Can you be a humble, confident beast to the glory of God?
Can the Christian coach or athlete be a humble, confident, beast to the glory of God? What mentality should the Christian bring to the final seconds of a basketball game when his team is down by one and has the ball? Should he be the one who wants the ball? Should he unselfishly desire for someone else to take the game winning shot even if he’s the best shooter/scorer on the team? What about the Christian coach who is the same situation? Does he draw up the final play in the huddle and then confidently say “This will work when we execute it. Is it going to be fun celebrating this exciting win with you guys”?
These are the types of questions I wrestle with often. Every great competitor knows the importance of confidence, but can confidence, and humility coexist?
Understanding how humility and confidence can and should work together for the glory of God can be a difficult task. To understand how they can work together we need to know what real, Biblical humility is and is not. The Bible clearly teaches us that true humility exalts the name of Christ and acknowledges our utter dependence on God in all things. We are not truly humble until we are intentionally promoting the name of Christ and understanding how utterly dependent upon God we are in all things.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ–Galatians 6:14
Can the Christian, according to God’s standards, be both humble and confident? Is it possible to boast only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and be supremely confident in your abilities as a coach or player? I believe the answer to both questions is yes, but it takes some critical thinking to understand how confidence can go hand in hand with genuine Christian humility. Let’s start with these three talking points:
- A transformed heart, not modifying behavior, is the beginning of true humility.
- A proper understanding of who you are, not a list of do’s and don’t’s, will lead to expressions of real humility.
- True humility isn’t denying our talents or cloaking our pride in humble language.
A transformed heart and modified behavior are two very different things. Below are some indicators of the difference between the two.
Transformed Heart vs. Behavior Modification
- Motivated by the love of Christ.
- Focused on the question “How can I glorify God?”
- Is concerned with the condition of the heart.
- The product of worshiping God through Christ.
Those are broad sweeping generalizations but there meaning becomes apparent when compared to what it looks like to merely modify behavior.
- Often motivated be the carrot and stick reward and punishment.
- Focused on the question “What’s in it for me?”
- Is concerned with outward actions.
- The product of disciplined self-denial.
Do you see the difference? The focus of false humility is on outward actions and on denying yourself the pleasure of bragging, which is what your flesh wants to do. On the other hand, true humility flows naturally out of an understanding of what Christ has done for you. Not only that but the focus of real humility is on worshipping and glorifying God as you compete.
It is critical to understand that having a proper understanding of who you are in Christ leads to a transformed heart which leads to true humility. You cannot exhibit true humility until you have received Christ as your Savior and understand how He sacrificed Himself on your behalf which forever repaired your relationship with God. Once you have truly understood the Gospel, your perspective on yourself ought to change. You suddenly realize you are not your own, but were bought at a price and that you are entirely dependent on God for all things.
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God…–1 Corinthians 6:19-20
In other words, true humility isn’t living out a list of dos and don’ts. Instead, it’s having a proper perspective on yourself given God’s mercies in your life.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.–Romans 12:1
Keep this perspective in your mind because when we start unpacking what Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15:10 we’ll see that it’s his perspective on himself that is most instructive to us.
When our attempts at humility aren’t the overflow of a transformed heart, and they aren’t rooted in a proper perspective of who we are we aren’t truly humble. What we are is prideful people trying to mask our pride with modified behavior. This false humility causes us to act in ways that don’t make sense.
As a result, we often deny the greatness of our talents and act as if what we have done isn’t impressive when everyone knows that it is. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’re a quarterback who just threw for 200 yards, ran for 100 yards and had four total touchdowns. After the game, your friends are congratulating you and talking about how good you are and in an attempt to sound humble you say, “I don’t know, I’m not that good. I just got lucky.”
Denying your talents in that way isn’t necessarily any more or less humble than bragging about how good you are on all your social media outlets. It feels humble because it’s rooted in behavior modification and following a list of dos and don’ts. You’re not bragging, but you’re not being genuine either. In response to this sort of false humility I submit to you one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes:
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
I love the idea Lewis is communicating here. The Christian shouldn’t waste his time attempting to appear humble by denying his talents or always putting himself down. Instead, he ought to be thinking of ways he can use his talents for the good of others and to the glory of God. C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility: True Greatness defines true humility/greatness as “serving others to the glory of God.” Therefore, embrace your talents and ask God to help you see how you can use them to serve others to the glory of God.
The Humblebrag is another way we try to be humble, but fall short because of our untransformed hearts and false perspectives on ourselves. A humblebrag is a prideful statement cloaked in humble language. On the surface, it appears humble because of the wording of the boast, but in the end, it’s a boast in self. We are all guilty of humblebragging. It is perhaps most prolific on social media.
A few years ago Tim Challies, a well-known Christian blogger, wrote a very tongue in cheek blog post titled The Art and Science of the Humblebrag, and I wrote an equally satirical post specifically for coaches and athletes. I would encourage you to read through both posts and allow humor to convict you lovingly about your humblebrags (I know I feel convicted anew every time I’ve read Challies’ article).
Discovering the roots of true humility
Essentially, everything I’ve said so far in this post is an introduction to the four main points I want to make. So, without further ado lets get into the meat of this post: discovering the roots of true of humility.
Earlier I pointed out that in 1 Corinthians 15:10 we catch a glimpse of Paul’s perspective on himself. It’s this glimpse of Paul’s perspective that is instructive to us in regards to the topic of humility. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul isn’t writing about humility or attempting to instruct the church in Corinth on how to be humble. He’s unpacking the Gospel and more specifically the resurrection. It’s as he’s pointing out the way in which the resurrected Christ miraculously confronted him and regenerated his heart that he makes a series of very humble statements about who he is and in turns reveals a to his readers a great deal about true Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting humility.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.–1 Corinthians 15:10
This two sentence verse has four main parts each revealing another layer of Gospel-centered humility. Let’s unpack it part by part.
