There’s no such thing as a good sound Christian - Published in BT, 2008
In Britain, we are expected to be modest. No one likes a show off. Modesty seems to mean that we hide our light under a bushel, that we downplay of our achievements. It is a social convention about polite behaviour, but has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Biblical call for humility. The proudest person imaginable can still comply with all the requirements of modesty. Humility and modesty are poles apart.
At the very heart of humility, is the readiness to be broken and remade by God himself. And if we can allow God to reshape us and remake our plans, then that will affect the way that we listen to other people. If we really are humble, then we really will be ready to hear God’s voice in surprising and unexpected places.
So humility – in order to be humility at all – presupposes confrontation. That is, it presupposes the coming together of two parties on a single front – con-frontation – not necessarily conflict. And humility is the word that describes how we relate to the other party.
It does not mean that we are a doormat, or that we allow the other party to walk all over us. But it does mean that we make ourselves vulnerable enough to engage, to confront, in such as way as to reshape our own perspective. It also means engaging with others as though we were seeking the voice of God himself, ready to allow that voice to impinge upon who we really are. That is humility, and it presupposes confrontation. Humility is not some free-floating quality that you might display with your polite, middle class manners. It is your ability to engage another person properly, particularly with those whose very being threatens or questions even your most preciously guarded beliefs.
Humility’s deadly counterpart is pride. To be proud is not merely the same as being smug, happy about your accomplishments, or pleased with your achievements. Pride is the deep-seated refusal to expose your treasured plans, beliefs and commitments to the transforming love of God. It is self-sufficiency in the extreme, and refuses to allow for the action of God in the world or in my life.
Although it is condemned on almost every page of Scripture, for many evangelicals this pride is a test of ‘soundness’. Being sure of your beliefs, certain of your convictions. When a Christian is described as ‘sound’ they are often described as ‘good’ in the same sentence, meaning that they agree with us. Whenever the test of ‘soundness’ is applied, someone we fear to hear is being shut out, and it may well be that God is shut out with them!
Humility, on the other hand, is the readiness to make room for God. The readiness to engage fully with others, and in so doing, to be open to the voice of God whenever it speaks. Humility is the expectation for the word of God and the readiness to respond to it, regardless of how that response might damage our reputation, disrupt our plans, or redraw our beliefs.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He was humbled to death on a cross, and he was put there because he was unsound.