October 20, 2020

Chapter Two Continued: Humility and Obedience

I promised a follow-up of my article on “Chapter Two of the Christian Life.” In it I talked about the necessity, once grace has begun to work in us, of working ourselves. I listed nine disciplines or areas of growth that I wanted to talk about.  My purpose is not to load people up with guilt or to get people to try to achieve grace through effort.  My purpose is to encourage all of you who, like me, have asked, “Now what?”  Now we begin the training in Christian living.

To lay the foundation for all the disciplines I plan to talk about, I need to start with the two most basic:  humility and obedience.  I call them disciplines, and they are:  when learned and practiced, however imperfectly, they will train us in right living.  But they are not only the means to right living, they are the goal of right living.  In other words, we need to practice humility and obedience in order to, well, practice humility and obedience.

So they are virtues to be acquired, not just disciplines to develop virtues.  And how are virtues acquired?  Aristotle said (and C.S. Lewis and I agree with him) that virtues are acquired through acting as if you possessed internally the virtue that you are trying to exhibit externally.  We learn virtues the same way we learn swimming or playing guitar.  We do the activity we want to learn.  We are terrible at it to begin with, but we know that through directed and continued effort we will eventually get better at swimming or guitar.  In fact, we will eventually become a swimmer or a guitar player.  The skill will become so internalized that it is no longer an effort we make but a quality of our very nature.

This practice in virtue can feel like hypocrisy, as we pretend to a quality that we don’t possess.  We act kind, even when we want to rage; we pretend courage, even when our knees are shaking.  Galatians 3:27 talks about putting on Christ, or clothing ourselves with Christ, and this is the same thing:  we put on something we are not, but we will grow into the thing we put on. It’s just like getting in the water and splashing around as if we were swimmers, when we’re really not yet.  This is the only way we will become virtuous people.  No amount of intellectual assent or pleasant fantasy will train us to respond with love when suddenly confronted with hate or to act with courage when facing something terrifying.  Only habit built up by training will enable us to acquire virtues and ultimately to become virtuous.

Let me say loud and clear that the purpose of growth in virtue is not to buff up our character so we can look good and avoid embarrassment.  The purpose of growth in virtue is to become like Christ.  He is our model of virtue, and he gives us the desire and strength to persevere.  I’m not offering another feel-good, look-good program.  I’m just trying to answer the “How?” we all ask when confronted with Christ’s commands to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  And I will answer it, insofar as I can, by drawing mostly on the wisdom of others much farther along the road to perfection than I am.

So, if we are to become like Christ, humility and obedience would be the place to start.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross”  (Philippians 2:5-7).

He humbled himself and became obedient.  So should we.  But what is humility?  What does it look like?  Here is C.S. Lewis, through the backward lens of Screwtape, describing humility.

You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility.  Let him think of it, not as self-forgetfulness, but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.   . . .  Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be.  No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point.  The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to be a virtue.  By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.  And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it, and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible. . . .The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. . . .  He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things.  He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love – a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.

Humility therefore is a right view of us, a view without prejudice either for ourselves or against ourselves.  How do we work toward that?

God provides many opportunities to see us more clearly.  They’re called other people.  While it’s the sign of a disordered ego to absorb entirely another’s view of ourselves, still we need to accept the insights of others as part of learning who we really are.  Step one then would be not leaping to defend ourselves when we are criticized but accepting criticisms with regretful acknowledgement of their probable truth.  Even if the person criticizing us obviously doesn’t intend our good, even if he or she wants to hurt us, God does intend our good.  If we take the harsh words as from God, then they become kindness.

In my experience the greatest resistance to humility comes from our sense of fairness.  Usually the words or circumstances that humble us don’t seem fair.  We have a strong desire for justice (at least as concerns ourselves), and we want to protest against the humiliation or injustice we’re faced with.  But justice is God’s business, not ours.  Our business is humbling ourselves and becoming obedient.

St. Benedict, in his Rule, writes at length about humility.  Consider this description of the humble man:  “If hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up, but hold out, as the Scripture saith: ‘He that shall persevere unto the end shall be saved’ (Mt 10:22).”

The training for humility is to be humiliated.  To accept unfairness and unkindness and even injury as Jesus did, with patience and even temper.

St. Benedict also says humility is “obedience without delay.”  It strikes me as profound to equate humility and obedience.

We hate obedience. It doesn’t feel safe to submit ourselves to other people or even (let’s be honest) to God.  We feel that if we’re not in the driver’s seat, chances are the driver is going to be Jim Jones.  But St. Benedict isn’t assuming that authority will always be benevolent or that obedience is always easy.  He nonetheless, with the Apostles Paul and Peter, thinks that there is value in humbly persevering in the face of injustice and submitting our wills to earthly authority.  I know obedience is dangerous, and I know that we, like Peter, sometimes have to ask ourselves whether it is better to obey man or God.  I don’t have any easy rule on when to obey earthly authorities, but I suspect “More often than we do” would be a good discipline to start with.

