Growing in Humility and Grace in 2011
How to Grow in Humility and Love for Christ
Here is the great Puritan Thomas Brooks on growing in humility and grace. Take time to read this with your family. I believe if we believe and heed this biblical wisdom as Christians, 2011 will be our best year yet as we seek to grow in the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Note: If you only have a moment to give this a glance, jump down and read the main points on growing in humility and grace below).
The Puritans never cease to amaze me. God in His great providence and kind mercies gave us many godly men throughout the 1500-1700s who can still focus our attention on the riches of Christâ€™s grace and how to grow in our faith and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. As God gave Martin Luther to the Church to instruct us properly in the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, so God gave us the Church the Puritans so that we might grow in grace.
One of my favorite Puritans is Thomas Brooks (1608-1662) (I also regularly read and encourage others to read Richard Baxter, Richard Sibbes, John Flavel, and Thomas Watson to grow more in Christâ€™s grace and in biblical understanding). Thomas Brooksâ€™ â€˜Worksâ€™ are still in print by the Banner of Truth Trust (HERE), and we should be grateful to God.
There is much wisdom for us to glean from the Puritans in general, and from Pastor Thomas Brooks particularly. The great preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, said of Brooks that there was more spiritual wisdom in some of the footnotes in his works than in the sentences and paragraphs of many other writers throughout the ages.
I desire to share with you some excellent biblical advice that Thomas Brooks shares with Christians on how to grow in the grace of humility and in our love for Christ. Often, the Puritans are overlooked because some Christians are intimidated by their style, their detail, and/or the length of their works. May this serve as an introduction to some, or a reminder to others of how rich and helpful these writings can be to the Christian's heart and soul. Also, if you would like an excellent introduction on the Puritans, read J. I. Packerâ€™s excellent book â€˜A Quest for Godlinessâ€™ and/or Joel Beekeâ€™s â€˜Meet the Puritansâ€™.
I have edited and adapted Brooksâ€™ work from his treatise â€˜Riches of Christâ€™ (Found in â€˜Works,â€™ Vol. III, pgs. 1-248, Banner of Truth Trust). In my editing, I have tried to update the language to make it more useful to us in our modern language. I have also made the points in the first person so that we can better meditate on these truths from our own hearts. I use quotation marks to indicate where I directly quote Brooks.
Let us read these prayerfully. May these help us to grow as a congregation in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ! May these insights give us wise help in this new year of 2011 to seek Christ as we have never done before as Christians! I think if we heed his advice, by Godâ€™s grace, we would indeed truly grow as Christians.
First, Thomas Brooks teaches us how great our pride can be as Christians. Then he teaches us how to humble ourselves under Godâ€™s riches revealed in the free grace of Christ. He wrote:
â€œGod is on high, and yet the higher a person lifts up himself, the further he is from God; and the lower a man humbles himself, the nearer he is to God. Of all souls, God delights most to dwell with the humble, for they do most prize and improve his precious presence.â€
How do we identify if we are humble people? What are some characteristics of humility that can serve to aid us in our growth and seeking after Christ?
A humble person never forgets Godâ€™s saving grace. A humble person, no matter how much spiritual growth he/she makes, will never forget the mercies of God shown to them, especially in light of their former sinfulness. We must never forget the grace of the Lord that He has shown to us by his grace alone, even while we were Godâ€™s enemies, and dead in trespasses and sins (Rom. 5:6ff; Eph. 2:1-4).
A humble person is focused on Christ alone for his righteous standing before God. A humble person overlooks his own righteousness and lives upon the righteousness of Christ alone. A humble person is not focusing on how much progress they have made, as much as how much of the grace of Christ they have yet to obtain (see Philippians 3:8ff).
A humble person never thinks any good work for Christ is too menial, and beneath them. There is never a good work too low to perform for a humble soul. â€œProud hearts cannot stoop to low services.â€ A humble person is always seeking to serve Christ and His people.
A humble heart is eager to serve in light of Godâ€™s grace. A humble heart will submit to every truth of God that is made known to it. Three things incline a humble heart to Godâ€™s service: 1) Divine love to them in Jesus; 2) Divine presence with them; and 3) Divine Glory as their chief end. A humble person wants to live out of the love of God in Christ toward them; know that Christ is present with them; and to seek to glorify God in all they do, whether in word or deed (1 Cor. 10:31).
A humble soul is always dependent upon Jesus and His grace. A humble soul constantly lives on Jesus and His grace communicated to them through Word and Sacraments and prayer. A humble person grows through their deeper understanding of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:17-21), Christâ€™s promises to them and his care, and Jesusâ€™ ongoing and undying faithfulness to them (2 Cor. 5:14-15). A humble soul constantly feeds upon Jesus.
A humble heart is heavenly-minded. A humble heart says â€œLet me have much of Christ and heaven in my heart.â€ A humble heart wants to grow in Christ more than anything else in this life; they want more of heaven than they want of this world; they want to seek things that are above where Christ is, and where their life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-4).
Would you characterize yourself as a humble person by God's grace? Seek Christ.
We have been taught a few of the attributes of a truly humble person, soul, and heart.
How does a humble person grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus?
We should understand that we must be humbled by Godâ€™s grace and Spirit, but we must remain humble in the Christian life.
We must seek God to grow in our humility. Our growth in humility will correspond in measure to how weâ€™re truly growing in Godâ€™s grace in Christ. When we grow in grace, we grow in humility. This is very important to keep in mind.
