The Major Markers of Spiritual Progress

Have you ever wondered what does it really look like to make spiritual progress in

your journey? What kind of Christians does the Holy Spirit want to develop?

Christians whose lives display the following seven features:

  1. Doxology, the habit taught and modeled by Paul of constantly praising God and giving him thanks;
  2. Humility, the downward growth that comes by dwelling on the free, boundless,, almighty grace of God that achieves the salvation of sinners, including oneself, through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ;
  3. Generosity, the whole-hearted giving of oneself and one’s resources in order to show love and render service both to God and to others;
  4. Honesty, the refusal to cut moral corners, practice deception or come to terms with injustice;
  5. Intensity, a spirit that rejects euphoric sloth and laziness in favor of maximum effort to further God’s cause, extend Christ’s kingdom, and make the Savior known, and that goes flat out with an eye on the goal as one does when running a race;
  6. Bravery, which, though sometimes trembling in its shoes, stands firm for Christ against all forms of opposition, belittling and ridicule; and
  7. Solidarity with the church, especially the local church, the people of God who are the body and bride of Christ and one’s one spiritual family, so that one never wanders off into any form of churchless individualism, as if one were the only pebble on God’s beach.” – J.I. Packer, From the periodical CRUX, Spring 2007, vol. 43. no. 1, p. 6.

Jesus’ Beatitudes & the Virtue of Humility


Of all the virtues Christ commended in the Beatitudes, it is significant that the first is humility, being ‘poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3). The virtue of humility (the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness) underlies all the others:

  • You cannot mourn (5:4) without appreciating how insufficient you are to handle life in your own strength. That is humility.
  • You cannot be meek (5:5) unless you have needed gentleness yourself. Knowing that need is humility.
  • You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness (5:6) if you proudly think of yourself as already righteous. Longing to fill that spiritual appetite demands humility. Remember Jesus’ parable when the humbled tax collector prayed, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ He went away justified, unlike a proud Pharisee who boasted of his righteousness (Luke 18:13).
  • You cannot be merciful (Matt. 5:7) without recognizing your own need for mercy. Jesus said that it’s the person who is forgiven much that loves much (Luke 7:47). To confess your sin and ask God and others for forgiveness takes humility.
  • You cannot be pure in heart (Matt. 5:8) if your heart is filled with pride. God promises to exalt the humble not the proud (James 4:10).
  • You cannot be a peacemaker (Matt. 5:9) if you believe that you are always right. To admit your own fallibility takes humility. Peace results when both warring parties move toward one other.
  • Finally, identifying with Christ no matter the reaction of others (5:10-12) demands a certain death to yourself and a renunciation of your own rights. Standing firm under mistreatment demands Christlike humility.

