Confidence in Humility
by Bethany Kaldas
‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.’
I always used to think that humility and confidence contradicted each other. After all, confidence seemed far more like a characteristic of pride—it’s the proud who are so confident in their own knowledge that they can’t admit that they’re wrong, it’s the proud who are so sure of their own importance that they butt into things they shouldn’t.
In my mind, the humble were the reverse—they doubted their own wisdom to the point that they never enforced their opinion on anything, they lacked so much confidence in their abilities that they never admitted to doing anything well and will vehemently deny any such suggestion. We’ve all met those people who will fight you to the death over a compliment.
For the longest time, that was what I thought humility looked like, and I suspect I’m not alone in that belief.
But let me ask you, this image of a humble man—does it look like Christ? Is this how Christ behaved around people? There’s an upturned table in a temple and a mob of offended Pharisees who would suggest otherwise. And you can’t argue that Christ, because He is God, had no need to be humble—He said so Himself: ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:25).
So if the person described above is not indeed truly humble, then what is real humility?
I think that question is answered most eloquently by the Christian writer C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity:
‘Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.’
Lewis puts it even more concisely: ‘Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’
And this, I feel, is where most people—myself first—mess up when it comes to the distinction between pride and humility. You are not humble for your self-deprecation, nor are you prideful for your confidence. Pride or humility is decided by where you are looking: are you looking to God and to His creation, or is your attention drawn mainly to yourself? When faced with a difficult situation, are you searching for God’s will, or are you so engrossed in your own infirmity that you can’t imagine that God would ever use you for His purposes?Believe it or not, whether you are focusing on your many talents or many faults—both are pride. Whether you’re puffing yourself up to make yourself look good in front of others, or tearing yourself down to appear meek, so long as youare your biggest concern, you have fallen as far from real humility as possible.
In this way, it might still be hard to see how you can reconcile humility with confidence. If you’re confident in yourself, you’re still thinking about you, right? What if we’ve misunderstood what real confidence is too?
Let’s take a look at a man who, in my opinion, is one of the best examples of what real confidence looks like: John the Baptist.
John was a confident guy from the very beginning. Even from the womb you could tell he was about as far from that quiet, apologetic person we once mistook for a humble man as possible. He preached wherever he went and was bold enough to tell even powerful rulers like Herod when they were in the wrong (Matthew 14:3-5), knowing full well what the consequences might be. Not to mention the fact that he was eating bugs long before anyone else thought it was cool, though his fashion sense never quite caught on. He feared no man and held no secrets—John the Baptist was an open book and he was never afraid to tell the truth.
However, as much as he talks and as confident as he behaves, there’s not a single trace of pride in his actions. He speaks more of the Christ than himself, and when he does speak of himself, he does so with complete honesty and openness. He never claims to be more than he is, although he is given plenty of opportunities to declare himself a god. He is confident in who he is because he knows himself in relation to Christ (John 1:23, Luke 3:15-17). He is humble not simply because he has realised that ‘He must increase and I must decrease’, but because Christ has made his joy full (John 3:29-30). He has realised that his very purpose is in Christ and Christ, unlike himself, is unfailing. His confidence was never in himself—it was always in the God he served. That is what true confidence looks like, and it is inseparable from his humility.
John the Baptist contrasts rather sharply with the image of the ‘humble’ man we started out with. For far too long, I feel the concept of humility has been twisted into something almost masochistic, and I’ve both seen and experienced the damage a misconception of this beautiful virtue can do to a person. It can generate a sense of worthlessness and self-pity that can only drive a person further away from true humility—from having real confidence in Christ and an honest view of themselves. It is a shroud of lies that prevents one from seeing the Truth—of themselves, of the world, of God. The Truth that is Christ Himself.
The life of John the Baptist also demonstrates another beautiful aspect to this true, outward-looking humility. John, being so confident in his Creator, never felt the need to try and glorify himself. His joy had already been filled by ‘the Bridegroom’s voice’(John 3:29), he needed nothing more. And yet, it was Jesus who came to John to be baptised—one of the greatest honours a human could have. John spent his entire life glorifying the Lord, and in the end, it turned out that the Lord was always preparing to glorify him. And this isn’t just a special case for John. Very clearly in James 4:10, we see that this applies to all of us: ‘Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.’