Not only do we hate and fear obedience, I think we don’t understand what it is.  We tend to think obedience is assent; after considering what is asked of us, we agree that what we were told to do is what we would have done anyway, and so we do it.  This is not obedience without delay and therefore not humility.  Obedience involves radical trust in and submission to God, often through the agency of another person.  Obedience does what it’s asked because it is asked, not because it assents.  Surely some of the things God tells us to do are things we can’t assent to by our own reasoning.  Naaman was offended by the stupidity of Elisha’s command to dunk himself in the river, but when he obeyed – not when he figured out why and decided to do it anyway – he was healed.

We have so many opportunities to obey without delay that we have no excuse for neglecting this discipline.  Spend a day listening to the demands and requests you get from people.  They are mostly little, unimportant things – use the other china for dinner; bring your sweater; would you mind not humming? – but these are exactly the opportunity to practice obedience.  Do them because you are asked, not because there’s any compelling reason to do them.  And do them without arguing or dragging your heels.  This exercise certainly teaches me how far from humble I am.  I find myself objecting for “reasons” – I’m saving the good china for later; it’s nice outside; I FEEL like humming – and just because I don’t want to be told what to do.  I hoped that the Christian life would involve something exciting like battling dragons:  there’s a huge one right here.  I’d better get to work.

I’ll finish with an insight into humility by Anthony Bloom.

The word ‘humility’ comes from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means fertile ground.  To me, humility is not what we often make of it:  the sheepish way of trying to imagine that we are the worst of all and trying to convince others that our artificial ways of behaving show that we are aware of that.  Humility is the situation of the earth.  The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don’t need.  It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.  . . . [T]his is the weakness within which God can manifest His power and this is the situation in which the absence of God can become the presence of God.  We cannot capture God.  But whenever we stand, . . . like the Publican . . ., outside the realm of ‘right,’ only in the realm of mercy, we can meet God.

Humility and obedience seem like the dullest, greyest, most depressing of the virtues.  They seem like negative things, like the absence of some energy or impulse in contrast to a positive, active virtue like courage or kindness.  But they aren’t.  In them we put ourselves to death, it’s true; but from the obedient, humble death new life springs forth.  When we empty ourselves, we are filled.


C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.  New York:  Macmillan Publishing, 1961. pp. 63-65.

The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, 1949 Edition.  Translated by Rev. Boniface Verheyen, OSB, of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas.  Electronic text (with added scripture references) prepared by Br. Boniface Butterworth, OSB.

Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray.  New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1970. pp. 35 and 36.


  1. Favorite quote on humility:

    “All this to make it known the region of eternity that pride can degrade the highest angels into devils, and humility raise fallen flesh and blood to the thrones of angels. Thus, this is the great end of God raising a new creation out of a fallen kingdom of angels; for this end it stands in its state of war betwixt the fire and pride of fallen angels, and the humility of the Lamb of God, that the last trumpet may sound the great truth through the depths of eternity, that evil can have no beginning but from pride, and no end but from humility.

    “The truth is this: Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you. Under the banner of the truth, give yourself up to the meek and humble spirit of the holy Jesus. Humility must sow the seed, or there can be no reaping in Heaven. Look not at pride only as an unbecoming temper, nor at humility only as a decent virtue: for the one is death, and the other is life; the one is all hell, the other is all heaven. So much as you have of pride within you, you have of the fallen angel alive in you; so much as you have of true humility, so much you have of the Lamb of God within you.

    “Could you see what every stirring of pride does to your soul, you would beg of everything you meet to tear the viper from you, though with the loss of a hand or an eye. Could you see what a sweet, divine, transforming power there is in humility, how it expels the poison of your nature, and makes room for the Spirit of God to live in you, you would rather wish to be the footstool of all the world than want the smallest degree of it.”

    – Spirit of Prayer, Part 2, p. 73, Edition of Moreton, Canterbury, 1893 — quoted in Andrew Murray’s Humility

  2. Second favorite quote:

    “We need to know two things: 1. That our salvation consists wholly in being saved from ourselves, or that which we are by nature; 2. That in the whole nature of things nothing could be this salvation or saviour to us but such a humility of God as is beyond all expression. Hence the first unalterable term of the Saviour to fallen man: Except a man denies himself, he cannot be My disciple. Self is the whole evil of fallen nature; self-denial is our capacity of being saved; humility is our saviour… Self is the root, the branches, the tree, of all the evil of our fallen state. All the evils of fallen angels and men have their birth in the pride of self. On the other hand, all the virtues of the heavenly life are the virtues of humility. It is humility alone that makes the unpassable gulf between heaven and hell.

