Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Poverty of spirit (page 1 of 2)

Humility

I have written often on this site on the topic of humility (all posts on humility) and that’s for good reason. It’s not because I’m an expert on it, or because I am humble, but because I know it’s what I need to become.

There is no virtue I need to grow in more than humility. There is nothing God hates more than pride. There is nothing that welcomes his favour more than humility. And yet, even after all these years as a Christian and a pastor, there is no sin more pervasive or more powerful in my life than pride.

The more I’ve thought about humility and seen God’s affections for pride and humility throughout Scripture, the more I’ve realized that this is a big deal. In fact, one could very well say the whole story-line of the Bible hangs on the battle of pride vs humility.

In the Beginning, Adam…

The temptation of Adam and Eve is the starting place for this battle. They were put in the Garden happy, naked, successful, knowing and being known. But along comes the crafty old serpent who tempts Eve (in Adam’s presence).

The temptation is multi-pronged, but at least on one level Satan appeals to pride:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.4-5)

Satan essentially tells Adam and Eve that equality with God is something to be grasped at and achieved. God is trying to keep them back from what they could be. If they listen to him, they will be like God.

Of course, they gave in to the temptation and all of humanity was cursed both with their guilt and with their nature. Ever since then, every human ever born has believed in their inherent goodness and their right to not be dominated by a ‘god’. Humans have, throughout history, contended with God for his supremacy. Just like Adam and Eve, we were and are proud.

And Being Found in Human Form…

The story of Christ is the story of God taking on human form, becoming a man. He was the only innocent man since Adam. He was the only man who ever lived who could legitimately claim equality with God. And yet, rather than contending for supremacy the way the first Adam did, he humbled himself:

… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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. (Phil 2.6-8)

Christ, who legitimately held glory, who alone has equality with God, didn’t cling to it. He didn’t fight to be equal with God. He humbled himself and obeyed.

The Divine Dare

The Divine Dare throughout Scripture is to take God at his word: to risk everything on him, believing that he will fulfill his promises. This is what we read again and again throughout the OT Scriptures, as God longs to show favour to his people:

… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron 7.14)

And Jesus himself knows the dare:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23.12)

But Jesus alone is the only one to actually faithfully and completely trust God, willingly humbling himself to the point of losing everything: glory, honour, praise of people, riches, adoration, comfort, wealth, even life itself.

The Payoff

Of course God kept his word. His Son, who humbled himself, taking the divine dare, casting all his hope on God, was rewarded:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Phil 2.9-11)

The honour he was willing to sacrifice in not clinging to equality with God is returned to him. He is blessed with the highest honour of all honours: he is given the name of God, welcomed to the throne of God, and honoured as God.

The Call to Follow

The call to humility is the call to follow Jesus in going low. Peter puts it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5.6-7)

As we go low, like Jesus went low, God will exalt us at the proper time, just as he has now exalted Jesus. The call to humility is the same dare now as ever: Do you believe that God will faithfully reward those who take him at his word? Will I ever learn to stop contending for supremacy and simply accept the role of a servant, believing that at the right time God will exalt me in his way at his time?

So far in this life I have not done well. I pray that with the years I have left, God will give me grace to faithfully follow the second Adam, not the first. I pray that he’ll make me a man who is willing to forsake the pursuit of honour in the sight of other humans for the pursuit of honour in the presence of God — as he sees fit.

————

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Good for My Humility… ?

This morning I lost at squash. That’s normal. How badly I lost at squash was a whole other story. In previous weeks I had thought that I’d been making progress, getting better. This morning, however, I don’t think I could have made a shot if we had’ve been using a beach ball.

That’s embarrassing. It’s super-frustrating for lots of reasons. For one thing, I hate knowing that I’m ruining the game for the people I’m playing against, who are actually good and would have a lot more fun playing against other people that are good. For another thing, I’m not a bad athlete. I mean, I’m no Neon Deion or anything, but I can generally at least play most sports when I set my mind to it.  Apparently not so much with squash.

