02 February 2010

Real humility, real arrogance

by Dan Phillips

I'm going to tag-team off of Phil's fine post from yesterday.

It chafes to be on the wrong end of an unfair comparison. Your parents think your sibling is the best little child because (s)he's a skilled kiss-up, and they don't hear the seditious chatter that starts up the moment they leave the room. Or you try to be a godly wife and mother who uses her abilities to the full in service of God and your family — but you know that society sees you as pathetic and servile, favoring instead aggressive, un-feminine, ungodly women.

Or you're a Christian who takes his stand on the Word of God, knowing you're seen as arrogant, blind and proud, while doctrinaire ditherers and world-loving compromisers enjoy a reputation for humble, open-minded intelligence.

The stance of the Word on the matter is plain and univocal, more than one post can do justice. But we'll give it a whack.

Let's start by way of Hebrews 11. We all know that the men and women in that chapter were flawed, yet they are held up as examples. In what way are they examples? In their weakness and vacillation? Not at all, but "by [faith] the people of old received their commendation" (v. 2).

Again and again, the writer focuses on the faith that motivated the believers of old, and describes them as those "who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight" (vv. 33-34). It was as they were nerved, strengthened, and moved to action by resolute faith that they served as models.

So cast your mind back to Psalm 1. You know the characteristic of the blessed man: rather than join in the walk and worldview of the wicked, he delights in and dwells on God's Word. To what does God liken him? To a tree, transplanted by streams of water (v. 3).

Think of trees. They're boring! They just stand there. And stand there, and stand there, and stand there. Imperceptibly, yet steadily, they grow and bear fruit — but their characteristics are (1) life, (2) fruitfulness, and (3) a certain immobility.

Much more exciting is the chaff. Watch the chaff driven by the wind: now here, now there, ever in motion, ever moving, ever dynamic — ever dead. See, that's why it's so mobile. It has no roots, no life, and no future (vv. 4-5).

If David wrote Psalm 119, he weighs in again on this subject from another angle:
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:21)
The insolent utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law (Psalm 119:51)
The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law (Psalm 119:85)
Three times we see the insolent, who are arrogant and presumptuous. What characterizes them? God's word is not enough for them. They wander from God's commandments, they turn away from His law, they do not live according to His revelation.

And there is the soul of pride: God has spoken, but it is not convicting, not compelling, not enough.

Thus it ever was. Satan started right there: the conversation-starting open inquiry "Did God really say?" soon led to "God was wrong."

Very little has changed. When you hear A, start looking for B.

The believing perspective is the opposite. The believer is the one who finds God's word utterly sufficient, and utterly compelling. "The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8).

Comes the New Covenant and Jesus, and nothing has changed. Jesus has no praise for the restless wanderer, but does pronounce blessing on the one who hears, heeds, and builds his (boring, immobile, stable) house on His words (Matthew 7:24-27).

So His apostle will want to see believers who are — not constantly flitting hither and yon from fad to fad, but — resistant to winds of doctrine in their steady growth (Ephesians 4:13-14), and stable in their walks (Colossians 2:2-10). What he wants is for them to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Nor is it a matter of indifference to the apostle of Christ. The Gospel is specific and not-other. If let slip, it will not save (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). If perverted, it brings damnation (Galatians 1:8-9).

It is interesting that this stance will infuriate compromised ditherers not content to take the minority position. The psalmist notes, "The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts" (Psalm 119:69). Desperate to shush their throbbing conscience or quiet the fears of God's judgment, they must slander those whose example stings them.

So they lie about us. It can't be that we really just plain old believe God, it must be a holier-than-thou pose. It can't be that we are so aware of what benighted idiots we are that no other place is a safe place for us, no other stance is possible for us than to stand on the word. It must be that we're actually arrogant and proud and stubborn.

In other words, it has to be about something other than what it really is about.

God's stance is very plain. He in no way calls dithery, compromising instability "humility." In fact, listen to what He does so categorize: "But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66 2b).

So, in sum:

The soul of humility is to seek a clear word from God, and respond with "Amen" — that is, to find it, and stand on it without compromise or apology. It is about God and His glory.

The soul of arrogance is to take a clear word of God, and respond with "Has God really said?" — that is, to put energies into defending compromise, dithering, uncertainty, unbelief. It is about man and his straying.

God grant us true humility as He defines humility.

Dan Phillips's signature


Nash Equilibrium said...

The world needs so badly to hear this message, that it should be a Super Bowl ad.