Meditate upon Godâ€™s goodness and grace to you in Jesus. Dwell much upon the greatness of Godâ€™s mercy and goodness to you. â€œNothing humbles and breaks the heart of a sinner like Godâ€™s mercy and love.â€ Some have said that they could not ever read the words â€œgoodness of Godâ€ or â€œmercies of Godâ€ or the â€œfaithfulness of Godâ€ without weeping. Have you ever wept over Godâ€™s mercies and goodness to you? Do you truly know of your sins and what you did to Christ, Godâ€™s beloved Son? We want to meditate upon the amazing grace of God and how he truly did save a wretch like me. The person that loves much has been forgiven much; that is to say, that if a person truly loves like Christ, it is because that person realizes the depth of the forgiveness of God in Christ.
Meditate upon the cross and the exaltation of Jesus. Keep faith in continual exercise upon Christ as both crucified and as glorified. Cast away all of your doubts, and focus on Christ crucified for you, and Christ glorified for you. How amazing was His love and his work toward you, in order that you might be redeemed from the guilt and power of sin. Focus on Christ in his humility and exaltation; know this Christ who loved and died for you, this Christ who was raised for you, meditate upon this often, especially in times of temptation, and you will find growth in your faith and in humility. Do you keep your constantly and persistently seek to focus your heart and mind on Christ, the Author and Perfector of your faith? (Heb. 12:2ff).
Meditate on your own sinful heart and propensity to evil. Study your own sinful nature and sinful tendencies, and whatever evil you behold in other people and their practices, labor by Godâ€™s grace to see the same in yourself. â€œThere is the seed of all sins, of the vilest and worst of sins, in the best of men.â€ Let this sober you. You are potentially a murderer, an idolater, one who is sexually perverse, a liar, a thief; only by Godâ€™s grace can you claim to be delivered from sin and evil. When you see the worst in others, donâ€™t think yourself better. Rather, see yourself in that person apart from the grace of God, then extend compassion and mercy and love (Matt. 7:1-5). Do you study to get the planks out of your own eye, so that you can see clearly to remove the specks from others? Are you gentle and compassionate, or are you judgmental?
Donâ€™t think too highly of your works for God. Dwell much upon the imperfection that follows and cleaves to your best actions. Even when we do our best, our sins are as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64). We cannot claim any righteousness even with our best works done for God. All that we do is tainted by sin. Let this humble us, but never prevent us from doing our best for Godâ€™s glory alone. Let us be reminded that any good we accomplish is because of the Fatherâ€™s love to us in Jesus. Do you think too highly of yourself before God and man? Do you think you are particularly pleasing in the LORDâ€™s sight more than other men?
Acknowledge your indebtedness to God in prosperity and adversity. â€œIn your day of prosperity, forget not your former poverty.â€ Good times can bring hardened and careless hearts. Remember that even our best times are fading away even as they begin, like our lives (Psalm 90). Seek to get a heart of wisdom to count and number your days. Remember that if God has granted you some good times, it is for His glory, and for you to serve others, and prepare yourself for affliction that may come in the future. Never forget that God is the Sovereign LORD of all your days, times and opportunities. Do you forget God in your prosperity? Do you curse God in your difficult affliction?
We are always recipients of Godâ€™s grace and gifts. Look upon all that you have received, and all that you shall hereafter receive, as the fruit of free grace. â€œWhat do you have that you have not received?â€ (1 Corinthians 4:7). We have never earned anything good from God as a payment. "Or who has given a gift to [God] that he might be repaid?" (Romans 11:35). Let us be grateful for whatever God sends our way. Let us rejoice in the gifts God has given us and not be envious or full of rivalry and conceit toward others (Philippians 2:3-5). Let us rejoice in the gifts and graces of other Christians as much as we rejoice in what God has done for us. Let us be reminded that we have been given much, so that we can love much; for those whom much is given, much will be required by God. Are you characterized by gratitude and thankfulness from your heart for what God has given both to you and to others?
Let both your head and your heart love God. Get more internal and experiential knowledge and acquaintance with God. Let us know the love of God in Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). Seek and receive God's riches of free grace in Christ alone. Many professing Christians know much of God in their minds, but know nothing of God from their hearts. They know God in the history, but know nothing of God in the mystery; they know God in the letter, but little or nothing of God in the Spirit. Let us not merely have head knowledge of God and His goodness and love in Jesus, but to know experientially from our hearts that He is good and loves us in Jesus. Do you seek Godâ€™s love in Christ beyond mere knowledge, so that you experience his goodness and love, and know it with a deeper understanding?
Be a conqueror of pride and other sins in Jesus alone. Look up to a crucified Christ for special power and strength against the pride and sinfulness of your hearts. â€œIt is sad that in these times of great biblical knowledge to think how few there are that know the right way of bringing under the power of any sin.â€ Jesus has set believers free from the guilt and the power of sin over us; sin remains in us, but it never should reign over us. Know that on the cross, you as a believer died with Jesus (Romans 6:4-14). In Jesusâ€™ resurrection, you are made alive, and raised from the dead to do good works that God has prepared us to do in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-10). We must understand that Jesus is our righteousness and our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus died not only to forgive us of our sins, but to grant us purification and power from these sins. We can look to the cross of Jesus Christ in order to conquer our temptations. We can look to the cross of Christ to take every impure and unbelieving thought captive to make it obedient unto the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 6:17ff). Let us look to the cross and remain humble, and continue by Godâ€™s grace to grow, and to overcome our sins in Christ who loved us and gave His life for us (Galatians 2:20). Do you live your life for Christ, empowered by His grace and Spirit? Do you know that it is not by might nor by power, but by Godâ€™s Spirit that you can indeed overcome?
Rejoice in the grace of the LORD always!
In Christâ€™s Love,