how can I become more like Christ?
"God . . . gives grace to the humble." --1 Peter 5:5
Jeff is just about ready to give up on trying to live the Christian life. Everywhere he goes he keeps running into the same problem. People can be impossible to live with--forget trying to treat them as Jesus would treat them, in a way that honors God. Ever since becoming a Christian several years ago, Jeff has tried hard to be kind and patient, even with the most difficult people. But then something catches him off guard. A degrading comment. A thoughtless act. In a split second, a flash fire of anger blazes up inside of him, and he lashes out.
Yesterday, during a staff meeting at work, Jeff was trying to explain a new plan he wanted to try, when Bill started asking questions about the idea. Instantly, Jeff's anger flared, and he said defensively, "I'm not sure you're in any position to cut me down. I haven't seen many good ideas coming from your direction lately."
Bill's face reddened with embarrassment. "I wasn't criticizing you, Jeff," he said quietly. "I think you have a great idea. I was asking questions because I really want to understand your whole plan, so I can know how to support you."
Ever since that moment, Jeff has wondered what it is going to take to make him a better Christian. Nothing he does seems to change him. That old excuse he's used for himself--"Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven"--isn't working anymore. Privately, he thinks, If people can't see Christ in me, I might as well shut my mouth . . . and quit trying.
Jeff thinks that Cheryl is the finest example of a Christian he knows. Cheryl never opens her mouth to cut people down. He thinks, I've never even seen her get angry. I wish I knew her secret. Cheryl's "secret" is that she feels like a spiritual failure, too. True, she doesn't lash out the way Jeff does. Her tendency is to harbor negative thoughts and feelings about people inside. These negative feelings turn into bad attitudes--like envy and jealousy, or judgmentalism. Actually, she is lashing out. She just does it in the form of quiet rejection. She knows she's not the "nice" and "loving" Christian others think she is. Once in awhile, in a church service, she will hear a convicting message that makes her feel guilty about her attitudes. But when she tries to change, nothing seems to work for her.
When Cheryl thinks of how defeated she is, she thinks about Pastor Smith. He seems like such a good man. She wishes she could be half the Christian he seems to be . . . And at this moment, sitting alone in his study, Pastor Smith wonders why he ever got into the ministry. He thinks, Some of these people I can't even deal with. In fact, a lot of them make me want to get in the flesh and just boot them out the door. Something inside him wants to rise up and say, Look, this is my ministry. If you don't like it here there are plenty of other churches nearby.
There are two deacons who always have axes to grind. About a dozen people in the congregation rub him the wrong way. And one woman in the church always seems to have some kind of high-pressure agenda. Pastor Smith hesitates to talk openly about his spiritual life with other pastors. They always appear to be so together, and he doesn't like to admit things aren't working for him. Some voice inside says, Just act cool. Never look weak. In calmer moments, however, he thinks, Didn't I follow this "calling" because I wanted to help people change and grow spiritually? How can I help others change, if I'm not becoming more like Christ myself?
All three of these people share some things in common. All of them feel as if they're in a war. On the one hand they want to grow in spiritual strength, love and maturity, but on the other hand, a very un-Christian impulse seems to win most of the time. Somewhere inside, each one wants to know, How can I be more Christ-like?
Maybe you are experiencing the same battle that's going on inside Jeff, Cheryl, and Pastor Smith. Welcome to the warfare of the Christian life. Under normal circumstances, most of us can act and look and feel like decent Christians. We can quote Scriptures. We go to church. But we don't really find out what our nature is like until we are under pressure. What happens when somebody steps on us? That's when we find ourselves in a real struggle.
If most of us Christians are honest, in many ways we are like snakes. We hold unforgiveness, and we're ready to rise up and strike. When people walk on us, we find devious ways to "get even." When people criticize us, we respond with words that have a bite like poison. As Christians, we don't want to have this nature in us. But most of us don't know how to change. I know I didn't. I had to learn that the very challenges I was facing were the instruments of God to change me.
Take the criticism I receive from my wife, for example. Like most men, I didn't want her to tell me the truth about myself. I didn't recognize that God had placed her in my life, in part, to point out my weaknesses. My wife sees the real me more than anyone else. By learning to allow her to make comments without striking back, I've discovered that her words are always tools to help me to change--if I see them as tools in God's hands.
But that's the problem for so many of us. We say we're Christians and that we have surrendered to God. But the truth is, we're really in submission to everyone else. By that I mean we allow every comment, every attitude, every raised eyebrow to go straight to the heart, and we react. That's because we are more concerned with what people think and say about us than about God's opinion of us.
The problem is not really with other people, though. We may want to blame them for triggering our reactions, but the truth is this: By their words and actions, they step on something that lies coiled inside each one of us. That is our old nature. Pride. The nature of the snake that inhabits every one of us fallen creatures.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan fed the pride of the first people by suggesting that they question God. The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, but Satan immediately undermined that relationship in the Garden by causing the woman--and the man, who was there listening--to believe that God was not worthy of their love at the level of total obedience, and that God had not provided all that they needed to get their needs met. They came into the world as adults in the image of God, but he reduced them down to disobedience by his influence on their minds.
