God Gives Grace to the Humble
August 7, 2011 Series: This Grace in Which We Stand
Topic: Humility Passage: 1 Peter 5:5–5:7
We’re continuing in our series on grace. We’ve looked at justification; what happens when we first receive grace, sanctification; the process of living in grace, legalism; the danger of trying to add to grace and today we’re going to look at humility; the vehicle of receiving grace. But 1st, I want to take a little closer look at grace. Grace is one of those words that can have a wide variety of meanings: dance w/grace, call the queen her grace, saying grace. When we speak of grace, the grace of God, we’re referring to God’s favorable disposition toward us and blessings to us through Jesus Christ. You may have heard grace defined as “unmerited favor” and it is but this simple definition is incomplete.
In order to fill out our definition of grace I’m going to use a story that Jerry Bridges uses that helped me. Mr. Bridges grew up during the depression in a poor family living next to the railroad. During the depression, men that couldn’t find work would often hop on the rail cars and travel from town to town looking for work. They called them hobos. Occasionally, one of the hobos would knock on the door and ask for food. Mr. Bridges recalled that his mother, Lillian, would always do the same thing: without requiring work or payment, she would go in the house, prepare a plate of food, bring it out to the man and he would eat it and leave.
Now, this man didn’t do anything to deserve the food, so is this grace? No-benevolence or kindness, but it falls short of grace. Let’s change the story a bit: 6 months earlier, the Bridges home was burglarized and they knew who did it. The hobo who came asking for food was the thief. But instead of calling the police she does the same thing: prepares food and gives it to him without requiring payment. Her act of kindness was the same but there is a distinct difference in the 2 men which changes the significance of what she did. The difference is that the second man was not only undeserving of the food, he was deserving of punishment. This is a much closer idea of what grace is. We are both undeserving (of favor) and deserving (of punishment).
But there are 3 reasons that Mr. Bridges gives that this illustration still falls short of an accurate definition of grace-Gods grace extended to us. 1st, if Lillian was to press charges the case wouldn’t be Lillian Bridges vs the hobo; it would be the state vs hobo. The law that was broken was not her law. 2nd, She doesn’t have the authority or power to exercise justice. And 3rd, we are not asking for food. We’re not pursuing God in the midst of our sinful rebellion and spiritual death. The difference is that we have rebelled against and broken the law of the God of the universe. And He has authority, as creator, over all things and will bring justice to all. And yet, in the face of our sin and enmity toward Him he has chosen to seek us out and extend grace.
“Unmerited favor” is not a wrong way to think about grace but it is missing the depth of meaning that I think is important for us to understand in order to rightly grasp grace in a way that it can have its intended effect in our lives. And I would add one more way that this ill. falls short. When God extends grace he doesn’t just go to the cabinet and grab some mercy and forgiveness. God is holy. His character requires him to justly punish sin. And the just punishment for sin is wrath and death. We have to remember that although grace is a free gift to us, grace was not free. Punishment toward sin had to be carried out; the price had to be paid. And it was, on the Son of God-who perfectly kept the law of God-on the cross. Grace was not free, it cost Jesus everything.
So let me give you this definition of grace: “God’s blessing through Christ to those who deserve His curse”
Now, let’s look at Humility. 1st, let me give you 2 definitions of what it means to be humble.
CJ Mahaney-“[Humility is the result of] honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”
Andrew Murray-“[Humility] is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all.”
Opposite of humility is pride: “the mindset of self (a master’s mindset rather than that of a servant): a focus on self and the service of self, a pursuit of self-recognition and self-exaltation, and a desire to control and use all things for self.” Stewart Scott, From Pride to Humility. Pride is all about self-self above God.
There’s a lot that can be said about humility. I think that if one characteristic had to be used as the litmus test for our spiritual condition and health it would be humility-that covers a lot of ground. Today we’re going to focus specifically on Humility as it’s related to receiving grace. Humility is important to God; it’s the pre-requisite to receiving grace. Turn to Isaiah 66:1-2. God isn’t concerned about the sacrifices and the temple but God is serious about the heart of his people and humility is the right and appropriate response and posture before God. Humility is the sacrifice of self. We’re going to look at 2 different angles of grace and humility and see that when rightly understood and applied, these two create the conditions by which we will be made like our Savior. Turn to 1 Peter 5:5-7. Read.
God gives grace to the humble
Under God and Toward each other
It’s important to first recognize that our humility starts with God but is also expressed toward each other. The implication is that a lack of humility toward each other reveals the same lack of humility toward God. Peter’s imperative/command is to humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God” which is a reference to His sovereign providence. Being humble means submitting ourselves to God entirely, trusting that in every circumstance [of joy and suffering] he will exalt us at the proper time. So we are not to exalt or advance ourselves, we’re to trust him to do it. This is usually most difficult in dealing with each other but we must not be deceived-if God is sovereign, and Peter is right, pride toward each other is pride toward God. But in the same way, humility toward one another is humility toward God and He promises to reward our humility with grace.
Grace to the humble
In verse 5 Peter borrows a line from Proverbs 3:34-“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” We find the same theme in Isaiah 57:15, Matthew 23:12, Luke 1:52 and James 4:6. God gives grace to the humble, comes to the aid of the lowly, and blesses the poor in spirit. The humble heart is a submissive heart, an obedient heart, a childlike heart, a heart full of faith, a heart able to trust even to death. The humble heart doesn’t fight for self, even when right. It’s not defensive. It fights for God to be glorified.