As I was showering I thought to myself, ‘Well, at least it’s good for my humility.’ And that made me feel a little bit better. But then I thought again and realized I was wrong. The event itself is not good for my humility any more than winning every game 9-0 would be good for my humility.

The only thing that makes one event or another ‘good for my humility’  is what I choose to do with it. How will I respond? If I respond with self-pity, I’m developing pride. If I get angry, I’m fleshing out my pride. If I get sullen and withdrawn, I’m acting out on pride that says I should have better than what I actually do have. But if I take a step back and apply truth, I can take either failure or success and make it an opportunity to grow in humility.

What kind of truth do I need to apply? I need to ask questions of hope, joy, life, and meaning.

Why does losing at squash make me feel hopeless or worthless? What was I looking for in that game that is being denied? Why would I believe that joy could be found in being esteemed as a good athlete? Why in the world would I think that my identity should be tied up in how I can play a game?

Squash is a bit of a silly example, but it serves to display a point that I think is worth thinking about.

One of the tremendous honours that comes with pastoral ministry is being privy to the different struggles and hardships of people’s lives. Whether it’s just living in a fallen world where we have trials of various kinds or battling against horrible sin, people all around are struggling with hardships. What I’m eager to point out here is that it is a lie of Satan to think that merely going through hardships will be good for developing humility. Circumstances can be used as tools to develop humility as you choose how to respond to life, but circumstances themselves will never do the hard work of preaching to your heart.

Circumstances may point out the vanity and superficiality of joy in this world and in this life, but the only thing that will produce humility is taking the truths of God’s word and applying them to your heart.

For the Christian, our identity is in Christ. Our hope is in his finished work. Our joy is in fellowship with God. Life is found in communion with his Spirit. Our purpose is entirely wrapped up with Christ and his purposes for us.

So what situations are ‘good for your humility’? All those which you choose to take as opportunities to remind yourself of your meaningless, purposelessness, hopelessness apart from Christ. Each and every situation which provides you opportunity to remind yourself that your joy, hope, comfort, peace, and identity are tied up in the gospel of Christ. Every one of those circumstances becomes good for for your humility because it’s a circumstance that you use to preach your need of Christ’s finished work on your behalf to yourself. And there’s nothing more humbling than that.

How Can I Become Wise?

One of the greatest questions I think any young Christian (whether young as a person or young as a Christian–or both!) can ask is this: How can I become wise?

To say that the Scriptures speak highly of wisdom is an understatement indeed (see here for just one example). So how does one attain it?

Here is a very incomplete list. I compiled it a little while ago when reading through the book of Proverbs. I wanted to take note of everywhere the book gave instructions on how to become wise.

The funny thing about wisdom is that it’s not just attained by anyone. It begins with a humble heart and is wrought in us only as we diligently and continually look for it.

Wisdom, in the biblical sense, speaks more of the ability to skilfully live a godly life in a fallen world than it does to the mere amassing of knowledge. To be wise is to be blessed: a life that is approved by God is a happy life indeed (in the truest sense of happiness).

So how does one become wise? Here’s my (ever-growing) list. Feel free to make any additions from verses I’ve missed!

How Can I Become Wise?

Prov 10 8 The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Prov 10 17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.

Prov 11 2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

Prov 12 1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Prov 12 15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Prov 13 1 A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Prov 13 10 By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.

Prov 13 13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.

Prov 13 14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.

Prov 13 18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honoured.

Prov 13 20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Prov 13 24 Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

Prov 14 15 The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Prov 15 5 A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.

Prov 15 10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

Prov 15 12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.

Prov 15 31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

Prov 15 32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.

Prov 17 10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

Prov 18 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Prov 18 15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Prov 19 20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Prov 19 25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.

Prov 20 18 Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.

Prov 23 12 Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.

Prov 24 6 for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counsellors there is victory.

Prov 25 12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Prov 27 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Prov 27 9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

Prov 28 9 If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

Prov 28 23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favour than he who flatters with his tongue.

Prov 28 26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

Prov 29 1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Prov 29 5 A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet.

