Ananias… laying his hands on him… said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17 There are three accounts in the New Testament...
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. 1 Peter 5:5-6
We’re looking together at the Beatitudes, great pronouncements of blessing from the Son of God. We began last week with: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Christ calls us to recognize our poverty before God. You may have much to offer your family, your business, your friends or your sports team, but when you stand before God, you are in an entirely different position. What do you have that you did not receive?
We saw from the story of Isaiah, how one of the most multi-talented and godly men in all of the Bible said, “Woe to me for I am lost,” when he saw the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:5).
You find the same in the story of Peter. When Jesus first called him, Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). I don’t suppose he had said that or thought that before, but in the presence of Jesus he felt his unworthiness. That’s what happens when Christ comes near to you.
We also saw how this poverty of spirit brings a surprising blessing: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus is speaking about a taste of heaven now. We saw that this taste of heaven is that God lives with the person who has a humble spirit (Isaiah 57:15). Heaven is in the humble before the humble are in heaven.
Today we take the next step in our journey by asking: How can we cultivate this humility?
Thank you to all of you who have been posting on Facebook and Twitter, or emailing the campus pastors this week. Special thanks also to Andrea Robertson who recently graduated as an art education major from Taylor University, and worships with her husband Tom at the Itasca Campus.
Andrea has created some mixed media art to help us today.
In the introduction to the series, we noted that there is a progression in the Beatitudes. I used the analogy of the Beatitudes being like a series of rings. Here they are—humility, mourning, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peace.
The rings at the end are often the ones we want to get to. I really want to have purity of heart, but how do I get rid of the stuff that messes me up?
I really want to get to forgiveness, but how do I get beyond the wounds in my heart? I really want to have peace, and to bring peace to others, but how do I deal with the turmoil inside?
The questions we are asking: How do I get to being merciful? How do I get to purity? How do I get to peace? These things often seem to be a long way away from us, and beyond our reach.
The analogy we are using is very simple. The Beatitudes are like a series of rings, and you move to the next ring with the momentum you gained from the last.
Momentum is the key in the monkey swing. The momentum of swinging on the first ring will take you to the second, and the momentum on your swing on the second ring will take you to the third, and so forth. That is why it’s so important for us to grasp this first ring.
To be poor in spirit is the gateway blessing. This is where you get started. There is no other place to begin. The way to purity, and peace and forgiving others begins with becoming poor in spirit, and using the momentum you gain from this to move forward to the next ring.
Today we are asking: How do I get on that first ring? How do I get started? We’re going to look at 1. The curse of pride; 2. The blessing of humility; and 3. How to become a person who is poor in spirit.
The Curse of Pride
God opposes the proud. 1 Peter 5:5
If you’ve always thought that God is for everybody, you have to get rid of that idea, if you want to believe the Bible. Remember that Peter is writing to Christians. He is telling us that pride blocks the blessing of God.
If I give way to pride, God will stand against me. I will come under His discipline. God stands in the way of the proud. He opposes them, “but he gives grace to the humble.” There will be a very different experience in life depending on whether you are pursuing pride or humility.
For all who believe this, the conclusion is obvious. If you want God to be for you, not against you, “humble yourselves… under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
The fight against pride is a lifelong battle. Humility is the first grace given to a Christian. This is where the Christian journey begins. But pride is the last enemy to be subdued. Pride was the first sin to enter the world and it will be the last to be expelled from it.
The battle against pride is a hard one because…
Humility goes against the grain of a self-affirming culture
Martyn Lloyd Jones describes the mood of our time…
Express yourself, believe in yourself, realize the powers that are innate in yourself and let the whole world see and know them. 
In our culture of affirmation, it sometimes seems that parents, teachers, counselors, politicians and advertisers all conspire to tell you and me how great we are, and apart from a miracle of God’s grace, we’ll believe them.
The teaching of Jesus is directly opposed to the creed that says Believe in yourself. Jesus does not say, “Believe in yourself.” He says, “Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14). The man who says Believe in yourself has put himself in the place of God.