Tim Bushong said...

Amen and amen Dan- this is soooo right up a couple of alleys that I'm having to deal with right now- not in our own Church, but in extended relationships.
The phrase "double-minded" comes to mind, too...

Brad said...

Hi Dan and Phil,

I responded to Phil’s post yesterday (which I enjoyed) and then thought better of it, not having enough information about where you guys were coming from with this line of thought and not having the benefit of meditating on Phil’s post a little more. Dan, I think you did a good job of filling in the context of Phil’s framework and so I wanted to get the Pyros thoughts on the following.

This is my understanding of the biblical litmus test of those who are truly humble: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:8) and "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2). And also: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise (Psalms 51:17) and “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15). Jesus went on to describe the outward evidence of contrition and the broken spirit with images of a weeping tax collector and little children. He healed a Gentile woman’s child because of her broken heart. He saved a thief with his 11th hour prayer because of his brokenness. And on and on it goes.

So in light of Scripture, the questions that I think needs to be asked is this: Do the Pyros project humility, contrition and a broken spirit in their posts and are merely being slandered for the sake of the Gospel; or is it the case that the Pyros have used the criticism of some as a straw man to avoid the admonishment of others? Or is it both?

Being reminded that certainty is a fruit of true humility is an absolute necessity in my book – so no argument here. But that’s not the end or sum total of humility, if for no other reason than we can mark a clear distinction between a guy like John Piper (who is confident and meek) and a hyper-calvinist (who is angry and arrogant) even though they should both preach exactly the same thing. I think the real beauty of true humility is the authenticity that it brings to what we say, and how it binds together Jesus’ commands to be meek, merciful, peacemakers, and pure of heart with a pure and simple faith. In other words, humility is just something that can’t be faked. So to that end, I think it would very helpful to either get your guys thoughts in the meta about how Scripture defines the authentic fruits of humility, and as to how your critics have gotten it all wrong, or to see a post or two about it.

olan strickland said...

Amen Dan! What a wonderful exposition between real humililty and real arrogance. Nothing has changed has it? Men are still calling light, darkness and darkness, light - humility, arrogance and arrogance, humility.

There's no way around this for the child of God and he shouldn't look to get around it. We have been called to be the pillar and support or buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Being immovable will inevitably lead to accusations of arrogance.

But I for one like pillars to be immovable - that's their job. Take the pillars of a bridge for example. Those pillars rest on a firm foundation deep beneath the river bed and they are to stand there, immovable, no matter how much pressure the strong currents put on them to try to get them to move. In humility they stand there. It would be arrogant of the pillars to think that they had the liberty to move around at every whim of the current or the winds. Too much is at stake!

David said...

I think this post is beautiful, and will be re-posting abundantly.

Well done brothers!

David Rudd said...


this is a nice vindication of the authority of Scripture.

i wonder if true humility isn't being willing to let Scripture be vindicated without having to vindicate myself to my critics?

just typing that reminds me how far i have to go on this front.

Tobias said...

Seems to me that humility & arrogance are communicated in the attitude of the messenger, not the content of the message. Or more to the point, people can be humble and/or arrogant in the way they present the truths of the bible, but those truths cannot.

To be sure, God's truths are often exclusive, and such exclusiveness can be misconstrued as arrogance on the part of one who claims to know the truth, but that is more a reflection of either the speaker or hearer. In fact, the hearer who slanders one who has studied the scriptures (or any topic) to understand their truths exemplifies arrogance, himself.

donsands said...

"..while doctrinaire ditherers.."

I bump into many of these.

Doctrine divides. Doctrine keeps lost souls from coming to church. Doctrine is a wall keeping people out of God's kingdom.

I admit I love the teachings of the Bible too much at times, and need to lighten up.
But, really, is that the big rpoblem we have in the Church today?
I would think most people in the church, who go to church, and may watch Joyce Myers, and are basically good people, have a gospel that says: "You just have to accept Jesus, and ask Him into your heart, and then you are saved."

And, "All I know is that there are a lot of know-it-alls, and that I am a sinner, and need Jesus."

When you share good portions of the Gosples, Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, not to mention Leviticus, and the rest of the OT, you lose these people who put doctrine down, because they don't want to hear it, for one reason or another.

Thanks for the good post. You are a ture man of the Word, which is what we need in every pulpit across this land. How I would love to see that some day.

Solameanie said...

Game, set and match.