    “What is then, or in what lies, the great struggle for eternal life? It all lies in the strife between pride and humility: pride and humility are the two master powers, the two kingdoms in strife for the eternal possession of man.

    “There never was, nor ever will be, but one humility, and that is the one humility of Christ. Pride and self have the all of man, till man has his all from Christ. He therefore only fights the good fight whose strive is that the self-idolatrous nature which he hath from Adam may be brought to death by the supernatural humility of Christ brought to life in him.”

    – W. Law, Address to the Clergy, p. 52. –quoted in Andrew Murray’s Humility

  3. “Obedience does what it’s asked because it is asked, not because it assents.” Just one of so many good points you make here. Thank you, Damaris.

  4. “of working ourselves” -Does one train in humility or is humility a natural result from a life saturated in the gospel message. Don’t focus on the ends, focus on the means, Christ and His cross. He promises us fruit. We needn’t develop a plan. The plan is Jesus.

    Trust that you are a sinner, Christ is the savior, and love others.

    • Rob — Yes, humility is a natural result from a life saturated in *Christ*, at least. (I’m not sure if a life saturated in the gospel message is exactly the same thing.) But how do we live that life in Christ? No matter what we do we will be doing something; every choice we make develops our characters in one way or another. Better to be choosing and doing something good.

      • Damaris “But how do we live that life in Christ?”

        Trust that you are a sinner, Christ is the savior, and love others.

  5. “The purpose of growth in virtue is to become like Christ. He is our model of virtue, and he gives us the desire and strength to persevere”
    Great post! I love that you are calling us to model our lives (imperfect as we are) to Christ.
    I have been reading Donald Kraybill’s ‘The Upside-Down Kingdom’ (great book!). in one chapter he talks about how we as Chirstian can became too “cross” focused (as wonderful as it is) & forget the “basin” or life of Jesus.

    I think this is the weak spot of Evangelicalism (other branches of Chirstianity) there is only the antonement & no focus on Jesus’ teachings & life. They forget that he is the perfect example, & model.

    also, I have been teaching my daughter’s the Apostle’s Creed – same problem no teachings of Jesus – how did they miss this —are Christians to “Believe” in his teachings?

    beautiful art pick! we Mennonites love feet washing! 😀

  6. “They forget that he is the perfect example, & model.”

    Christ is the crucified lamb of God. Not an example, a model, or a moral example. He is God in the flesh, crucified for sinners.

    • Amen, Rob!

      Christ does it…ALL!

      “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”

      Well…that all sounds a bit too easy…doesn’t it?

      Not really. Somebody had to die for it. Easy for us maybe. Hard for Him.

    • “Not an example, a model, or a moral example”

      wait for it…….wait for it………Ephesians 5:1-3
      1 Follow God’s EXAMPLE, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and WALK IN THE WAY OF LOVE, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

      quit making everthing into what saves you & what doesn’t. This is about worshipping God with our lives. (a living prayer!)

      • Also,

        “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

        I Peter 2:21

      • Isn’t the whole point of discipleship becoming LIKE Jesus?

      • 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
        14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
        15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

        Ephesians 4

      • 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!-
        21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
        22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
        23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
        24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

        Ephesians 4

      • 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:
        6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

        I John 2

      • Briank-Look at my previous posts to Damarias. You will note they both end with love. This is consistent with Ephesians 5.

        Christ made everything about what saves you (HIM) and what doesn’t (our works). This was Christ’s sole purpose of existence and the cross. I am pointing to His purpose, you are pointing to one of many results because He fulfilled His purpose. Focusing on the later and devising our inner plans, our small group curriculum to become “humble” will fail. I have too many books are on my shelf that promised me the steps to being humble, “spiritual disciplines”, Desiring God, etc. They never helped? The only thing that helps is hearing the word (in reading and on Sunday) that Christ forgives, rescued you from death and the devil, and promises life everlasting with Him, and actually tasting that forgiveness in communion. How can you not walk away from that with a humble, joyful heart of love. We don’t need another “plan”. We need to hear forgiveness all the time.

        • Not sure I saw the relevance of your first paragraph. Actually both paragraphs seem tangential to your claim that Jesus is not our example or model.

          do we just wait for that holy heart attack or bus??? you sound like you are in a corner of your closest with your fingers in your ears yelling “God will take me to heaven,God will take me to heaven!”

          Jesus died on the cross for my sins (which are many). Because of his love & glory – I worship him both in the word, at the table, & IN MY LIFE.
          My question – why did Jesus teach???? you seem to only care about Jesus’ death & care little for his life.
          Stop thinking. start loving. Love God & love your neighbor.
          that’s a commandment!

          • briank, thanks for engaging Rob. I’ve been so beat down by the mantras of the Calvinist/Reformed Theology adherents lately that I just don’t have the energy to engage anymore. The sad thing is that I don’t have significant disagreement with their Theology, but most of those that I know are so obsessed with how right they are that they don’t actually try to understand the idea I am trying to communicate with my words. Oh well, I hope that makes sense. Thanks again for engaging. I’m sure there are many other readers on both sides of the debate that appreciate the engagement.

