There should be a direct connection between grace and humility. If our works cannot possibly please God because everything is stained by sin, then the fact that God stoops down to save us when we cannot save ourselves should humble us. The God who inhabits eternity and whose name is Holy yet dwells with the one who has a contrite and lowly spirit (Isa.57:15). Indeed, ‘All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’ (Isa.66:2). Grace is not a concession to those who want a free ride; it is God’s painful reconciliation of justice and mercy at the cross of Christ that sinners might have hope. If I fail at something I should have achieved, I feel humiliated; but if I contemplate ‘Christ died for the ungodly’, I feel humbled.

            Nevertheless, sometimes a truth can be somewhat distorted if it is expressed in an unbalanced way. Periodically, one comes across a vigorous assertion that when someone asks another if he is going to heaven, and the reply is ‘I hope so’, that is the trigger for an attack on the person for not being humble but arrogantly resting on his works. Conversely, if the person responds ‘Yes, I know I am going to heaven’, that is a sure sign that he is humble and resting on the work of Christ.

            There is much truth in this, but it is not always well expressed, and could do damage. As ‘Rabbi’ Duncan observed, all errors are ‘abused truths’. Indeed, Duncan himself was one who often struggled in his faith, although he doubted himself rather than biblical truth. He once lamented: ‘I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, but I am not sure that I am a Christian.’ Accusing him of arrogance does not seem to be the best approach. Jesus was not so severe to the man who cried: ‘I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24).

            Peter was sure of his faith when he was actually on the verge of denying Christ three times (e.g. Matt.25:30-35). He was a true believer, but not aware of the depths of his own capacity to fail. Just as there can be a counterfeit faith, so there can be a counterfeit assurance. The spiritual life is not simple. The sheep who will be at the right hand of the Son of Man at His coming in glory will not be aware of their own good deeds (see Matt.25:31-40). A Christian is obliged to be loving towards fellow Christians and to keep the commandments, but it is dangerous to be aware that we are succeeding in these areas (see 1 John ).

            Grace must lead not just to an understanding that we ought to be humble, but to actual humility. Humility is such a difficult thing to gauge. Charles Simeon desired it in his own life: ‘I confess that this is the religion which I love; I would have a conscious unworthiness to pervade every act and habit of my soul’. He went further: ‘The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust.’

            Our hope is in Christ alone – in the perfection of His person and His work, and the wonder of His gracious promise that He will receive all who come to Him (Matt.11:28; John 6:37). That must humble us. To be genuine, humility must not even want to exude the least hint of arrogance to an uncomprehending world. If we are saved by grace, we must be amazed, and in evangelism somehow convey that amazement to others.

– Peter Barnes