Unknown said...

ahh the evangelical martyrdom complex... gotta love it. Evangelicals making broad un-nuanced statements in order to feel like they are being persecuted when they really are not is a popular amoung them as CJ Mahaney is amoung his groupie churches (note:no offense intended torwards CJ Mahaney personally: I have great respect for him).

FX Turk said...

Well, since no one actually asked me (and I am certain I know why), I think Brad/Broken Messenger/"Crushed Soul" has a lot of self-ignorant audacity to question the humility of any other living soul, man or beast.

Is teamPyro "humble"? We're assured of the truth of God's word and a little worried and nonplused by those who are not -- and we'll say so in no uncertain terms. Whether that's "humble" or not is for the reader to decide.

Is it actually humble to always question the humility of others, judging it from behind an anonymous handle, and always running away deluged in emotional flotsam when one's position is question (or actually contetsted)? Is it humble to call one's self "humble" through a miriad of sanctimonious aliases?

Give it a rest, Brad. You're an arrogant little religious and spiritual fop who should save his lectures for himself.


Daniel said...

Frank, thanks for giving us the sugar coated version. ;)

Christopher said...


Not trying to be funny, but that did not sound very humble at all. I think it would be important to note the people that GOD considered humble.

If I am not mistaken Moses was called the most humble man on the face of the planet by GOD Himself. This is the same Moses who told off GOD's covenant people, through down the Ten Commandments (breaking them) and made the people drink the ground gold from the idol. All of these things would be called un-humble in our day.

I think humility is seeing ourselves, seeing truth through the eyes of GOD. If I am talking with someone about the authority of Scripture and every other phrase I say is, "Uh, well, I mean, that is my belief, but others, uh, think differently." That is not humility...that is pride. It is pride because I am not looking at truth the way GOD is looking at truth. Instead I am deciding that I know the best way to look at it and the best way to look at it is to give a form of mock grace to others.

David Rudd said...

ironic, Frank.

by the way. i've enjoyed your posts over at "the other blog".

John said...

This is a great point that hits libs and pomos equally hard. But the problem I experience far more than this is the Pharisee problem. This problem is one of holding fast to the Word - but the Word is understood in the context of a recieved, vain tradition. The Pharisees were certain, very much so, but what they thought the Word meant was wrong. And in my circles of Baptists this is the far greater problem.

FX Turk said...


I'd accept everything you said here under one proviso --

My comment was not humble if it was self-aggrandizing, meant to build me up for the sake of building me up. Defending one's self from self-satisfied critics who only lead others to doubt and emotional langish is never pretty, but to measure it's "humility" is like measuring the feathers in an automobile -- the car may be full of feathers, but that doesn't make it a good car, or a good bird.

SolaMommy said...

Amen, Dan!

Robert said...

I can confidently say that I am certain this message has me focused on trembling at the Word of God and being more contrite in heart. I am also confident that our humility comes in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness.

In light of His absolute holiness, having confidence in Scripture that is given by God to us should be something that all people would want to attain to.

Now, trying to change Scripture to mesh with what our fleshly minds think should be considered arrogant. That is just my humble opinion, though.

Rachael Starke said...

"Think of trees. They're boring! They just stand there. And stand there, and stand there, and stand there. Imperceptibly, yet steadily, they grow and bear fruit — but their characteristics are (1) life, (2) fruitfulness, and (3) a certain immobility."

Wow. Psalm 1 was a passage I memorized pretty early in my Christian life, but I've never thought about it that way before. So helpful.

And given that I seem to think or say that a lot here, I hereby submit INTAITWB to the Pyro lexicon of acronyms. :) Or maybe Frank should make a shirt with "I'm a boring tree and I'm glad about it!"

Christopher said...

Frank Turk,

So...going by what you said..."My comment was not humble if it was self-aggrandizing, meant to build me up for the sake of building me up."...it could be that Phil and the rest of the boys were not un-humble either.

Phil Johnson said...

One of the marks of Jesus' humility, which we're commanded to emulate, is that "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23).

People on both sides in our comment-threads sometimes forget that principle, and (to my shame) that includes me.

Insofar as that is the case, I'm willing to concede the point to Brad / Broken Messenger / Shimei / Soul Crushed (or whoever else wants to throw dirt on us today). We aren't humble the way we ought to be, and we're not typically paragons of meekness, either. That's a valid point.

If critics want to misconstrue the actual point of my post yesterday and Dan's today, OK. But there's no point in lending credence to such criticism by denying that we constantly struggle with carnal attitudes. I'll admit that and plead guilty without hedging.