Cultivating a Healthy Marriage – Clothed with Humility

During your early years of marriage, you will discover that developing a good marriage is a lot like cultivating a garden (recall Tim Keller’s talk on “Cultivating a Healthy Marriage”). A garden takes a lot of work and it costs more than you figured, it is messier than you anticipated, and it requires greater determination than you expected to reap the rewards (adapted from a quote from Chuck Swindle). It is so important during these days to establish good habits and patterns of relating to one another.
This is why Colossians 3:12-17 teaches you to go daily to the wardrobe of the Spirit and ask Him to empower you to do that which is humanly impossible: To truly, fervently and faithfully love each other from the heart. Apart from the Spirit, most couples are prone to use one another to meet their own needs rather than focusing on meeting the needs of their spouse.
Verse 12 says: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” This verse uses a clothing metaphor to describe the Christ-like life.
To put on Christ is to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love. These virtues are good moral habits that take time to develop. We don’t naturally become this type of person. It takes intentionality and work. These virtues also have a corresponding vice that can undo everything you hold dear about your relationship. For this reason, I focus first on the one vice that causes more divorces than anything else: Pride.
The first virtue to which I want to draw your attention is HUMILITY. Humility is God’s blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. It is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. This Spirit-empowered virtue will arrest the biggest problem in all of our marriages – our own selfishness. At every stage in your life going forward, humility will be your greatest friend, and pride, the corresponding vice, will be your greatest enemy.
Proud people are insecure people who find fault easily and are quick to criticize. Much of your strife and discord in marriage will be the result of unchecked pride in your hearts. Proverbs 13:10 teaches us: “By pride comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who seek counsel.” The challenge in dealing with pride is this: You can see pride easily in another person’s life and miss it entirely in your own.
Pride destroys your ability to truly love one another. C.S. Lewis calls pride “spiritual cancer.” One of the best short chapters to read on pride and humility is from Lewis’ book entitled Mere Christianity. The chapter is called “The Great Sin.”
Lewis writes:
“Pride is the essential vice, the utmost evil, the great sin…
It has served as the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.
It was through pride that the devil became the devil.
As long as you are proud you cannot know God.
A proud man is always looking down on things and people;
and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. 
Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love…”
On the contrary, humble people look out of themselves in order to focus on the gifts and graces of others. Here is the best way I know to cultivate the virtue of humility:
Actively look for ways that God is at work in each other’s life. Make it your practice to observe how the Holy Spirit is evidencing His fruit and His gifts in each other’s life. This means that you work at actively praising, encouraging, and thanking each other for the ways that you see the Lord at work in each other’s lives.
To be specific: What is your spouse more aware of – evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in him or is he more aware of all the areas where you think he needs to grow and change? How about you? Pray and ask the Lord to show you specific things in your spouse’s life that you believe are  evidences of God’s grace  in his/her life and praise him/her for it.
So many couples find fault with each other and are constantly nitpicking. Refuse to do this. It will create distance between you and will turn a loving, intimate marriage into a cold and clinical one. Refuse to speak to one another in any way that cuts each other down, but speak words of grace that build each other up.
One Scripture that crystallizes what humility looks like is Philippians 2:1-8. Here is a paraphrase from The Message that portrays true humility:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ,
if his love has made any difference in your life,
if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you,
if you have a heart, if you care—
then do me a favor:
Agree with each other,
love each other,
be deep-spirited friends.
Don’t push your way to the front;
don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.
Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.
Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.
He had equal status with God
but didn’t think so much of himself
that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what.
Not at all.
When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave,
became human! Having become human, he stayed human.
It was an incredibly humbling process.
He didn’t claim special privileges.
Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life
and then died a selfless, obedient death—
and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
The one who always knew the light of His Father’s presence humbled himself to live in poverty and die a criminal’s death to rescue us from our proud hearts, proud looks and proud lives.
The only sure way to be rescued from our natural tendency towards pride is to contemplate the cross of your Savior. This is the only thing that will continue to free you from the spiritual cancer of pride. The world will tell you to assert yourself, look out for yourself, believe in yourself. However, Jesus tells you, “if any man would follow me, let him deny himself and die to himself and come follow Me.”
I leave you with two beautiful quotes on this subject.
Charles Spurgeon:
“Stand at the foot of the cross, and count the drops of blood by which you have been cleansed;
see the thorned crown; mark his scourged shoulders, still gushing with crimsoned stripes;
see his hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and his whole self to mockery and scorn;
see the bitterness, and the pangs, and the throes of inward grief, showing themselves in his outward frame; hear the horrifying shriek, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
And if you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross, you have never seen it:
if you are not humbled to the dust by this picture, you do not know him.”
Martin Lloyd-Jones:
“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust,
and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross
Nothing else can do it.  When I see that I am a sinner…
that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…
Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”
God our heavenly Father, you alone are God Most High.
Yet we contend regularly for supremacy with You.
Forgive us for all the times we have found fault with each other,
for all the ways that we have opted for control rather than truly loving one another.
Grant us grace today to put on the wardrobe of the Spirit
so that we might forget about ourselves and our needs
in order to truly love and serve each other
So work in our hearts that You progressively free us
from the boastful pride of life that we might live as
Your servant-hearted followers.
For we pray in the name of the only One
who had the right to assert Himself
yet He humbled Himself to serve and save us,
Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

The Power of the Word of God in a Young Pastor’s Life

J.I. Packer, as a young pastor, found himself “marginalized, isolated and required to work on unfulfilling and flawed agendas, in a manner that made him think of the Israelites having to make bricks for Pharaoh.” He claims to have lived “like Moses in Midian, with frustration in [his] heart, wondering what God could possibly be up to.” During those years his spiritual education was proceeding. Below are some of the main lessons that God through his Word hammered into his heart.