Prov 29 15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Prov 29 17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.

If you want, you can download a pdf version of this list to print or for further mediation here.

For more thoughts on the connections between humility and wisdom, you can download a sermon I preached a while ago, called ‘From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom.

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 5

I guess, technically, my last post on ‘poverty of spirit’ was here, but I’ve since posted on humility here and here as well.

As we’ve seen in the other posts, there are many things which can cause us to lose our poverty of spirit and to become proud. Sometimes we lose sight of who God really is, which means that we lose our absolute standard by which we are judged, and therefore, humbled. We begin to compare ourselves against other men (Rom 2.1-5), rather than against the holy law (Rom 3.19-20) of God and the glory of God (Rom 3.21-23)–God’s standards of judgment.

So what else causes Christians to lose this one characteristic which is the entrance-way to the kingdom of Christ (Mt 5.3)?

I would suggest that as North American evangelicals we don’t spend enough time considering our sin. When we don’t consider it, we don’t recognize its seriousness. When we don’t recognize how serious it is, or how evil our hearts which produce such sin are, we don’t confess our sin. When we don’t confess our sin and beg for mercy we quickly become proud.

We would do well to take our cues from David. Few followers of God have been as passionate and had their lives and hearts exposed quite as much as David. Many of us have fallen into sin, but few of us have had it exposed in public and written down for all generations to remember like David.

You’ll remember that in 2 Sam 11 David sins, and then in the next chapter, is exposed and rebuked by Nathan. When Nathan comes to speak to David about his sin, he tells David there will be consequences for his sin. Here’s the part we sometimes forget, though: Nathan says, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’ In other words, God has already shown mercy to David; his sin is forgiven and he will not be judged because of it.

This is important because it happens before the confession of sin that we read in Psalm 51. David, having heard from the prophet that his sins have been ‘put away’, now prays a prayer of confession and repentence, begging and pleading with God for mercy. He begins his prayer this way:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love,
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 

Sometimes we read this and on account of our familiarity we don’t stop to think about it. David, as king, would be familiar with the process of begging one in authority for mercy–people would come to him often for that very reason. When one came to a king to beg for mercy, what would their posture be? How would they present themselves to the king? What would be their general demeanour? To be sure, it would be one of brokenness and utter dependence. They would fall prostrate before the one who held their lives in his hands. They recognized that whether they lived or died, were forgiven or condemned was entirely up to him–their life was not under their control any longer.

How often do we come to God in confession and brokenness like this? Why don’t we? One reason why we don’t is that too often we presume on God’s grace. We think that because we are told in Scripture that our sins are forgiven in Christ, there is no longer any need for us to come to God in this sort of contrition–we forget that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire! We forget that David, who had specifically been told he sins had been put away, still took the time to come to God in brokenness and contrition and recognize his shortcomings.

Another reason we don’t come to God in confession like this is that we forget our sins are against God. We, like David, commit sins against other people, and so we think we should confess and apologize to them, giving little thought to the fact that our sin has been offence to the very person and dignity of God.

Ps 51.4 says, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.’ Has that verse ever puzzled you? David had been unsatisfied with all his other wives, committed adultery against Bathsheba and made her to commit adultery, stolen the wife of Uriah, and then murdered Uriah, forcing Joab to become an accomplice; this is all to say nothing of the whole nation of Israel that David was letting down as he was the supposed leader of God’s people. The list of people that David had sinned against are endless here. Where would David get this crazy idea that he had sinned against God and God alone?

He got the idea from God himself.

Back in 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan originally confronts David about his sin, he speaks the word of God to David, saying, ‘Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ And just in case David didn’t catch it the first time, Nathan repeats it a few verses later: ‘Because, by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’ The point that God is stressing through his prophet is that ultimately when we sin we choose to reject God.

God has promised us pure pleasure and ultimate joy in him, but we reject him and his offer when we choose the fleeting pleasures of sin. We distrust him. We belittle his promises of great grace and everlasting, soul-satisfying joy in fellowship with him. David had heard the promises of God, but instead chose a few days of pleasure with a woman who was forbidden to him. The whole lie of sin is that the joy we find in it is better than the joy that can be found in God.

