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“Self” directs you away from God to pursue self-reliant solutions. You learned about my three fictional friends who have allowed self to control their responses to their difficulties, and are now, by God’s grace, on the path of repentance and restoration (Galatians 6:1).
These individuals have come to recognize the role of self in their thinking and are finding themselves wrestling with God as they surrender their will to His. They are learning how the correct solution to fallen life is the gospel and working on applying its truths to guide their thinking and responses.
All three of them have made progress but still, find themselves returning to self-dominated thinking patterns. As soon as they gain confidence in turning the corner in their battles, their “self ” reenters and tempts them away from trusting Christ.
When self is in control, you will wander away from Christ. Sustained gospel living can only occur by continually abiding in Christ (John 15).
The last chapter discussed total surrender, the first step to abiding. Surrendering to God is a declaration of war against sin by surrendering one’s will to the gospel and allowing the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit to work within.
The next step required to persevere through difficulties and remain in Christ is humility; placing your entire dependence and trust in God. It is not something to be gained but achieved through the emptying of self. You can only become humble when “self” has shrunken into nothingness.
As an illustration, think of yourself as a fragile vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7) filled with either self or the Holy Spirit. The schemes of “self” will look to use the difficulties of “fallen reality” and indwelling sin to fill your vessel with “self.” Most times, with the presence of indwelling sin, the filling goes undetected, like a slowly dripping faucet.
As the vessel fills, the Holy Spirit is displaced and the dependence on God gained through humility is gradually lost. Self successfully regains controlling influence and begins operating out of the deposed, defiled reservoir of self-confidence, self-will, and self-reliance that produces sin (Proverbs 16:18).
God’s mercy and timing bring conviction of sin and lead struggling saints to repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). Repentance catalyzes to overturn your vessel and spill out the contents of self. Confession and repentance is the prerequisite necessity for the Holy Spirit to refill your vessel (1 John 1:8-9). Joy returns as God’s forgiveness taste sweet (Luke 7:47).
But if you do not continue to cultivate humility, the slow drip of self will start the cycle all over. The only way to break the cycle is to actively appropriate humility to prevent “self” from regaining the controlling influence over your heart. This response is a vital component in your spiritual walk, avoiding “self” from gaining footholds in its attempts to regain the controlling influence of your heart. Cultivating humility acts as a drain valve on your vessel, preventing the accumulation of self.
Cultivating and maintaining humility in your life is difficult because you cannot attain it through worldly means. Humility is a virtue that is unattainable through human effort and generated by the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. The fruit of the Spirit characterizes these qualities (Galatians 5:22). It is nothing that you bring to God, or that He bestows upon you. Humility is merely the absence of self.
Cultivating humility is not possible with “self” functioning as the controlling influence nor can it be achieved through works. This response only produces counterfeits (Colossians 2:18); this is “self” attempting to don a disguise of humility in the attempt of remaining in power. Any effort exerted in this process must be one of emptying self – a process that I call “un-work.”
I call it un-work since it is upside down to the world’s methods. The Adamic resources of knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1), pride, opinions, insight, feelings, and experiences are all liabilities in the upside-down world of the gospel.
Any gain in these areas, without the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, will turn out to be a drawback. Even the study of theology, under the direction of self, will ultimately reveal itself as an encumbrance to spiritual health (1 Corinthians 8:1).
Cultivating humility is an emptying process. It is resolving to let go of everything attached to your “in-Adamness” and provides a way for Christians to live before God in Christlike humility. It places you in proper relationship to God, allowing God to manifest His power and goodness. Unfortunately, the incarnation of this ability eludes most Christians.
Ultimately, the process of acquiring humility demands the undoing of self. In Andrew Murray’s book, Humility, he provides an excellent overview of understanding and learning how to cultivate humility in your life. To help communicate his teaching, I have created a mind-map, shown below.
The first category is taking the right position of trust, in heart and mind, to God. It is the daily reminder to remember the powerful enemy within, to surrender, and choose to walk in faith. You must continually bring the proper gospel perspective to your thinking, by reflecting, and praying at the foot of the cross.
The second category is the un-work of dying to self. It is opening the drain valve, allowing all pride to drain away into nothingness, and reflecting on your total inability to instill goodness in life apart from Christ.
In Adam, and under the control of self, you process life’s disappointments through shame, guilt, and fear, which leads to improper handling of righteous anger from fallen life. The confident “self” is threatened and scrambles to justify actions, condemn others, or seek new self-reliant ways.
In Christ, you are now able to view the disappointments of life void of shame, fear, and guilt through the gospel. They can now serve as opportunities to cultivate humility; a chance to identify and kill self.