        • Rob thanks for your comments…I appreciate them and think they are very important and well put. I fear that makes me look like a theological lawyer LOL….that is not the case. I think you are actually arguing what Jesus argued and taught and I worry that so many of us feel that what Jesus did was not enough. Lip service to grace and the gospel is not good enough…if I hear more about you and less about Jesus…I am sorry…that means lip service and it is a clear indication of your real motivations. The ironic thing, is that is is the same motivation we all have…because we are all selfish…isn’t that obvious?

      • 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
        17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

        I John 4

  7. Would humility require that churches, and pastors, to stop assuming they know more than everybody else about such things? Because every time I hear the word, it’s coming from one of the above.

    • Well, I’m a housewife and an adjunct instructor at community college, and I said it . . . And yes, humility would require exactly what you said whenever it was true.

    • I’m not sure why talking about “how important humility is” should be equated with “I know more about it than everyone else”.

      • In theory, the virtue of humility (to the extent that it really is a virtue) might inspire churches to be less certain of their beliefs, and preachers to be little less preachy. But the very nature of churches, and preachers, prevents this from really happening. This all-around self-righteousness–the conviction that my/our opinion is better than others, and that there is something wrong with you, which you need my/our help to fix–is one of the characteristic faults of Christianity.

        By contrast, the UU approach would be to assume that there’s nothing really wrong with you (unless told otherwise), and not preach to you about how to fix it. (Naturally the more hide-bound religions consider UU to hardly count as church at all.)

        • I don’t see this. Churches are not people. churches have no soul and no ego. How can a church be humble?

          Humility would lead pastors, preachers and priests to accept the teachings and creeds of their church more fully rather than tearing down. It would lead any pastors preachers or priest who couldn’t believe and represent their church’s teachings fully well to resign rather than diminish those teachings by superimposing their own thoughts.

          If humility were brought to bear, there’d be more certainty — not less. Of course, humble church leaders would stop talking about politics and science in ways that dishonor them. Maybe that is your point.

          • Good reply, Andy. C.S. Lewis noted that before last century people were certain of their beliefs, but unsure of themselves, while that has now been reversed.

  8. Damaris,

    Your post resonates with me and has a lot of spiritual truth. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    You said, “they are virtues to be acquired, not just disciplines to develop virtues.  And how are virtues acquired?  Aristotle said (and C.S. Lewis and I agree with him) that virtues are acquired through acting as if you possessed internally the virtue that you are trying to exhibit externally”. I agree with this overall, but I’m not sure it works as well in the area of humility, the most elusive of the virtues. I remember a missions trip where I resolved to focus on humbling serving the other members of my team. By day five I was angry and annoyed that they were taking advantage of me. I think my pride was actually greater. It reminds me of when H.R. Ironsides, the famous pastor in Chicago, decided to practice humility by wearing a sandwich board with a gospel message on the street corner one day. He relates that as he took it off at the end of the day, he caught himself thinking, “there’s probably not another Pastor in the city humble enough to do what I did.”

    So what does bring humility? All I can say is asking God to do ANYTHING He has to do to expose and break your pride. And then asking again and again. And again.

    “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”

    • I’m realizing I did not make my thoughts as clear as I would like. The reason I counsel accepting criticism and obeying everyday requests as training for humility is because I think that people DIVERT themselves from humility by running after the flashy self-mortifications. I should have said more clearly that we don’t always need to wear a hair shirt (or a sandwich board) to pursue radical humility but that God is already providing daily opportunities for us to humble ourselves. It is pride to run after humiliation when God offers us humiliation in everyday, humble circumstances!

      Thanks for this and all your comments. That verse from Psalm 51 was to me the door of paradise.

      • I probrably did not read it carefully enough.

        I also apologize to you for my part in hijacking the thread away from the topic of humility and on to the whole law/grace argument.

  9. There are obviously some folks here who actually believe that they are obedient and humble.

    Those types of Christians are in the worst possible place they could be.

    Sorry to burst some bubbles. But that is just the plain truth of the matter.

    • I suppose it would be needlessly snarky to point out that your comment comes across as a little arrogant 🙂

    • Seriously, though, it would be more helpful to point out which statements are arrogant than to make vague personal judgments

    • “There are obviously some folks here who actually believe that they are obedient and humble…. But that is just the plain truth of the matter.”

      I am by no means obedient and humble. But God promises that He will make me so, and therefore I strive for the goal. God will accomplish His will in me, through me, and in spite of me.

    • You see? *That’s* why religious like the “humility” concept. It gives them another handy tool for shaming others.