But that is a lie. It is a lie from Satan who is the father of all lies. When we sin we outright reject God and by our actions say to him that we prefer whatever pleasure we can find in sin to anything good we see in him.

David understood this, but I think we have in large part forgotten it today. We forget that sin is an offence against God. It is an insult to him. We mock him. No wonder David was so quick to confess. No wonder he fell on his face before his God and begged with him for mercy and grace.

We ought to do the same. Ultimately, recognizing who our sin is against–and refusing to presume on his grace–will lead to great recognition of the seriousness of our sin, which will lead to more confession of sin. Confession of sin leads to brokenness of heart. Brokenness of heart and recognition of guilt are essential to maintaining a poverty of spirit that God blesses.

A Little More on Humility…

This past year in my Early Christian Spirituality course at TBS we had a lecture on Basil of Caesarea’s theology of humility. His twentieth homily was full of great theological insight and practical suggestions for how to live with greater humility.

One of his suggestions for how to stir up humility is simply to recall one’s past sins. It is only possible for me to become proud and think more highly of myself than I ought when I forget what I ought to think of myself–namely, when I forget what I’ve done and what I deserve from a holy God.

Sometimes, however, instead of genuine humility, I find that meditating on past sins (or even present sinfulness) just produces feelings of guilt and regret. I think about wrong things that I’ve done and how horrible they were. Then I think about the ongoing consequences of things I’ve done (how I’ve made people feel or things that happen to others as a result of my sins) and it just gets worse.

The trouble of course is that my focus is on the wrong place. The thing which should create in me the deepest and truest humility is looking at the cross. Despite what I so often see, the worst consequence of my sin isn’t the hurt feelings of other people–it is the death of the Son of God. As the hymnwriter put it:

“Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue…” 

The truth is that while the cross reveals grace and mercy, wrath and justice, it also reveals truth about me. Nowhere do I see the true end of all my sins and my sinful heart better than in the cross.

What is the cross? It is the place where the only one who was ever innocent, the only one who was ever truly pure, was beaten and mocked, whipped and murdered for me. Why? Because that’s what my sins deserve.

But the hymnwriter didn’t stop there…

“Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too” 

This is the mystery of grace in the wonder of the cross. The only truly beautiful, truly innocent, truly perfect man to walk this earth in nothing but love became the victim of violent hatred–and I was the offender. But yet, in this–the greatest of all travesties, that God would be rejected by man–my pardon is sealed. It is complete. He accomplished it all.

In the cross I see the absolute depravity of my sin… the absolute godlessness of my soul left to its own power. If given my way, I would kill God. But here’s the irony: in God’s grace, my God was killed for me. What wonderful grace!

How can the recipient of such grace know anything but humility? How can pride find a place in any heart which has rightly evaluated the cross?

“Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy, my spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy… yet live by him I killed.” 

Go figure: the answer to something in the Christian’s life is to look more to the cross… who would’ve thought? No fancy programs, no insider-tricks… just look to the cross.

What does it mean that Christ died for me? It means my sin deserved death. If my sin doesn’t deserve death, and Christ died, then we mock the cross and make God out to be a liar. The cross, then, was superfluous.

But if my sin was so deep that I would desire the death of God, and that I deserved the eternity of punishment Christ bore on my behalf, then I need to do some serious thinking about who and what I really am. This type of thinking can lead only to deepest despair for those outside of Christ. But it will lead to endless joy and deepest hope for those who have seen their burdens tumble to the sepulchre.

From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom

I have had the privelege of filling the pulpit at Grace Fellowship Church for the past few weeks while ‘the preacher‘ (aka kerux) was away on vacation. The past two Sunday nights I tried to draw some more practical thoughts together with regards to poverty of spirit (see here, here, here, and here for the series I started, and to which I hope to return shortly).