The weaknesses in life are now meant to help you empty your vessel of self, allowing the filling of the Spirit to provide teaching, comfort, and peace in the situation. It leads to a healthy self-examination and confession of “self” induced heart attitudes and redirects your focus to the ultimate treasure of Christ.
The final category is actively adopting a servant attitude. “Self” demands that you serve it, so the practice of taking a servant’s attitude will slow down the dripping of self into your vessel. You can only enter into God’s joy as a good servant (Matthew 25:21).
Through these methods of un-work, self will weaken and lose its controlling influence on your heart. With the restoration of humility before God, you are now able to position yourself “in Christ,” abiding and receiving the spiritual nourishment from the Holy Spirit.
Understanding the blessings attained through humility provides insight on how a loving God uses suffering for your good. God will use suffering as a means to cultivate humility. (Psalm 119:71) I show this staged process in the next mind map.
First Stage: After regeneration, you begin the lifelong journey of leaving the old control of self, and through humility, you grow in your ability to walk in the Spirit. Immature, you may at first fear the loss of control humility requires, but come to accept the command.
Difficulties from the fallen reality enter, leading to reverent prayers of deliverance. Their desires were in-line with God’s will; good marriage, reaping from God-glorifying labor, and safety and healing.
But during their interpretation of the situation, from unbelief, ignorance, or unwatchfulness, the drain valve of active humility was closed, filling their vessels with “self.” “Self” regained controlling influence, and deceptively used the energy of righteous anger to get its way.
Prayers became solely fixated on deliverance from the situation, and the unchangeability of the situation led them to pursue self-reliant prospects.
Pivot Point: With perfect timing, God will bring individual instruction (suffering) to further grow you in dependence on Him (Hebrews 12:7). Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth provides an example of this individual instruction through suffering. “Self” wanted to regain control by tempting him to boast in his secret visions, so the Lord allowed a thorn to keep his vessel empty of self. This response from the Lord positioned Paul to grow in humility.
Second Stage: A season of suffering positions you to learn humility as you wrestle with God as He completes that good work in you (Philippians 1:6). This stage brought Paul to a place where he now boasted in his weaknesses of insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, and experienced the glory of lowliness.
The posture you take during weakness is a critical moment in your season of suffering. Since the primary mission of “self” is to exalt itself and build its treasure on earth (Mathew 6:19), “self” takes a hostile posture to weakness, and will look to minimize or justify the gap.
However, the puffing up of “self” leaves you in inner turmoil (Psalm 32:3), quenches the presence of the Holy Spirit, and leaves your spiritual health in the hands of your sin-impacted self. A terrifying place indeed. Strength in Adam is no strength at all.
But if you take the standpoint of boasting in weakness, you have effectively pulled the rug out from self. You open the drain valve, draining away “self” to allow the Holy Spirit to regain control.
Your approach of boasting in weakness now aligns your thinking to a position to trust God’s sovereign care in your life and to seek Him, pray, and discern His mind in the situation. As “self” empties your vessel, spiritual stability is gained leading a restful heart (Psalm 131).
This necessity is a critical spiritual battle tactic for the believer. You kill self by mocking it through boasting in weakness. A proud man cannot boast in weakness, but a humble believer now becomes a conduit for mighty God. Humility is the first and greatest assignment for the Christian.
Until a humility which will rest in nothing less than the end and death of self; which gives up all the honor of men as Jesus did, to seek the honor that comes from God alone; which absolutely makes and counts itself nothing, that God may be all, that the Lord alone may be exalted–until such a humility be what we seek in Christ above our chief joy, and welcome at any price, there is very little hope of a religion that will conquer the world. – Andrew Murray
God’s use of suffering in your life is a difficult doctrine to embrace, but necessary for you to respond, not only respond rightly to fallen life but to also experience the fullness of Christ.
The final chapter will explore the context and benefits of abiding in Christ and how the nemesis of “self” works to lead you to wander away from Christ.
Andrew Murray’s book, Humility, provides a great resource to learn about the un-work of cultivating humility in your life. Get the free pdf.
Rick Thomas’s website has many articles and resources that teach God’s use of suffering in the life of a Christian. Here is the link.
Mark Grant was raised in Columbus, Ohio and attended Ohio State. He married Lesa as he finished his MA in Mechanical Engineering. He moved to Los Angeles to work in the Aerospace Industry. After 5 years of a difficult marriage, he and Lesa were saved. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Portland, Oregon and were blessed with a daughter. He currently works for the Navy as a civilian engineer. He lives outside Philadelphia.