(For a more in-depth discussion on this topic that includes this portion as well, see the article “Humility”.)
If you watched my testimony on Youtube you saw how I learned about relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to live the victorious Christian life. Part of the victory is realizing that you can’t do it on your own; you desperately need the Holy Spirit living in you. And He’ll only work when you humbly rely on His help and not try to do it on your own. Of course that doesn’t mean you sit back and live idly. No, when he does the work inside you, you want to live for Him and obey Him, and you can with His help. It’s a great partnership. As Paul said, “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Col 1:29.
But the thing I just realized recently is how we need to be real careful not to develop a spiritual pride or self-reliance when God does work in us. If we do it’ll hinder his power in us. As He works we will see changes for the better, but it’s so important to thank Him for that change and realize you’re standing with His power.
It’s very natural to want to feel good about ourselves, which includes how we feel about our spiritual condition. We want to think we’re doing well. So it’s tempting to latch on to some item for that security blanket. I’ve heard stories about people living wicked lives but they have some little pet item they hang onto for that security blanket. For example, eating Fish on Friday. Various religions around the world have various little non-intrusive things you can do for this security, like various rituals or idols etc. And even Christian denominations fall to the temptation to draw people toward them by offering unique teachings to show that they are the best church. My family was personally involved in this since we were in the Worldwide Church of God who really stressed various unique teachings to convince people they were the only true church. When the power-hungry leaders had a family squabble and a sincere Christian came to power, he stopped emphasizing these spiritual elite principles but affirmed that many other people were Christians too. It was really surprising that people started leaving the church in droves and it got in real financial trouble. Apparently the people really valued that elite feeling. Many found another church which had the same elitism mentality.
But to the point that we need to be careful for. If we’re not careful even very godly things can do this too. For example our stance on avoiding certain entertainments, modest apparel, or even how we are active in sharing the gospel. Unlike the previous things I’ve mentioned, these things are great. But we still need to maintain that humble demeanor knowing we desperately need God’s help to live the Christian life.
For balance let’s look at how Paul described himself (in present tense, not past):
1 Corinthians 15:8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Ephesians 3:8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
1 Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
Now obviously Paul wasn’t a practicing sinner. He described in Romans chapter 7 and 8 how he overcame the flesh. But these chapters show that he still knew at the heart he was a sinner and daily relied on the Holy Spirit to crucify the flesh so he could have the fruits of the Spirit. Ephesians 4:22 and Galatians 5:16-17 talk about this also. See the “Christian Victory” page for a detailed discussion on this.
So I just wanted to remind you to stay humble. There have been countless times when God was working on me and giving me victory on some area and I took note of how well I (emphasis on “I”) was doing and then fell. I can tell now God was working on me because I would always fall right after thinking that thought.
Let me give an example to help illustrate. Let’s say God is working on me and something happens that would usually make me angry – it always has (like being cut off in traffic). But I realize it doesn’t now. Then I have two options before me. One, I can say, “Wow I’m becoming a more patient person. I must really be maturing.” And no matter how I try to hide it or cover over it with justification that we do mature over time, there’s pride there because the focus is on myself. And it cuts off the power of God and I fall (I’m speaking from much experience). The other option is “Wow, thank you God so much for working in me to have this victory. Please keep working on me and helping me.” (and it’s a true sincere thanks fully knowing it really was Him. Not just a lip service.) Now with this option you can’t give a sigh of relief and say, “I’m done with this learning experience. I have this conquered. I can go on my way now”. No, you need to constantly go to God in prayer (pray continually right) and depend on His strength. That may sound like more effort, but it keeps you close to God and that is a good thing right? And I mentioned that we do mature. Well THIS IS the maturing process. To depend on God’s power to live righteously. Yes, you’ll develop all kinds of good fruits, but you’ll never be able to point to yourself – only God.
1 Corinthians 15:10. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Luke 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
This may be a pretty simple concept to most people. But I find myself having a hard time with it. So I thought I’d encourage you in it. So just keep your focus on God and not yourself and you’ll be better off. Anything you do to try to impress others with your maturity would naturally be wrong. We can demonstrate maturity (if need be) with good fruit and servanthood and by giving all glory to God. Again, maturity is learning to submit to God and rely on His power-the focus is all on Him. Watch especially for particular practices which you rely on to make you feel righteous or mature, especially when they are easy choices you make that don’t require God’s power at all (for example eating meat on Friday, but it could be good an sincere convictions too). Watch for beliefs that you hold onto which make you feel mature or righteous, especially less-common beliefs based on unclear passages that your church specializes in. Always consider yourself a jar of clay that is valuable because God loves you and righteous and powerful because He is in you. Some people would go too far the other way and just think they are hopelessly wretched and not even try to be mature or righteous at all, and that is just as bad. But this article is written mainly to those who could fall into temptation the other way.
5 For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)