  10. When people actually think that they have it in them to live the life of obedience (say doing and being all the things that Jesus talks about that He expects from us in The Sermon on the Mount, then they are deluding themselves and are on the road to pride and self-righteousness.

    The scumbag sinner publican, on the other hand, knew he wasn’t up to it, and Jesus said that one went away justified.

    “Christ died for the ungodly”…not the godly.

    • Steve,

      I understand and agree completely that we are saved by grace alone. Because of grace, we are saved from the wrath of God. Where we seem to disagree on what we are saved towards.

      I understand the gospel to mean that I am saved toward a life of discipleship, which I define as a gradual process of becoming more like Christ. Where you seem to rightly caution us is in thinking that this can be done in our own power and effort. It cannot. However, this does not mean I am powerless. I have the power of Christ, mediated through the Holy Spirit. Else how could Paul say he could do all things through Christ. What could he have meant if not that spiritual power for growth and service is actually available to sinners like us? I ask you that sincerely.

      I’m sorry if you think an honest desire to become more like Christ seems arrogant or deluded to you. To be frank, I just dont get that. Every page of the New Testament rustles with the wondrous thought that God’s Spirit actually resides in us, and we can be filled with that Spirit or quench that Spirit. Respectfully, I would suggest my view of man’s depravity (including my own) is just as dark as yours. However, the power of God is (amazingly) available to us if we stay connected to the vine.

      I apologize if I have misunderstood your viewpoint.

    • Steve, I hear your Lutheran perspective loud and clear, and I think it has much to teach evangelicals about the continuing power of the Gospel in a Christian’s life.

      However, I still struggle with understanding how some of what you are saying fits with what the Augsburg Confession calls “The New Obedience.” That article says, “Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God.”

      I don’t think anyone here is contradicting the doctrine of justification by faith alone any more than Augsburg is doing so when it says, “It is necessary to do good works commanded by God.” In Christ, this is not about my own effort to keep the Law, but what D.A. Carson called “grace-driven effort” to live in the gospel. If the gospel includes the resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Holy Spirit as well as the Cross, doesn’t that suggest that those who die with Christ in baptism also rise to walk in newness of life, and that, as Rom. 6 instructs, we must “present [ourselves] to God as those alive from the dead, and [our] members as instruments of righteousness to God”?

      I am not trying to argue with you. I am trying to clarify Lutheran teaching, and how texts like this are understood.

      • Chaplain MIke,

        When Holy Scripture says that we are saved by grace through faith, it means, “not of works, lest any man should boast” The Bible clearly says that “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.”

        Also, we walk by faith and not by sight. We are “new creations”, but we cannot point to anything and say ‘see that, that is a ‘Christian work’ (since the heathen is also capable of doing “good works”).

        There will be fruit of the Spirit, but we cannot measure it. In our Baptisms, our old selves are put to death, alongside Christ ( Romans 6), and we are raised with Christ also (Romans 6). Everything we need has been accomolished for us in our Baptisms. This is a very Lutheran understanding of Paul.

        ‘Doing’ (works) is just another manifestation of the law IF there is a “should” attached to it. So we ‘DO’, out of freedom and love, with no self consciousness (“when I was hungry, you fed me, etc. …”when did we do those things?” they said to Jesus)

        When works are preached as a ‘should, ought, or must’, then the pure sweet gospel is muddied by the law…with the best of intentions. St. Paul reminds us that “the law brings death, and not life”. The law being not just the 10 Commandments, but any demand that our existence places upon us to do and be what we were made to be.

        The Holy Spirit is capable of making us grow in Christ, but we are never oing to be a “better Christian” than at the moment we were baptized. As the late Dr. Gerhard Forde says, “Sanctification is just a matter of getting used to your justification.”

        The Lutheran Confessions were, and are great articles. But they are NOT Holy Scripture. The L.C’s were put together at a time of great schism and even warring factions of the Catholic Church and the Reformers, so some compromises in language were used. The are great, but they could have been better and gone farther to seperate the law from the gospel. It is a fact that Melancthon was a humanist in many ways, and much of what he wrote and said and taught reflects that.

        So, this battle to keep the gospel pure, is one that has gone on from the beging of Lutheranism, and Christianity, as well. Almost all of Paul’s writings were put on a shelf for a hundred years. It was said of him, “he is hard to understand.”.

        It all boils down to’ freedom’. For the Christian, and for God, to save whom He will save, wiithout any strings attached. Christ died for the unGodly. The Holy Spirit IS quite capable of making us into whatever He will, without the prodding of law, but by His inspiration alone.

        Dr. Forde says all of this much, much better than I ever could. I would suggest looking at some of his books. ‘On being a Theologian of the Cross’, ‘Justification, a Matter of Death and Life’ to name a couple of them.

        I rambled too long!

        Thanks, Chaplain Mike!

        • you need to put down your TULIP diagram & your Law/Gospel decoder ring & just read the scriptures, focus on the words of Jesus with Love & his Spirt. good luck to you . peace.

