Bill Farley is author of Gospel-Powered Humility
, a book that came out just last week:
Gospel-Powered Humility argues that God has designed the gospel to provoke humility. In this vital book William Farley proves that humility, often the least emphasized virtue, is in reality the chief and most necessary virtue. If humility truly matters, our Christian ministry should aim to not only encourage faith, but to encourage a faith that humbles sinners.
The book looks great, and I know I need to read it. I really appreciate that he talks about pride and ministry in this book. It’s a topic that those in ministry need to think about.
I’m pleased that Bill Farley was willing to answer some of my questions. Bill is pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, Washington.
You argue that “humility is the chief and necessary virtue, the virtue that precedes all others.” Why is humility so important?
First, humility is the chief and necessary virtue because it precedes the other virtues. Humility is a mental disposition to see God and others great and yourself small. I did not say yourself “unimportant.” You are important because you are greatly loved by God, but a humble person knows that this love is not earned. They are unworthy, and that is what makes God’s love so wonderful. The person that knows this will position the needs of God and others above them self. In the words of Phil. 2:3 they will consider others more important than them self. This disposition is foundational to the capacity to love God and others. You cannot feel superior and love others or obey God.
Second, growth in humility is the chief and necessary virtue because it alone is proof positive that I really know the living God. Real contact with the living God will humble me. Therefore, it is impossible to really know God and retain a high opinion of my own importance and performance. This is a great litmus test of my relationship with God. Am I growing in humility?
Given that humility is so important, you say that pride is a “respectable sin.” Why do we tend to take pride less seriously than we should?
Pride is a “respectable sin” because pride is uniquely symptomatic of Western Culture. Culture exhorts us to indulge self, love self, pamper self, and exalt self. For example, it has recently come out that Whitney Houston made it a life ambition to love herself more. This goal would have offended previous generations, but our generation thinks it admirable. Pride has always been alive and well, but most cultures have at least pretended to loathe it. We don’t. We admire it, and that is why it is hard for us to take it seriously. C. S. Lewis noted how we don’t see the sins of our generation. That is why he recommended reading old books. This especially applies to the sin of pride and the virtue of humility.
How are pastors and Christian leaders especially vulnerable to pride? What can they do to protect themselves?
Christian leaders are especially vulnerable to pride. The pride of intellect tempts us. Spiritual pride tempts us. Pride in numbers tempts us, and selfish ambition, an ugly expression of pride, is always at hand. I devoted the last chapter of “Gospel Powered Humility” to this subject. Here is why it is such a great problem. God resists the proud! This means that God will resist any ministry that does not pursue humility. If this is true, pride has rendered more ministries impotent than all the adulteries and financial improprieties combined.
The best way to protect yourself from pride is to immerse yourself in the truths of the gospel. Meditate on it daily. The gospel, properly understood, is profoundly humbling. In addition, surround yourself with men that will be honest with you, and seek their observations.
What’s the ultimate danger for those who haven’t been humbled?
The faith that saves is a humbling faith. That means that if your conversion and subsequent sanctification have done nothing to humble you, then it is possible that you have never been converted. This is true because the effect of the biblical gospel is humility. It informs us of the wrath that we deserve, the coming judgment that we cannot satisfy, and the prevalence of sin in every corner of our person and personality. The gospel motivates us to flee to the cross of Christ as our only refuge. It empties us of the conviction that ultimate good resides in us.
There is a second danger. The essence of pride is blindness, and the first thing that pride is blind to is the existence of itself. Therefore, the irony is this: The humble Christian thinks he is proud, but the proud Christian thinks he is humble. Therefore, the greatest danger to all Christians is complacency. If you are thinking, “I am really a very humble person. Others need to seek humility, but not me. I am already humble” then you are probably in great danger.
What steps should we take to pursue humility?
First, confess that you are proud. You may not understand the depths and nature of your pride, but confess it by faith.
Second, ask God to humble you. Humility is not something external. You can act humble so that others will think well of you, but even that is a display of pride. Real humility proceeds from heart-felt contact with the living God through his word. It is a set of heart attitudes. Most people experience it in ever-deepening layers as the years progress.
Third, cultivate the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself. The gospel reminds us of our poverty and God’s riches. The gospel humbles us, and the humbling is sweet. It produces peace that surpasses understanding, joy inexpressible and full of glory, and access to God’s love, a love that surpasses knowledge.