Identity & Purpose, Relationships, Self The Danger of False Humility

By Cathy Schaefer


For most of my life, I have struggled with issues of low self-esteem and self-worth. Unfortunately, my self-consciousness and my feelings of unworthiness have often caused me to either 1) Try Too Hard – go overboard in an effort to prove myself, or 2) Not Try At All – give up and retreat in defeat, convinced that I will never measure up. And even though God graciously lifted much of the burden of guilt and shame for my sins after I surrendered my life to Christ, I continued to struggle with self-condemnation and negative feelings about myself for several years. In other words, even though I had accepted God’s forgiveness, I wasn’t completely willing or able to forgive myself! And I think a part of me believed that as a Christian, I wasn’t supposed to feel too good about myself – that it was actually just Humility (which is, after all, an important character trait for a Christian)! However, I was harboring a False Humility, which was really hurting more than it was helping. In case anyone else out there battles these same demons, I want to explain the danger of False Humility and share some important lessons I learned that turned things around for me.

First, we need to understand the real meaning of HUMILITY. According to Holman’s Bible Dictionary, the Biblical definition of Humility is “the personal quality of being free from arrogance and pride and having an accurate estimate of one’s worth.”  I underlined that last part because it was the real sticking point for me: Over time I came to realize I did not have an accurate estimation of my own worth. God began revealing to me that my feelings of self-loathing and self-condemnation were causing me to under-estimate and devalue myself. Humility is NOT beating myself up, engaging in negative self-talk or being filled with self-loathing. The real purpose of Humility is to help us recognize where we stand in relation to God. Yes, Humility is certainly the heart attitude necessary for repentance (The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise. ~Psalm 51:17). But it is not God’s intention for us to remain face down, discouraged and drowning in the muck and mire of our own sin and failures! James 4:10 offers this assurance: When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor. When we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up and gives us honor! To have an accurate picture of my own worth, I need to see myself as God sees me, and understand that what He says about me is much more important than what I say about myself! (More on this later.)

False Humility is a twisted form of PRIDE. It may seem strange to say that someone with low self-esteem has an issue with pride. We tend to think of Pride as an overly confident, arrogant and smug attitude or disposition; an over-inflated sense of self. But, the flip side of that coin is when we view ourselves as worthless and possess an inferior or too low estimation of ourselves. Basically, Pride causes us to have either too high or too low an opinion of ourselves and to believe that our opinion of ourselves is more important than God’s opinion of us. I found this helpful explanation of Pride on the website Truth or Tradition: In the midst of pride is always “I.” One side of PRIDE is P R, which is Personal Reputation. Pride bolsters and protects its Personal Reputation. The other side of PRIDE is D E, which is Devalued Estimation (or False Humility). False Humility occurs when we do not submit to God’s will and thankfully and fearlessly accept what He has done for us ( The bottom line is, Pride skews the way we see ourselves, and ultimately leads us away from God. Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor (Proverbs 29:23).

False Humility is an affront to the work Jesus Christ completed for us on the cross! This truth struck like an arrow God aimed straight at my heart one day many years ago when I was listening to Moody Radio and heard a preacher say this: “If you continue to condemn yourself for sins that God has already forgiven, you are, in effect, telling God that Jesus’ death on the cross was inadequate for the forgiveness of your sin.” The very idea that my inability to forgive myself might be somehow offensive or disrespectful to the sacrifice Jesus made for me was enough to bring me to knees! Would I dare to hold myself to a higher standard than God does??? If God is willing to forgive me, how can I do any less? That moment has stuck in my memory because it was so personally convicting for me, and God was able to use that truth to enable me to finally forgive myself for being a flawed and sinful human being. Christ loved me enough to willingly sacrifice His life to pay the price for my sin, and I choose to trust completely in the work He accomplished for me in His death and resurrection.

The Bible has many wonderful and reassuring things to tell us about how God sees us (our “Identity in Christ”) once we have received Jesus as our Lord and Savior. These are the truths we must cling to and define ourselves by.

Here are just a few encouraging truths:

1. God has declared me not guilty because Christ has freed me and taken away my sins.

For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. ~Romans 3:23-24

2. I am a new person in Christ. My old life is gone.

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! ~2 Corinthians 5:17

3. Christ lives in me, and my trust is in the One who loved and sacrificed for me.

I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20

4. Christ calls me His own and gives me the Holy Spirit.

And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. ~Ephesians 1:13

5. God welcomes me into His presence because my faith is in Christ.

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come fearlessly into God’s presence, assured of his glad welcome. ~Ephesians 3:12
The other danger in not seeing ourselves as God sees us is that it can hinder our ability to partner with Him and serve Him effectively. My feelings of unworthiness have, at times, caused me to doubt that God would want to use me, or that I have anything of value to offer in service to Him. Listen, Satan knows our weak spots and he works overtime to feed into our doubts and insecurities! He will remind us of our sins and failures at every opportunity. I’ve noticed that I seem to be especially vulnerable to these attacks anytime I try to step out in faith and take some courageous action or make a tough decision in obedience to God. But I now recognize this as the “spiritual warfare” that Ephesians 6 warns about, and I am much better equipped to deal with it. The evil one is relentless in his attempts to discredit and disqualify us because he knows when we access the power of the Holy Spirit, we are unstoppable! So be strong with the Lord’s mighty power, and defend yourself with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:10, 17). I’ve found that one of the most effective ways to silence the voice of the enemy is to talk back to him, “Satan, you’re right-- I am a sinner, and I have failed in many ways. On my own, I am weak and powerless. But I am NOT ALONE! Christ lives in me, and He fills me with His power and strength! If you want to get to me, you’ll have to go through Him first! So be quiet and back off!” And then I call on the name of the Lord and claim one of God’s promises to me, such as, No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us (Romans 8:37). Jesus, thank You for Your great love for me! I rejoice and take courage in knowing that through You, victory is mine! All glory, praise, and honor to the One who conquered sin and death--my Lord, Savior, and Redeemer! Amen.

Jesus offers us forgiveness, healing, redemption, and restoration. He doesn’t diminish us in any way, but instead, His love and light expand, enlighten, empower and encourage us to be more than we were before we knew Him. Jesus told His disciples in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” Jesus wants to give us LIFE IN ALL ITS FULLNESS! He wants our lives to be a reflection of His love and His goodness so that others will be attracted to Him because of us.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts in under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 4:16).

Our Deepest Fear
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.                                                                          
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.                                                          
It is our light, not our darkness                                                                                                     
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves                                                                                                                          
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?                                                           
Actually, who are you not to be?                                                                                                          
You are a child of God.

Your playing small                                                                                                                         
 Does not serve the world.                                                                                                               
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking                                                                                  
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,                                                                                                                
As children do.                                                                                                                              
We were born to make manifest                                                                                                         
he glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;                                                                                                                
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,                                                                                                    
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.                                                           
As we are liberated from our own fear,                                                                                   
Our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love


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