          • No TULIP for me…I’m a Lutheran.

            Here’s our decoder ring…GRACE ALONE, FAITH ALONE, THE WORD ALONE.

            THAT’S IT.

            I know that just rankles some. But the Christ (+) people are always looking to add something to the grace of God.

            Might as well go back to Rome.

        • Well said Steve.

        • “Doing’ (works) is just another manifestation of the law IF there is a “should” attached to it”

          This seems to be the heart of our disagreement.

          It seems to me that the little word, “should” needs to be clarified. I can’t help looking at the teachings of our Lord in the gospels and the teaching of the epistles and see imperative after imperative. Certainly Jesus is saying we “should” love our brothers, and Paul is saying we “should” flee sexual immorality. How else can the hundreds of statements like these be understood? It is not works-righteousness to simply try to obey the commands of our Lord, is it?

          In any case, the fact that both you and Rob could assert that Jesus is not an example or model to us (in spite of al the clear verses cited above) leaves me with less confidence that you have a balanced view of New Testament ethics.

          • “Doing’ (works) is just another manifestation of the law IF there is a ‘should’ attached to it.”

            Here’s a Screwtape strategy for you: To discourage the fulfillment of the Great Commission, in which Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything he commanded, get his followers in succeeding generations to think that obeying commands (by definition things you should do) are implicitly a form of works-righteousness.

            Then his followers will develop the habit of associating obedience with obligation (i.e., you should do this) and obligation with Law, thus negating the necessity of obedience in the name of honoring salvation by grace alone, not by works lest any man should boast.

        • Steve, what I’m struggling with is the concept of “new” obedience, which appears to be an emphasis of the NT, not just the confessions. Rom 6 says to present myself and my members to God “as one alive from the dead.” Passage after passage in the NT uses “therefore” logic–Since this is what God has done for you in Christ, and in light of what you have become in Christ, therefore obey these instructions, practice these virtues, etc. This is NEW obedience, not old law-keeping. The resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Spirit are as vital to the Gospel as the cross.

          Having said that, I do think other traditions do try to move from the gospel and do enter a realm of pietism and legalism which is wholly unwarranted. The Lutheran focus on “nothing but the gospel” is a necessary corrective.

          I’m still learning.

          • “This is NEW obedience, not old law-keeping.”
            well said Chap. Mike!

            Bede Griffiths once said
            “Jesus turned the Law which we were dead to – into principles we live by. ”
            or something close to that – quoting as i remember it.

      • “Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God.”

        Great quote, Chaplain Mike, and helpful addition to this discussion. Thank you.

    • I will let Tozer speak for me (since he does it a thousand times better than I could myself):

      “      I want to be fair to everyone and to find all the good I can in every man’s religious beliefs, but the harmful effects of this faith-as-magic creed are greater than could be imagined by anyone who has not come face-to-face with them. Large assemblies today are being told fervently that the one essential qualification for heaven is to be an evil man, and the one sure bar to God’s favor is to be a good one. The very word righteousness is spoken only in cold scorn, and the moral man is looked upon with pity. “A Christian,” say these teachers, “is not morally better than a sinner; the only difference is that he has taken Jesus, and so he has a Savior.” I trust it may not sound flippant to inquire, “A savior from what?” If not from sin and evil conduct and the old fallen life, then from what? And if the answer is, “From the consequences of past sins and from judgment to come,” still we are not satisfied. Is justification from past offenses all that distinguishes a Christian from a sinner? Can a man become a believer in Christ and be no better than he was before? Does the gospel offer no more than a skillful Advocate to get guilty sinners off free at the Day of Judgment?…

            In asserting that faith in the gospel effects a change of life motive from self to God, I am but stating the sober facts. Every man with moral intelligence must be aware of the curse that afflicts him inwardly; he must be conscious of the thing we call ego, by the Bible called flesh or self, but by whatever name called, a cruel master and a deadly foe. Pharaoh never ruled Israel as tyrannically as this hidden enemy rules the sons and daughters of men. The words of God to Moses concerning Israel in bondage may well describe us all: “I have indeed seen the misery of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” And when, as the Nicene Creed so tenderly states, our Lord Jesus Christ, “for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried, and the third day He arose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father,” what was it all for? That He might pronounce us technically free and leave us in our bondage? Never. Did not God say to Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey”? For sin’s human captives God never intends anything less than full deliverance. The Christian message rightly understood means this: The God, who by the word of the gospel proclaims men free, by the power of the gospel actually makes them free. To accept less than this is to know the gospel in word only, without its power.”


