spent most of my life trying not to die, and the Lord’s call to me is to come and die. Not because he’s mean, but because he’s incredibly loving. My Father is asking me to die to those things that are killing me. I saw in that moment that all the struggles I’ve had in the past and all the struggles I have awaiting in the future are there for the very reason of giving me the chance to die and therefore to bring me into life. God is so committed to my glorification that he won’t let me live the way I currently am. He will bring hardship. And I will be forced to die. And He will do it because he loves me with the love that he has for his son Jesus Christ. This, to me, is incredibly amazing. The words of the Savior ring true, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Death is the way to life.
I found myself suddenly able to answer the question I had written on my white board a month earlier: What does it mean to humble yourself? The answer, I found, is quite amazing. I had been trying to answer the question in a way that put me in the middle of the humility. I was trying to find the missing action that I needed to take. What I was doing was exactly opposite of what humility actually is. Humility is not anything of my doing, but all of His doing in me. A dying man cannot do very much. In fact, in the moment of his death that is when he is doing the least he’s ever done. He’s passing on to a different state. Everything is different and there is no amount of effort that can change what is happening. He’s dying. He’s going away. Not because he tried to die but because death came and got him.
The way I can humble myself is to die. In the act of dying I’m giving up all that I’m seeking out of my pride. I’m giving up myself for the sake of another. I’m giving up myself to gain Christ. I see now that perhaps the doorway I’ve been looking to enter into humility isn’t near the self-help aisle where my effort abounds. No, the doorway into humility is closer to the morgue. And it’s only in the morgue of this world that we can find ourselves entering into God’s world.
In God’s kingdom, death is the way to life. It’s exactly opposite of this worldly life. It has to be because God is opposite of this worldly life.
But, death is not the end of the story. It can’t be. No, death isn’t the end. We know this because after the cross came the resurrection, and in the resurrection came glorification – true life. If death were the end of the story no one would want to die. But because we have a God who loves us, those who trust in him for salvation find that death isn’t so bad after all. One day, maybe 60 years from now, maybe 5, who knows, I will shed this sin I carry around. I won’t have to worry about being humble anymore. I will be humble, but not because I did something to attain it. Rather God did something to give it to me. He died so that in my death I can have everything my heart was made for.
The ultimate end of my life is joy. I will travel many roads and have to die many small deaths before the great big one comes. And in those deaths I will find that I’m not more sorrowful for what I’ve lost but that I’m more joyful for what I’ve gained. Perhaps this life is like walking up a steep mountain in winter. Everything is dead and it only gets colder as we near the peak. But once we arrive on the peak there is an endless array of the most beautiful spring we’ve ever seen. Newness of life awaits and though the terrain is tough and I might even lose a little of myself on the way, get there I will and spring I will enjoy.
I’m not humble. I want to be, but I’m not. But God is going to slay me as I walk with him through life. And the slaying of the Lord is painful. I will yell and scream in anguish. But as the wounds deepen and as they heal I will find myself soaked in the love of God. And there is no place I’d rather be. Humility will be mine. Not because I can attain it but because He has attained it for me. And he’s going to give it to me. I just have to die.
So, come, die with me. It’s the only way to life.