Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon where he distinguished between evangelical humiliation and legal humiliation. You have to love the Puritan old-fashioned language. Legal humiliation—or today we might say humility or the process of becoming humble—this is something that even the demons experience. He references James 2 where the demons shudder at God. This is a kind of humility that you don’t need an awakened heart to experience. Anybody can experience this. It just comes from a sense of God’s majesty and dreadfulness and power where you’re sort of cowering before God.
In Humility, Gavin Ortlund explains that humility is not just an abstract virtue but a mark of gospel integrity, casting a vision for gospel-centered humility that is ultimately self-forgetfulness leading to joy.
And then he speaks about evangelical humility, and the word he uses for what produces this kind of humility is the loveliness of God. He’s saying that for an awakened heart—a heart that’s been touched by grace and the gospel—there’s a different kind of humility that is produced. When you think about what Jesus did for you, it really cracks open in your heart. Even for me, despite all of my problems and my repeated cycles of problems, God actually loves me and my sins are actually forgiven. There’s a kind of humility that awakens in our heart as we genuinely find ourselves loving, adoring, and thanking God.
And the metaphor that I’ve used to describe this is to imagine that you walk into a great vast throne room and the king is sitting up on his exalted throne. Your footsteps are echoing on the marble floor, the the ceiling is way high above, and gold is glittering around. You’re very intimidated, and you go and stand before the king. This is one kind of feeling of humility. This is what anybody could feel in approaching God’s throne.
But then suppose that the king gets off of his throne and he comes to meet you. He embraces you. He expresses his relief that you’re okay. He ushers you over to a seat and you receive breakfast from him and you eat and you dine with him in a fellowship with him. This is another experience, but it’s also incredibly humbling in a different way. To experience this kindness humbles you to the dust. And this is what we should feel toward the Lord God because of the gospel.
There’s a kind of humility that awakens in our heart as we genuinely find ourselves loving, adoring, and thanking God.
When we think of the King of kings who has come down and stooped down to our level—becoming a tiny baby, living an ordinary life, submitting not only to death but to burial, for our salvation—this is what our God has done for us.
And when we truly contemplate the wonder of that, it produces more than just trembling before God—though that’s important and that’s a precondition. It also produces this awareness that the kindness of God and the loveliness of God awakens this new kind of humility in us and we think, How could we ever boast again when God has been this way to us?
Gavin Ortlund is the author of Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness.
Gavin Ortlund (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California. He is the author of several books and runs the popular YouTube channel Truth Unites. Gavin and his wife, Esther, have five children.
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