The Next Big Thing

Those who pay attention to the progress of their sanctification have long noticed the optical illusion of spiritual regress. By the end of his life, after decades of faithful service to Christ, the apostle Paul saw himself by that time as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). The more you learn, the more you know how little you know. The more progress you make in holiness, the more aware you are of the blemishes that remain. This is not a false humility; it is how real humility functions.

And it works in the other direction also. The longer you go on in sins unmortified, the harder and harder it gets to even notice them anymore. This is why Scripture speaks of the seared conscience.

The same phenomenon can be seen in cultures. This is a corporate tendency also, and not just an individual one. If a culture is progressing in basic decency (a downstream effect of the gospel), the greater will be their ability to be self-critical in helpful ways. But if they are given over to their lusts, then the characteristic will be self-loathing (to be distinguished from being self-critical), coupled with an utter inability to see how bad they have gotten. The president could appoint Kuba the Clown as his new secretary of HHS, and nothing would be as apparent to the chattering classes than the fact that the people who had a problem with this are all haters. They didn’t have to go very far to get tagged with this because they are already filed under that category.

So in case you missed it, we have certainly gotten to this point in our own culture already. We have flipped over the handlebars of self-parody, have landed on the gravel of serious consequences, and have told ourselves (with apparent success) that the road rash we now have on our palms, thighs, and chin is going to be the next big thing in body modification.

Theology That Bites Back



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  • J

    Hey Doug, I don’t think the first paragraph was the point of your post but I had a question about it still. I’ve heard those sentiments many times about the further you go in sanctification the more you realize how far there is left and how it’s an honest assessment in humility (at least if it’s actual sanctification) not a praise of man seeking demeaning attitude and I am convinced of that truth. I’ve known enough godly old men who have told me that to believe it. My question though is if this is how “real humility functions” in what way is that genuine humility in us sinful human beings connected to or like the humility Christ had since he had no sin? Or are they two different things altogether that we use the same word for? Thanks for the post and I’d like to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the subject as well.

  • bethyada

    J, the way I see it is what Doug is describing is a consequence of humility, not the definition of it. Humility is having a right opinion of oneself not a low opinion. This the further we grow in holiness the better we see the depth of our sin, it is much greater than we realise (though this can increase our gratitude for what Christ had done). We all are deeply sinful and the righteous are most aware. Christ’s humility is the same in that he sees himself rightly, the consequence being that he knows he is utterly without sin. That same humility means he does not grasp like us but is content to receive from the Father.

  • J

    Bethyada, thanks for the response. I think I can see what you are saying, but I’m not sure how to make that definition fit with the main text that shows up in my mind when the question came. “Phil. 2:3-8 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In this text it seems that Jesus is doing anything but seeing himself rightly. But then again maybe his sight of himself is so right,deep, and true that it transcends what deserving would call for all together and goes straight to loving obedience? It’s weird because in my own context I usually see humility in terms of what I deserve and what I’ve been given, therefore I’m humbled. Whereas taking Phil. 2 and what your saying together maybe a better way to think about humility is to say that it’s when we see ourselves rightly not only in what we deserve but also in who we are in Christ and this results in loving obedience to the father aka humility. Which now as I read your post again I suspect that’s essentially what you meant by your last sentence. The problem for me is that when I look around at the people close to me they really are more significant than I am so it’s not a matter of counting them as such. It’s just a matter of accepting reality and living in light of it. Which doesn’t seem the same as what this passage says. Reading over what I have written here it’s apparent to me that I have no clue what the heck I’m talking about, but since it’s the internet none of you can stop me from hitting the post button.

  • RFB

    Pastor Wilson has previously said (and I hope that I do not butcher this) that an attribute of humility is believing what God has said. I understand this to mean that The Word, both as the Eternal Son, and as the written Word, is the final and definitive word on all things, was before all things, created all things, and holds all things together. That in submission to Him and that understanding, we are practicing humility, not as something that we “feel”, but as something that we do. (And IIRC, one consequent reaction to entrusting surety to what God says will be accusations of arrogance.)
    Second thought related to this post: it seems to me that another facet of a arrogant/regressive (aka Kuba et al) culture doing as described is the previously mentioned practice of confessing any sins but the ones they are committing. Save the fish, save whales, save the air, save the dirt, save the ice, save the planet, don’t eat sugar, GMO, gluten, ad infinitum. People lives and souls? Nah, to hell with that.