I still say, however, that certainty and steadfastness are commanded by Scripture and therefore are not inherently "arrogant." Christian ought to have firm convictions; authentic faith is not vacillating and tenuous; and there's no virtue in being mercurial.

So can we get back on topic now?

Brad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Scott Bell said...

Well said, Phil, on all counts.

Lynda O said...

Great post, Dan, as always.

"Or you're a Christian who takes his stand on the Word of God, knowing you're seen as arrogant, blind and proud, while doctrinaire ditherers and world-loving compromisers enjoy a reputation for humble, open-minded intelligence.
. . .
So they lie about us. It can't be that we really just plain old believe God, it must be a holier-than-thou pose. It can't be that we are so aware of what benighted idiots we are that no other place is a safe place for us, no other stance is possible for us than to stand on the word. It must be that we're actually arrogant and proud and stubborn."

This speaks so well to an issue I've been dealing with, too, from someone who takes a post-modern attitude towards a certain doctrinal matter and says "oh, well, the Bible really isn't clear about it, and all the views have their problems, we can't know for sure" -- and then calls me arrogant because I love studying God's word and know with certainty what it says about the matter. So now (by his definition), the person who intently studies God's word is called arrogant, a case of "knowledge puffs up" -- when really it's the one who keeps an "open mind" to all the possible interpretations that man has come up with, all the philosophy from Augustine to now, and doesn't believe God at His word, doesn't trust that God meant what He said, that is truly arrogant -- thinking he can go beyond what God's word says.

Bob said...

so true, so true. We need to be broken in order to be usable. When broken one often stands alone.

Unknown said...

I thought the following quote may be appropriate:

"To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects—the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?"

-- British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1981

JPG said...

I found an interesting quote while reading which seemed to fit well ... "the general tone of this generation is uncertainty rather than certitude, scepticism rather than conviction, hesitancy rather than dogmatism. But the man of God must know where he stands."

Thank you Phil, Dan, and Frank for being men of God and knowing where you stand. I've been reading for over three years and have learned alot.

donsands said...

"hesitancy rather than dogmatism."

I think dogmatism can be a bad word, or a good word.

But I have noticed when there are those who use it for a bad word, and give it a Pharisaical tone, these same humble teachers, can be even more dogmatic about their own humble and open teachings.

Anonymous said...

"The general tone of this generation is uncertainty...scepticism...hesitancy"

Our generation has allowed the premises of the enlightenment to go mostly unchallenged. This is what influences uncertainty of about truth.

You are considered "growing" if you use passive voice, pose questions about everything, play the moderate, stay undecided till you get "all the evidence," etc. This is a false view of epistemology! You are considered intolerably ignorant if you believe in "Truth."

Most believe that this is somehow a pure "Scientific Method" as if scientists are not themselves fallen and their methods are "proven."

Here the PoMo's have done us a great favor in pointing out that "scientific methodology' is usally a farce (can you spell "East Anglia"?) and usually just an arrogance saying, "Thus saith the scientist..." Of course they have replaced it with an even more broken system of their own.

the "Humility Judges" in this thread have detected certainty and they are going to squash it as "un-humble!"

Here's where Dan is on the right track with Psalm 119:

41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules.

Humility is recognizing God is the only safe source of Truth. Even when I am taunted my reply shall be His Word not my cleverness (stating truth to tuanters is usually a hopeless enterprise anyway (Psalm 14: 1 and Psalm 53:1).

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" John 1:17

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Soul Crushed wrote an earnest comment above at 7:16 AM, February 02, 2010.

Frank Turk responded with: "You're an arrogant little religious and spiritual fop who should save his lectures for himself."

Daniel: "Frank, thanks for giving us the sugar coated version. ;)"

Christopher: "Frank,

Not trying to be funny, but that did not sound very humble at all."

David Rudd: "ironic, Frank."


I read Soul Crushed's comment several times and don't see why it prompted Frank Turk to respond with such an outburst.

Then I see this post today titled "Constant Criticism" and I read this statement by Frank Turk:

"And here's the punch-line: how we behave when we are criticized tells us a lot about who we are as people."

And the very first comment on that thread by Doulos Christos is:

"The irony of what you've posted here is stunning."

P.S. Despite all that, this is a superb post by Dan Phillips.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps leaving out the ad hominem responses would be helpful to ALL CONCERNED.

It's certainly hard to digest facts and opinions while reading posts and readers input when this method is employed.