“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3

Christians highly value the virtue of humility. It was characteristic of our Lord and it is commanded of His servants (Philippians 2:1ff). Sinners get saved when the Holy Spirit reveals their sin in the light of biblical truth and opens their eyes to their complete and absolute bankruptcy of any saving merits.

Authentic humility lends its salty influence to every corner of a believer’s life. How does a Christian guard against false humility and yet maintain a spiritually healthy balance between holy boldness and fear? How do we recapture the essence of boldness and humility echoed in John the Immerser’s words recorded in John 1:26f: “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” John did not have the luxury to self-demure. He, like you and me, had the obligation to speak up, serve, and give preeminence to Jesus Christ. Yet, he did not fail to recognize that even the menial servant’s task of assisting in the removal of a master’s footgear was something he was unqualified to do on his own merit. A humble house servant was on a higher rung than he.

First, let’s consider the meaning of self-abasement. The word is from a French root meaning low or bottom. To abase is to lower or depress, to cast down, to humble, or to degrade. In heraldry, it is used to describe the configuration of the wings of an eagle. Instead of being spread for flight or victory, the wings are turned down toward the point of the shield or the wings are stowed away in repose. The word is often applied to humbling of passion, rank, office or condition of life.

Self-abasement is a genuine sense of humiliation proceeding from the conscientiousness of inferiority, guilt, or shame. Nebuchadnezzar’s words in Daniel 4:37 serve to illustrate: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.” Our Lord said, “But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11f, Job 40:11, 2 Corinthians 11:7).

Second, our sin nature marches to the cadence of pride set by Satan himself. Isaiah 14:12f declares, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation…I will be like the Most High.’” Satan’s own pride is the supreme example of self-deception. Self-abasement is the opposite of, and the antidote for, the brand of self-deception that so pervades our fallen human nature (Psalm 36:2, Isaiah 44:20, 1 John 1:8).

Third, believers are required and equipped to think better, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. Our text in Romans 12 plainly states this truth. Believers are granted the ability to have a good, active sense of moral proportion. We have no room to be “over-proud,” thinking more highly than we ought to think; we are regulated in our thinking by healthy humility. Paul essentially is saying that conceit is to be treated as a “species of insanity” (Robertson). The believer is to think soberly (in his right mind), exercising sound judgment. There is no room for pretensions of spirituality. 1 Peter 5:5ff reminds us, “…Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The game of life is for keeps and for eternity.

Every believer would do well to begin every thought from the point of personal poverty before Christ. Our Lord’s words to the final church in Revelation ought to continue to ring out to the believer and provide a sense of equilibrium to life. Revelation 3:17f says, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”

Finally, Galatians 6:1-5 helps the church age saint reflect the essence of John the Immerser’s words: “…Restore…consider yourself lest you also be tempted…bear one another’s burdens…let each examine his own work…for each one shall bear his own load.” Self-abasement does not relieve you of your responsibility to serve, but it does allow your service to honor the Master. Trust and obey.