Humility: True Greatness is a relatively short little book, but it is packed with great biblical insight and practical application for our lives. In this book, C.J. Mahaney provides clear and concise instruction for all believers, since we all struggle with the sin of pride. The book consists of three major parts: “The Battle of Humility Versus Pride,” “Our Savior and the Secret of True Greatness,” and “The Practice of True Humility.”
The first part of the book, which is titled “Our Greatest Friend, Our Greatest Enemy,” examines the battle that wages between humility and pride. C.J. Mahaney defines humility as “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” In a world where humility is not valued, C.J. notes that it is humility that draws the gaze of our Sovereign God. Isaiah 66:2 says “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
In one chapter, C.J. illustrates, in a humorous and convicting way, the presence of pride in his life. It is humorous because pride makes people do ridiculous things. But it is also very convicting because you see yourself doing the exact same ridiculous things and realize there is pride in your own life. C.J. says “the real issue is not if pride exists in your heart; it’s wherehow pride is being expressed in your life.” C.J. defines the essence of pride as “contending for supremacy with God, and lifting up our hearts against Him.” He quotes John Stott who writes, “Pride is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.” Furthermore, Proverbs 16:5 says that “everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” He writes that you and I may have things for which we have serious hatred (abortion, child abuse, racism, etc), but states, “You and I hate nothing to the degree that God hates pride. His hatred for pride is pure, and His hatred is holy.”
In the second part of the book, C.J. looks at what true greatness really is. All too often, we can be like the disciples in Mark 10. James and John had assessed the other disciples and decided that they were greater and therefore should be granted the right to sit at the right and the left of Jesus in His glory. The other ten disciples naturally were “indignant at James and John.” If we honestly assess ourselves, often times we can be like James and John and think we are somehow greater than others and therefore deserving of special honor. But C.J. also noted that we can be like the other ten disciples who became indignant at James and John. He writes that the other disciples’ reaction reveals “the presence in their own hearts not only of selfish ambition but also of self-righteousness.” If we honestly assess ourselves, we can usually see ourselves somewhere in this story.
C.J. writes that the world’s definition of greatness looks like this: “individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursuing selfish ambition for the pursuit of self-glorification.” This is the definition of greatness we see so much in the media today. But for us to understand true greatness, we need to redefine it in our minds as God has defined it. True greatness has been biblically defined as serving others for the glory of God. Not only has it been defined for us, but it has been demonstrated for us by the Savior’s humble ministry on earth. But C.J. makes the following point:
“To learn true humility, we need more than a redefinition of greatness; we need even more than Jesus’ personal example of humble service. What we need is His death. Listen again to what Jesus said in Mark 10:45: ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ The Savior here is clarifying for His disciples the difference between His example and theirs; He’s emphasizing the uniqueness of His own sacrifice. He’s telling them not only that true greatness is attained by emulating His example, but also that true greatness is not even possible for us apart from the Savior’s unique sacrifice.”
C.J.’s point is that a person cannot even begin to have true greatness unless he has been ransomed by the Savior. A ransom is a payment of a price required to deliver someone from various forms of bondage, captivity, or condemnation. If you have not become a believer in Christ, then you have not been ransomed and are still in bondage to self-sufficient, self-confident thinking and the pursuit of self-glorification.
The final and largest part of the book is filled with practical ways to cultivate humility and wage war against pride. He writes of the importance of reflecting on the cross of Christ at all times. C.J. suggests starting each day by acknowledging your dependence on God, expressing gratefulness to God, praying, studying, worshipping, and memorizing/ meditating on Scripture. Before sleeping each night, C.J. suggests that you transfer glory to God for the events of the day and to receive His gift of sleep. He also gives suggestions for special studies including books that are helpful to read. He speaks of the value of identifying evidences of grace in others, and the value of encouraging and serving others. The book contains other good and practical suggestions as well.
I highly recommend Humility: True Greatness. C.J. has a down-to-earth writing style that can cause you to laugh at his life stories, but also to feel great conviction as you realize the level of pride you possess and your need for greater humility.