The history of Christian spirituality teaches that the sign of love is humility. John Wesley was once asked to name the mark of “perfect love,” and he responded, “humility.”
Esther de Waal shows us how the Rule of Benedict points toward the same thing (p. 45). From the original meaning of the word humility (from the word “humus”—earth), it means that our first encounter with God is to come to the realization that God is God, and I am not! I am creature, not Creator. I am of the “earth.”
So, the way of Love that we spoke about last week means that we move immediately into a life where self-will has no place. To be set free to live for God, we must be set free from the tendency to live for ourselves. This is never accomplished in a single, passing moment, but it must begin in a decisive decision that occurs in a moment of time. We can only begin the journey into humility by a conscious decision to live no longer for ourselves, but for God.
For most of us, this will come after we have been Christians for a while. Most people experience their conversion as being “saved from sin” (with the emphasis on forgiveness), so that it takes a while for them to realize they are saved for righteousness (with an emphasis on holiness).
Salvation comes to be seen not simply as what I have escaped, but what I am now to embrace. And in that moment of insight, our salvation is “completed” in the sense that we add to the “from mentality” a “for mentality.” Our Christian life becomes not just deliverance, but devotion. We’re not just looking back; we’re looking forward.
Humility is the sign that we have moved into a “for” mentality—a life for God. It is what Jesus meant when he spoke of “denying ourselves”—which does not mean a cancellation of the self, but rather a consecration of the self.
It’s what E. Stanley Jones meant when he said, “Your self in your own hands is a problem and a pain; your self in God’s hands is a power and a potential.” Humility is allowing God to have you in His hands.