This message’s title was ‘From Poverty of Spirit to Riches of Wisdom.’ The basic premise is that if we are broken before God, we will be humble before others (poverty of spirit) and that this will result in true life change (ie. wisdom: the ability to live skillfully, in a way that pleases God in the midst of a fallen world). In order to live wisely, we must be humble.

Here’s the outline:

  1. Humility allows us to gain wisdom (verses)
  2. Humility make us able to take reproof / correction (verses)
  3. Humility leads us to avoid temptation (verses)
  4. Humility leads to less talking and therefore less sin (verses)
  5. Humility makes it easier to admit guilt & need for reconciliation (verses)
  6. Humility gives ability to be content with less (verses)
  7. The humble one aligns himself with the Lord (verses)
  8. Humility allows us to treat all others fairly (verses)
  9. Humility gives us ability to accept what comes in life (verses)
  10. Humility allows us to have genuine, godly friendships (verses)

Thoughts on Poverty of Spirit – 4

See parts 1, 2, and 3.

We lose poverty of spirit because we lose sight of God. Once we lose sight of God it is easy to lose sight of how far short of his standard we really fall–we forget what we were when we were called. But someone might say, ‘but I was never an adulterer or a thief; I never killed and rarely lied. I know that I fell short, but not nearly so bad as most others.’

As far as I can tell, this one has missed the point in no less than three ways. The first is the simple truth that all are compared to God, since he is the ultimate standard. If you are truly comparing yourself against the real standard, what does it matter if you’re not bad as another man? You still fall short!

The second is that it assumes that you were already as bad as you were going to get. Sometimes we forget the pattern of sin is not a straight line. The crackhead doesn’t start out on crack. The sex-offender doesn’t start out by raping. Sin always progresses, it is never satisfied, it always wants more.

John Owen used the image of a muddy field. The first time you start walking on the field you won’t get very far… your boots get stuck. But the next time you walk out, that mud is already trampled down, so it’s easier to get at least as far–you get to the same spot quicker. But since it was easier for you to get there, you can keep going. Each time you walk out into the field you automatically start from the spot where you left off. The first time the crackhead smoked pot it was a big deal. Now he can’t get through a day without it.

Paul described false teachers in the church this way too. They never start out as bad as they end up and they’re never as bad as they will get. They continue on, going from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

So… in the midst of all this, what would ever make me think that I was as bad when God saved me as I would ever get? What is there to make me think that I wouldn’t keep getting worse? All the evidence seems to suggest that I would continue on in my sin, diving further and further into fleshly desires.

So let no one say, ‘I never did this or that,’ because you very well may have if God had not saved you when he had. Which leads to the third way in which these ones miss the point when we say that all have fallen short and none has reason to be proud over another.

The third way that this statement misses the point is that it assumes that it was your goodness which held you back from being as sinful as any other man. The only reason that one could possibly have to be proud and say that he is not as bad as the next is if he had some good in him which another did not which enabled him to resist sin.

But Scripture does not put things in these terms. The process of becoming more and more depraved is described in Romans 1. There we are told that man continually suppresses the truth of the righteousness of God in his unrighteousness. He longs for sin in increasing measure. God’s wrath on man on this world is revealed through his giving men over into more and more sin. See the picture? Who do the Scriptures place as sovereign over the sins of man? Not man, but God.

Again, there are similary frightening verses in Romans 9 (here in particular). Here we are told that God, in his sovereignty, is the determining factor in man’s acceptance or rejection of him. So God is sovereign over the sins of the unregenerate, and sovereign over the salvation of all. Where then is our reason for boasting?

Paul draws the same conclusions in Romans 12. Here he says that there must not be a single Christian in the church who thinks more highly of himself than he ought. Well, how highly ought he to think of himself? Only according to the faith he has received.

Did you catch that?

The faith he has received.

Our only reason for boasting is our faith in Christ, and that was a gift that was given to him by God, not something that he did for himself or earned for himself. Outisde of Christ we have nothing to boast of, and once in Christ we have only Christ to boast of. Let us then seek to be more and more humble, counting others as better than ourselves.

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