The person who is far from God will often feel that he or she has the ability to face whatever comes: “I can handle this… I’m up for it.” The person who walks with God says something different. She looks at the challenge and says, “Because the Lord is at my right hand I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
Where is your confidence? Wisdom calls you to trust God and doubt yourself, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
The world turns that on its head: “Go with your heart and doubt God.” Satan has been working this inversion ever since the Garden of Eden. Trusting yourself and doubting God is rampant in our culture, so much so that we cannot recognize it for the lie that it is.
Humility goes against the trajectory of religion
Religion works on the idea that you must live a life that is pleasing to God so that you may win His favor. This idea is fundamental to all religions across the world.
But Jesus says precisely the opposite: The blessing of God belongs to those who know they cannot win his favor: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Gospel turns religion on its head. Every religion in the world says, “Live a life that pleases God so that you may win His favor.” The Gospel says, “Receive God’s favor, through Christ crucified, so you may begin and pursue a life in the Spirit that’s pleasing to God.”
The blessing of God itself makes humility harder
Here is the irony: The poor in spirit experience the blessing of God. But the more you and I experience God’s blessing, the more difficult it makes it to stay in the place where you are poor in spirit.
It is very hard for a straight-A student to feel that he or she has nothing to offer God. The more successful you are, the easier it is to believe that you really are something, and the harder it is to humble yourself before God.
If your children believe while others are in rebellion; if your marriage prospers while your friend’s is falling apart; if your business succeeds while others fail; if your ministry grows when others are in decline—it’s hard to avoid the sneaking feeling you must have done something right!
Success of any sort, in any sphere, tends to make us think that we’re something. Thank God for the work of the Holy Spirit, who has come to convince of sin and righteousness and judgment. Without Him we would never know the blessing that belongs to the poor in spirit. The struggle against pride will be a lifelong battle.
The Blessing of Humility
God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5
Last time we saw that the poor in spirit are blessed because God lives with them. He dwells with those who have a lowly and contrite heart. That is the first and greatest blessing, but the presence of God brings a whole cluster of other blessings.
Growing in humility will help you bear affliction
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you. 1 Peter 4:12
Earlier in the letter, Peter speaks about how the genuineness of their faith will be tested like gold when it’s refined in the fire (1 Peter 1:7). Trouble is on the horizon and Pastor Peter writes to prepare them for it, so that they will stand up under it.
How are they to do that? “Humble yourselves under God’s almighty hand. That’s how you’re to get through this,” Peter says. “God gives grace to the humble.”
Job’s wife was a proud woman. When trouble came to her she said, “Why don’t you curse God and die?” Job was a humble man. When trouble came to him, he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Growing in humility will nourish your love for others
Love does not boast. It is not arrogant. Love does not insist on its own way. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Pride is always self-seeking. It is easily provoked. Here’s what that means:
Pride will pour cold water on the fires of love in your marriage. If you begin to think more highly of yourself, your marriage will be in trouble.
But humility will fan the embers of love into a flame.
Perhaps you have come to the place of wondering: Do I really love him? Do I really love her? The world says to you, “You have to think about yourself.” And you may have friends who will say the same thing to you.
Christ says precisely the opposite: “You should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… He humbled himself” (Philippians 2:4-5, 8). The path to restoring a marriage that is burning low begins here.
Growing in humility will strengthen you to overcome temptation
Pride comes before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
The Bible also tells us that the person who “thinks he stands should be careful lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). If pride comes before the fall, then humility is the grace that will help you to stand. It is the person who knows the weakness of his or her own flesh, who will watch and who will pray, and who will, therefore, not fall into temptation.
Pride is the gateway sin that opens the door to other sins. Humility is the gateway blessing that opens the door to other blessings. Strike a blow at the master sin and you will subdue many others.
Growing in humility will release you from the tyranny of self
Some of you may be feeling that you are a long way from pride. You may be thinking that for this reason: “My problem isn’t that I love myself. My problem is that I hate myself!”
This is a great battle for some people, and it is a particular battle for some of you who are younger. You experience it in an intense way. You get up in the morning and a voice in your head says, “I hate myself.” Perhaps sometimes you even think about harming yourself.
A.W. Tozer said something that I have found very helpful:
Self, whether swaggering or groveling, can never be anything but hateful to God. Boasting is an evidence that we are pleased with self; belittling, that we are disappointed [with self]. 
His point is simple: Either way, we are focused on self. Self is dominating. Self is at the center. When you hate yourself, you are simply battling with an inverted form of pride. Self is dominating your mind.