  11. Good stuff, Damaris.
    I would add that any regiment of Christian discipline — be it practicing humility, obedience, faith, patience, charity, or whatever — should be accompanied by a continuous effort to tune our hearts and minds to the communications and promptings of the Holy Spirit. Sure, practicing the fruits of the Spirit will help to build up and strengthen those character traits in our lives. But when it comes to the specific situations of everyday life, we’re really just taking pot shots in the dark without some real-time intelligence from the Spirit. We can err in the name of humility if the Spirit is urging us to assert ourselves with boldness in a particular situation. And we can take a bold leap of faith right over a cliff when the Spirit is counseling caution and discernment. Becoming like Christ isn’t merely a matter of observing aspects of His character as revealed through Scripture and striving to mimic that in our own lives. Even Jesus Himself rebuked those who called Him “good”, responding that only the Father is worthy of being called good. However, Jesus was in the business of doing and saying what His Father instructed Him to do and say, moment by moment, situation by situation. And He told His disciples that, through Him and the Spirit, they could have the same kind of intimately connected relationship with the Father that He has. So, maybe, the best way to grow into the likeness of Christ is to first learn to listen and then obey what we hear. Or, maybe, we come to hear His voice more clearly when we first practice obedience in those basic things that we already know. And, maybe, it’s a little bit of both at the same time.
    I would also add that, at least in my own experience, any significant and lasting change in regards to my own character and behavior has come in conjunction with a powerful and tangible sense of His presence and involvement. And while there are some things I’ve had to work at (and I”m still working at them with questionable progress), it seems like most of the real spiritual gains in my life have just been handed to me in an inexplicable, miraculous fashion. So, maybe, it really does all come down to Him working in us through grace. And, maybe, the best we can do is try our best to submit and cooporate with the work He is doing in and through us.

  12. Daniel and Briank-
    I’ll try to be more direct.
    I and I suspect Steve Martin are trying to say the following:
    We agree that humility, kindness, X, Y, Z are some signs of a disciple.
    We agree that these are good things.

    Setting out on some inner plan to become more humble or
    Listening to a 6 part sermon series on how to be more humble or
    Searching the scriptures on how to be more humble or
    Buying the latest book on disciplines or
    Sitting in a small group learning to be more humble…
    I believe the bible when it says the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation”.

    Understanding everyday and being more clear on the power sin has over me, hearing about Christ’s completed work for me (from the pastor individually, on Sunday, in corporate confession/absolution, in communion, in prayer) is the driving force for change. So Briank’s comment to me “I get it you’re saved, now what” is the point. There is nothing else. Hearing about Christ’s forgiveness is the plan, the method, the way of being a disciple. Dying to self is knowing your sinful fallen nature and growing in Christ is the growing certainty of His goodness and completed work FOR YOU. I never leave the cross. The cross is not a stepping stone or a foot for someone to get in the door.

    In a practical way, this plays out in my life of attending a church where the gospel, Christ crucified for me, is clearly stated every week. In these words and in communion I receive that good news weekly. I don’t receive moral exhortations that confuse law and gospel. In my occupation, or as husband/dad, when I am weary and broken, it is opening the bible to hear about the good news that sustains and builds humility. It is telling my girls at night the good news that Christ has died for them. I trust that from this I will grow more humble. However, I will not develop any plan or practice anything other than being born new each day in Christ.

    Asserting a statement does not mean a person is arrogant.

    • “Setting out on some inner plan to become more humble or
      Listening to a 6 part sermon series on how to be more humble or
      Searching the scriptures on how to be more humble or
      Buying the latest book on disciplines or
      Sitting in a small group learning to be more humble…”

      I’m really not saying any of those things. One of the challenges of the blog as medium is how fleeting every post is. In the first article of this series, “Chapter Two of the Christian Life,” I say flat-out that I am NOT offering any program. If what I am saying sounds like a program, I don’t mean it to be. The only “program” toward humility I offer is living life in a Christ-like manner rather than insisting on fairness and autonomy. It seems to bother you that I am temporarily taking apart “Christ-like” to focus on certain attributes, like humility or obedience, but I think many people find it helpful to do just that. If you don’t, if anything I say diverts you from living the life of the resurrection, drop me like a hot potato. My goal in writing these things is not to change any Christian’s mind, only to help and encourage those who may have had questions similar to mine.

      And just so you don’t worry, I am trusting only in the completed work of Christ for my salvation. But that’s not what I’m talking about just at this moment.

    • Great straw-man argument! like Damais said noone is suggesting a sermon series, books, disiplines, or the like. What many have called for here is discipleship.

      I am not angry or trying to be mean. Often times commenting can give the wrong impression.

      But your view seems to be focused on yourself (my salvation, hearing I’m forgiven is being a disciple, I don’t need to do anything). I can not diagree more we do do something. We LOVE , WE FORGIVE!
      You still seem to ignore Jesus’ teachings & and your neighbor.
      the Gospel is that God loves us, God has forgiven us, so we love ourselves & forgive ourselves, & we love others & we forgive others. Do not put limits on what this love & forgiveness can do or be.
      peace in Christ.

