“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6)
When we allow pride, narcissism, self-centeredness or arrogance to creep into our lives, we’ve just gained God as an opponent. God doesn’t tolerate pride or wink at the sin of arrogance, He actively opposes the proud. That should be a dangerously sobering truth for all believers today. It was for James, so after sharing this ancient truth from Proverbs, he went on to list five steps to cultivating humility in our own lives so that God will not actively oppose us.
1. Submit. The first step is to submit yourself to God, to acknowledge His sovereignty and His authority over your life and then to align your life under His authority. This is an act of the will, a choice we must all make. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
2. Come near to God. It’s not enough simply to acknowledge God’s lordship over your life. You need to consciously move towards Him. As you come nearer to God, your smallness will be dwarfed by His bigness. His glory and majesty will overwhelm you, and humility will be a quick by product. “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
3. Purify your heart. As you come nearer to God, the sin that used to be tolerable in your life will become intolerable, made painfully acute by proximity to God’s holiness. Part of cultivating humility is shedding the sinful habits that plague you and purifying your heart. “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).
4. Allow your brokenness to break you. The nearer you come to God, the more brightly your sin will be exposed. Your first instinct will be to defend yourself, justify yourself, rationalize or compartmentalize your sin. A critical step in the humbling process is to allow the brokenness of your sin to break you. That breaking is the humbling. “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom” (James 4:9).
5. Humble yourself. James’ final command to cultivating humility seems extraneous: humble yourself. But it’s not. It’s a reminder that sooner or later, one day we all will be humbled before the presence of God. We can choose to humble ourselves, or God will do the humbling for us. As James teaches, it always tends to go better when you’re the one doing the humbling. Preemptively cultivate humility in your life so that God doesn’t actively plan your prideful downfall. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).