Satan doesn’t really care whether self is swaggering or groveling. Whether self is exalting you or condemning you, the problem is the same. Self is on the throne, and self is always a tyrant! The great blessing of humility is that it brings release from the tyranny of self.
How to Cultivate Humility
The word “cultivate,” reminds us that this is a lifelong pursuit. Cultivation is never a one-time deal. You are always working at it.
Measure yourself by the law of God
When I was growing up in Scotland, we used to sing a song about the Bible that went like this:
Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me Thyself within your Word.
Show me myself and show me my Savior and make the book live to me.
That’s how to read the Bible every day. Use the Bible as a searchlight in your soul. Measure yourself by 1 Corinthians 13: “Love does not insist on its own way.” Where am I insisting on my own way, Lord? “Love is not irritable or resentful.” Help me see where I’ve been irritable. Where am I resentful? Open the Bible and ask God to show you yourself.
Measure yourself by the 10 Commandments. Measure yourself by the Great Commission. Measure yourself by the Beatitudes. Measure yourself by the Sermon on the Mount. Measure yourself by anything and everything that God calls you to in the Bible.
When you do this, you will become poor in spirit. You will find yourself saying, as every true Christian does: “Lord, I fall so far short of what you are calling me to. I need to find in you what I do not have in myself.” This is what the Christian life looks like every day.
Paul says something fascinating about how to use the law: The law was “our guardian until Christ came” (Galatians 3:24). The word he uses is “pedagogue.” We might use the word “mentor.” The law was given as a mentor to bring us to Christ.
Use the law of God as a mentor to bring you to Christ. The commands of God, rightly understood, always cultivate humility in a Christian believer. They’ll bring you to the place of saying “I don’t have what it takes.” The good news is that Jesus, seeing you in need, says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s where the law brings you. The end of the law is the beginning of the Gospel! The law will bring you to a place called “poor in spirit,” and Christ will meet you there.
Model yourself on the Son of God
My first thought about humility is that I have every reason to be humble because my sins are many. At my best, I fall far short of what God calls me to be and to do. But there is more to humility than being put in our place on account of our sins.
Jesus was humble and He was without sin. The humility of Jesus did not arise from sin. It sprang from another source. Andrew Murray is the writer who opened this up for me:
If humility is to be our joy, we must see that it is not only the mark of shame because of sin, but apart from all sin, humility is being clothed upon with the very beauty and blessedness of heaven and of Jesus. 
Murray goes on to explain that humility is something deeper than contrition. It is a participation in the life of Jesus. Humanity, in its highest perfection, is humble. In Christ, we find our highest destiny in the pursuit of humility.
I have called this series Beauty for Ashes because the Beatitudes describe a life that is radiant with the beauty of Christ. Christ burns pride to ashes, and in its place, forms the beauty of a truly humble heart.
Listen to Him. Learn from Him. Model yourself on the Son of God. He says to you: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Listen to what He says:
I can do nothing on my own… John 5:30
I have not come to do my own will… John 6:38
I do not seek my own glory… John 8:50
If these are the words of Christ, how much more should they be mine?
Motivate yourself through the grace of God
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble…
Humble yourselves therefore… 1 Peter 5:5-6
Humility is a grace that brings more grace. People who are poor in spirit, who know their need and their poverty before God, have a blessing that will lead to even greater blessing.
I encourage you to get on this first ring today. God has gifts of grace for the humble. Blessings of purity and peace lie ahead of you. Healing that will make you want to show mercy will soon be within your reach.
These things can be yours. But you have to begin here: Get on the first ring. Humble yourself. Come to Jesus Christ today and tell Him you don’t have what it takes to live this life. Tell Him that you can’t change. Ask Him to give you what you do not have. Trust Him. Look to Him. Believe in Him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to your cross I cling. Christians are people who know their own poverty. Is that you? They look to Jesus for what they do not have, and know that in Him they have all that they need.
 Martin Lloyd Jones, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 37, Eerdmans, 1984
 A. W. Tozer, “Man, the Dwelling Place of God,” p. 71, Wilder, 2009
 Andrew Murray, Humility, p. 9, optimized for Kindle, 2003
© Colin S. Smith
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