    • Very nicely said, Rob.


    • Rob, I really love this… wish I could find your email, but let me thank you for stating what I think the gospel tells us. I wish to hear it more because I need it desperately. I can only imagine others who need to hear it as well and I am discouraged that people seem to want to hear something else.

      in his grace

  13. There is a fairy tale of sorts that talks about a cruel man putting on a mask that makes him appear to be a sweet fellow. (I forget why he did that to begin with.) At some point, though, he decided to tell the truth and take off the mask to show people who he really was. But when he took off the mask, no one noticed any difference. By pretending to be a “good” person, he had, in fact, become the good person. (Sorry I can’t remember more details. I did an internet search too.) Damaris’ post about practicing humility reminded me of this story.

  14. Absolutely wonderful essay, Damaris!

    If you’ve ever read the writings of the famous sixth-century desert father, Dorotheos of Gaza, you’ll be struck by he urged believers to embrace criticism, especially that which seemed to be unjustified. His point was that perceived unfairness or unjustified criticism was the best opportunity to suffer, obey and develop humility. He told his disciples to be grateful for these encounters, because they were sure pathways to holiness.

    In my own life, when I can view these types of situations through the lens of this teaching, it changes me for the better. Learning humility is difficult, but ultimately freeing, because I no longer have to maintain a false facade. I’m still on the path to be sure, but I’ve learned not to be afraid of being humbled.

    • 1. I’ve never heard of Dorotheos of Gaza, but that is a kick-but name!

      2. His words ring true. As a pastor I get criticism, some of which is just and some of which is not. It is the unjust criticism that really challenges my pride. I can either get defensive, or I can die to myself. Thanks for the reminder.

    • I’ve never heard of him, either, but I’ll look him up — thank you!

  15. Humility is truly one of the defining qualities of what it means to be “in Christ.” Every Christian would also agree that it’s important to be humble. The messages of humility and obedience are ones that I heard countless times at my old church. Part of the problem though for us, is that while we discuss it and maybe even venerate it, living it is a totally different proposition. As a result, I would say that humility is one of the most overused and misused words in our lexicon. In that respect, I don’t need any more messages on why I should be humble, but rather I need guidance and instruction on how to be humble even as Christ was humble. How do I practically live a humble life? With my wife and kids, with my co-workers, with my clients, with the small group members, with people at my church, with my neighbors, with my fellow parents at my kids school, and with total strangers. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Damaris’ post, but rather as a exposition on my struggle with humility.

    In terms of using Christ as an example, what I have also realized is that in the past , I have used Christ as an example, when it suited me. I have used certain passages in the word, while avoiding others like the plague. How do I truly make Jesus my example. This coming year, I am looking to reread the Gospels with fresh eyes, trying to see and find the Jesus that I missed before, the one who makes me squirm in my seat, the one who calls me to do the uncomfortable, and who asks me to be honest with myself and with others, the Jesus who asks me to move beyond talking about beliefs and actually put them into practice.

  16. Thank you for this good word and reminder.

  17. This post is so true. One of the best i have ever read on the nature of humility and the difficulty in cultivating it.

    “The training for humility is to be humiliated. To accept unfairness and unkindness and even injury as Jesus did, with patience and even temper”

  18. On the bottom..out of sight from all eyes…I make my comment:)

    It is not so much of a comment as a quote from Brennan Manning. For all of his faults, Brennan does put the Gospel into words….and the flaws only enhance the gospel..that is the way the gospel works.

    “Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation – that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase – our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response. We talk about acquiring virtue as if it were a skill that can be attained, like good handwriting or a well grooved golf swing. In the penitential seasons we focus on overcoming our weaknesses, getting rid of our hang-ups, and reaching Christian maturity. We sweat through various spiritual excercises as if the were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. We transfer the Horatio Alger legend of the self-made man into our relationship with God. As we read Palm 123 ‘Like the eyes of the servant on the hands of his master, like the eyes of a maid on the hands of her mistress,’ we experience a vague sense of guilt. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps – indeed, we can do it ourselves.”

  19. Thank you, Damaris for your writing. I have found your writings (and often your comments) to be very helpful and encouraging. I particularly needed to read the this two part series since the “what next” question is the one I’ve been wrestling with for some time and am still wrestling with. Andy, I also appreciate the maturity and wisdom of your comments. Thanks again for sharing your talents.

    • Josh — Thank you for your comment. There will actually be other posts in this series, God willing.

      (I went to college in Foat Wuth.)

      • I also thank you for a great, very meaningful essay. Did not have time to participate in the main conversation but found your ideas excellent and very much in line with my own devotional readings lately. Thanks.

      • Which one? Your phonetic spelling of Fort Worth is pretty darn accurate.

        • TCU. And when I was there in the late 70s, there was a popular bumper sticker that said, “AH LUV FOAT WUTH.”