When Billy Graham was still young, his ministry was well-known but not fully established, a famous preacher met him one day and uncharitably confronted him: Upon entering this older preacher’s room, Billy told him he looked great, and the preacher responded: “You’re on your way down, Billy.” Graham said, “If that’s the way God wants it, then it’s settled.” the reason [the preacher] said, was because “your converts don’t last.” Graham turned the other cheek: “I don’t have any converts. I have never led anybody to Christ. Missionaries can say they have done that; I can’t. There are so many factors – prayer, Bible classes, pastors, hard work by lots of people. I come along and point to the door. I can’t claim any as mine.” Graham’s self-effacing responses fell on stony ground. “We’re taking over evangelism in America, Billy,” [the preacher] announced, “Jack Shuler is going to be the man now. I know, because I trained him.”
When this older preacher died a few years later, Billy Graham and his colleagues were informed that they were not welcome at the funeral. For all of this, Billy always spoke kindly of this man. At one point in reflecting on this preacher’s anger against him, he paused and said simply: “it shows me how to act as an older man.” Billy Graham humbled himself – laid himself low – under the sovereign pressure God was bringing in his life – trusting God to vindicate and lift him up in due season.
We can all relate to this. Pride and humility apply to all areas of life. What’s the inclination of your heart when your boss pulls you off a project that you like and gives you something you don’t; when your wife challenges a decision you make; when your husband makes a decision that has a negative effect on you; when your parent doesn’t let you do something and you see no good reason why; when a spouse or friend corrects you in an area that you think highly of yourself in? When we respond with humility, God is generous to give us grace-grace to change, grace to endure and grace to glorify God in all things. Remember grace is God’s blessing through Christ to those who deserve His curse.
The reason humility is so important is because it’s the test, all at once, of what we believe about God in that situation. And God would not be good to bless us when our actions lead us away from Him-the giver of life and every good thing. So when we’re proud He opposes us.
Opposition to the proud
But the opposition of God, for now, is not wrathful or final. His opposition has a purpose and that is to humble us; to drive us, to crush us if necessary, to lead us to the place where we can receive grace; the place of His favor. Psalm 32:1-5. God’s opposition to the proud is loving.
As we humble ourselves with one another and before God He will give us grace and the result will be joy and peace in life regardless of circumstances. If we are casting our cares on Him and trusting Him to care for us, we aren’t caring a burden. That’s the joy of grace-being able to rest completely in the Fathers care.
God's grace produces humility
So God gives grace to the humble but when we receive grace it also produces humility. Think about the first time you received grace; when you’re eyes were opened to see your sin and need; when you experienced the love of a holy God instead of the punishment that you knew your sin deserved; and when you realized that the reason for the mercy and love that you were experiencing was because Jesus did for you what you failed to do and He took the punishment for you that your failure deserved and He was now giving you the blessing of what His perfect obedience deserved.
That first experience of grace (the realization that God’s favor was upon you) led you to humble yourself and you repented and you submitted and you declared in your heart that Jesus was your king (no longer you). And your life was then positioned to follow Christ. Let’s remember together what we’re following-turn to Philippians 2:1-11. Read. 1-2: not superficial, fluffy uniformity but rather to use diversity together agreeably, with humility. 3-4: specific encouragement to be humble. 5-8: “Have this mind”. Here’s how to do it, follow the example of Christ. 9-11: We see the promise fulfilled (Jesus humbled himself and the Father exalted him) and the purpose accomplished (God is glorified). [see the similarities with 1 Peter 5:5-7]
We received grace through the proclamation of the gospel and it led us to humble ourselves. We’re called to follow the example of Christ and live lives of humility, obeying and serving our Lord even to the point of death.
But if you’re like me, you forget. You forget that your wife’s offense against you is nothing compared to the offense that your sin is to the holiness of God. You forget that Jesus hung on the cross to pay for your child’s sin at the same time that He died for yours. You forget that the example of Christ was to humbly obey and not retaliate as you give a different image of Christ to those who cross you.
If you’re like me you need to be reminded of the very basic truth of the gospel regularly-who God is, who I am, what he did for me and who I would be if He did not pursue me, and arrest me and change me. I need to be reminded of the grace of God in my life and that grace leads me and motivates me to humble myself. When I renew my mind with these truths and live my life in the reality of them-I’m a different person. I’m more like Christ and you are too. When we understand and grasp and embrace the grace of God it produces humility and God gives grace to the humble and which leads us to glory in His grace and so on. Our God delights to give grace to the humble.
If you are not experiencing the grace of God right now I want to encourage you to humble yourself. It’s not rocket science but it does require you to die to yourself. But if that scares you or seems too hard I would ask you to consider your current condition. Are you satisfied, happy? Do you have peace? Are you content to live this way or would you like to experience freedom? The opposition that you feel is not to push you away but rather to show you that the pursuit of self will never satisfy and in the end will destroy. It’s intended to press you to Christ. Humble yourself. I would be happy to talk with you if you have questions or need encouragement.
Church, we need his grace, let’s pursue humility together.