My story, His glory
“But by the grace of God I am what I am…”
Paul, who at this point is well on his way to becoming the greatest missionary in the history of the church, expresses his understanding of the reality that he is who he is because God had ordained it to be so. As a former persecutor of the Christian church, Paul is uniquely aware of who he could have been in contrast to who he is in reality. Paul is a believer in Christ because God was gracious enough to confront him on the road to Damascus. He’s a prolific missionary because God ensured he would have the proper talents and training to carry out God’s will for his life.
The same applies to you and I. As believers in Christ we are who we are by the grace of God. We are not self-made. We can claim exactly zero of the credit for who we are. Yes, we have our volition and make our choices, but we must always remember that even the freedom to choose this or that exists underneath God’s sovereign will. We are not able to choose to do this or that apart from God allowing us to choose.
Therefore, our lives help tell the story about God’s glory. You and I are but a single sentence in the book that tells of God’s glory. The book has volume after volume, and you get one tiny little sentence. Your sentence is crucial, but it’s tiny nonetheless. As you consider the size of your sentence keep the quote above by C.S. Lewis in mind. Recognizing you are a single, little sentence doesn’t mean you aren’t an important part of God’s story. God created you on purpose and for a purpose, and it’s your job to live that purpose out for His glory.
Called to live for Christ
“…and His grace towards me was not in vain.”
Keep in mind Paul is not directly teaching about humility here. He is unpacking the Gospel and briefly pointing out how it has impacted his life. After showing us that he sees himself as a piece of God’s story, he goes on to say that he put God’s grace toward him to good use. When Paul says that God’s grace was not in vain what he means to say is that Paul considered the gift of Salvation he had received in Christ and began to live in light of what God had done for him. He doesn’t unpack what that means here, but here are some other verses written by Paul that will help shed some light on exactly what I mean here.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.–2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.–Colossians 3:23-24
Paul is constantly encouraging his readers to remember that they are called to live for Christ; for the One who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for their sins and restored their relationship with God. Again, in 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul is revealing to us his Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting perspective on himself.
Compelled by Christ
“On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them…”
In one short sentence, Paul has shown us that he sees himself as a small, but important part of the story that tells of God’s glory and that he is called to live for Christ because of what Christ had done for him. Now he goes on to say that it is the love of Christ that motivates him and compels him. When Paul says he “worked harder than any of them” he is talking about how hard he worked to share the Gospel with as many as possible in comparison to others. It’s interesting that Paul would compare himself to others and proclaim that he worked the hardest. Isn’t that bragging?
The answer is no, but once again it’s because of the perspective Paul had on himself. He does not consider it a boast in his greatness to proclaim how he has outworked others because Paul recognizes that it was only because of the Gospel that he was willing to work that hard. Earlier I quoted 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 where Paul declares that the love of Christ compels him.
We often use the word compel poorly. We often say something like, “That was a compelling argument. I might do what he says.” That’s not a proper use of the word compel. So well written and so seamless is a compelling argument that it causes you to take action whereas an impelling argument may not result in taking action. If your response to an argument is “I might do what he says” what you’re saying is that the argument was impelling.
An impelled person has been persuaded to do something and does so at least partially of his or her volition. Being compelled means the person has no choice but to take action. So when Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that the love of Christ compels him he means to imply that the love of Christ, as was perfectly demonstrated for us in the Gospel, causes him to take action and do his very best for the glory of Christ. It’s from that perspective that Paul can then say “I worked harder than any of them” and be boasting in Christ rather than self.
Grace enabled industriousness
“…though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but once again look at Paul’s perspective on himself. Does he see himself as the driving force behind his efforts? Not in the least. He sees God as the enabler of his hard work. He recognizes that God is the one sustaining him and giving him opportunities to work hard. He does not take those opportunities nor his ability to work hard for granted. Instead, he sees them as the result of God’s grace working in his life.
Paul was industrious; there’s no doubt about that. He worked hard and worked with a purpose, but he saw even his hard work as a gift from God. Thus, God’s grace enabled his industriousness.
Humble, meek, confident, Christian beasts to the glory of God
Can you be a humble, confident, beast to the glory of God in competition? Paul teaches us that the answer is a bold and resounding, “YES!” The key is having the same perspective on yourself that Paul had on himself. You must see yourself as a redeemed image bearer who has been made on purpose and for a purpose. You must remember that God has enabled every heartbeat, every breath, and every opportunity to live for His glory. They are all gifts according to His grace in your life. To become a humble, confident beast you have to break free from the chains of behavior modification and step into the freedom of God’s grace.
When you begin to see yourself through a Gospel lens and start to understand the purpose that God has given you in this life you are free to go out and confidently Compete4Christ. Why? Because you know that it’s not about you. It’s about God. You also know that no matter what happens Romans 8:28 is true.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.–Romans 8:28
Here are four questions to ask yourself on a regular basis to help you know if you see yourself the same way Paul saw himself. I would recommend asking God to help you be honest with yourself as you answer these questions. It can be easy to lie to yourself when confronted with challenging questions like these.
- Do you see your career in sports as your story that tells of God’s glory?
- Do you feel called to Compete4Christ?
- Do you feel compelled by Christ to do your very best for God’s glory?
- Do you recognize that God enables your hard work?
Has this post been helpful to you? Do you have any questions about the content of this post? Please share how it has helped you and ask questions in the comments section below.