At any age you have the potential to regress and become a spiritual child in your relationships with God and other people. That's why you have to be constantly on the alert, watching for the devil. The Bible says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever" (1 Peter 5:8-11).
In our marriages, we tell ourselves it's our spouse's words and actions that are the problem. But most often it's our pride. We harbor anger. We resent being criticized and we rise up and fight back. In time we finally get fed up with those comments and decide to break covenant and get a divorce. Why? Because we are looking at that man or that woman instead of looking to God and asking Him to humble us so we can look honestly at ourselves. When we leave God out of our "looking," the Bible would say that our eyes are evil. We are looking at things outwardly--at what our mate is saying that we don't like. God wants us to look inside and see the pride in our own heart (see Mark 7:21-23). He wants us to make our spiritual development the highest priority, instead of looking at our need to be loved. In this way every word spoken to us, every action for or against us, can become a tool in the Lord's hands to minister truth and growth in Christ-likeness. Over the nearly thirty years that I have been married, I have learned from my wife many times how imperfectly I was walking out the Christian life.
The mark of a Christian is, in Paul's words, that we bring "the sweet savor," or the essence, of Jesus Christ wherever we go (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16). Instead of stinking up the place with our fleshly attitudes, we create the sweet-smelling environment of heaven on earth with our Christ-like attitudes. When people hear us speak or watch our lifestyle, they should be able to witness the character of Christ in us because His nature is growing within us.
Throughout Church history, one of the most important words that has defined the nature and character of Jesus Christ has been humility. Humility has been called the cardinal virtue of Christ by giants of the Faith from Paul to Augustine to Andrew Murray. But it is a word most of us use lightly, without really knowing what it truly means.
Humility is a heart attitude that allowed love, kindness, patience, peace, and every other spiritual quality to pour out from Him into the people He encountered every day. Humility is an attitude of spirit that describes Jesus Christ, and it's also an attitude that we need if the character and spirit of God are going to grow in us and shine out from us into this dark world. Jesus displayed humility when He set aside His glory and came to live among men, stripping Himself of all that was due to Him as God.
I want to make this plain from the outset: When Jesus came to live among us, He had to step down from a higher position. He was and is God. When He "became flesh and dwelt among us," as the apostle John puts it (John 1:14, KJV), He willingly left a higher place and stepped into a lower place (see Philippians 2:5-11). By doing that, He gave dignity to our humanity, and in that sense He gave us something of an elevated status. He confirmed that we are more than the dust we're made from--and we are not just animals somewhere on the evolutionary ladder. What we need to learn, however, and to practice, is the course of action Jesus took over and over again throughout His earthly life. He humbled Himself. Not one time only, but again and again.
Now as we've seen, when Jesus humbled Himself He had to step down from a higher place to a lower place. He came down from heaven to earth. He entered into a body that is subject to all the mess we're subject to--the temptations, the ravages of time, the weaknesses of the human body. All of it. When you are God, that's a definite step down!
Jesus' whole life was an example of surrender to the Father's will, right on up to the cross. It was on the cross that His surrender was fully exposed. He refused to strike back at His enemies. Instead, He cried out for their forgiveness. Jesus let the Father crush Him for the sins of the world. He stayed on the cross in agony until He fulfilled all that God had intended for Him and His creation.
From a great messianic psalm, which Jesus quoted on the cross, comes this confession from His inmost being: "But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people" (Psalm 22:6, KJV). Jesus called Himself a worm because He led a surrendered life, and died a surrendered death. When it was time to return to His Father, He could say, "It is finished" (John 19:30). He had never changed His mind about His surrender. He was the greatest example of humility the world has ever seen, and we are called to follow Him in His humility.
For us, humility is the attitude that helps us to find our place of destiny in the rank and order of things. It gives us a more accurate picture of ourselves, as God sees us. Now what does that mean?
What We Need To Know About Humility
Most of us tend to puff ourselves up. We want people to see us as bigger and better than we are. We think, Can't they see how important I am? We also tend to see ourselves as bigger and better than others. We look at other people and think, I would never do that. I would never say a terrible thing like that. At the same time, we believe we deserve better treatment than we're getting. We think, No one should speak to me that way. No one should act like that toward me. They should be treating me better than that.
When we think this way, and we spend our lives fighting to protect the threatened and demanding little person inside of us, we aren't free. We're chained to everyone else's opinion of us. We are reacting to everything people say and do--anything that shows they are thinking less of us than we imagine ourselves to be. As Paul would say, we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (see Romans 12:3). We are stuck in a daily struggle to elevate ourselves in the eyes of others. Now, if we're so busy fighting to protect ourselves and our own agenda, where do we find the time or energy to go out and do what God asks us to do? When do we go out in His name to love and serve other people and bring them into His kingdom?
The first thing we need to know about humility--the Christ-like attitude that directs us to lay aside our pride and give up our rights and demands--is that humility sets us free! Humility releases something on the inside of us. It gives us the ability not only to take our rightful place in the world, but also to take a position lower than everyone else--like Jesus, who came down to serve all mankind, taking the lowest place of all. Only after He lowered Himself did God raise Him to His rightful place.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Low Road to New Heights by Wellington Boone. Copyright © 2002 by Wellington Boone. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.