I personally benefited from these few lessons and I hope you will too.

He summarizes:

1. Goodwill — I should not get bitter or lapse into self-pity or spend time complaining or angling for sympathy. God was using my ministry, and I was forbidden to get fixated on my frustrations.

2. Hope — I must not become cynical or apathetic about the vision I had been given or to abandon it because there was no immediate way of advancing it. God is never in a hurry, and waiting in hope is a Christian discipline.

3. Faithfulness — As husband, father, teacher, honorary assistant pastor and occasional author, I had plenty each day to get on with, and I could not honor God by slackness and negligence, whatever discontents I was carrying around inside me.

4. Compassion — Clearly I was being taught to empathize more deeply with the many Christians, lay and ordained, male and female, who live with various kinds of disappointments and thus were in the same boat as myself.

5. Humility — I must never forget that God is supreme and important, and I am neither, and he can manage very well without me whenever he chooses to do so.

Three Avenues of Spiritual Attack and What To Do About Them

Our church is under spiritual attack. In fact, all churches are under attack. Every single believer in Christ is engaged in a constant, inescapable battle against spiritual degeneracy in three forms:  Our unbelief of God’s word, our lack of forgiveness of others, and our unhumbled pride in what we are and have done. So, I would like to propose a challenge for us this summer.

Here are three specific things for your concerted reflection and prayer which I have gleaned and adapted from reading J.I. Packer’s article, “Self-Care for Pastors: Riches from the Anglican Devotional Tradition” (Crux, December 2003/Vol. 34, No. 4, pp.2-13).

1.  Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us individually and corporately a greater capacity to trust Him and His promises. Packer writes: “In these days of liberal Christianity in our churches and post-Christianity in the culture outside, unbelief of God’s affirmations in the Bible and the gospel is rife.  Justification by faith (being accepted by God while yet a sinner) is not understood and divine promises are not received and trusted.”

Consider praying through a simple promise of Jesus for us like Matthew 16:18 or Matthew 28:18-20 and ask to increase your faith to trust the Lord to do what He says He will do. Why not heed the counsel of John Murray who urged believers to spend at least fifteen minutes every day meditating on some word of God connected with His promises to His people and then plead with Him for its fulfillment. If fifteen minutes seems a bit much, why not dedicate five?

2.     Let us pray and ask the Lord to give us the grace to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven. Packer speaks bluntly of this avenue of spiritual attack: “Unforgiveness, which is a form of unlove, is regularly an expression of hurt pride and resentment, disguised as self-respect.  As Jesus often warned, unforgiveness is a total block to the blessing of God” (Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37). Wow! A total block? This should move us to examine our hearts to see if we are nursing a spirit of unforgiveness towards anybody.

Whom do you need to forgive? Yourself? Your spouse? An in-law? A fellow church member or pastor? Let’s resolve to become a church that models grace in all of our relationships as we forgive others just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). What an impact we would have in our city if we follow the Lord fully in this matter of forgiveness.

3.   Let us pray and ask the Lord to make us people who are marked by humility, free from the spiritual cancer of pride. At every stage of our Christian development, pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. The person who is always finding fault is full of pride. Pride is spiritual cancer because it eats up any possibility of truly loving others. Proud people are critical people. You need to look no further than the renowned Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice “who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish.”

Packer parses this avenue of spiritual attack with convicting precision: “Unhumbled pride, as is often said, takes four forms:  Pride of face, when you think you are most handsome; pride of race, when you think your skin is the best color; pride of place, when you think you are better positioned than others; and pride of grace, when you think you are one of God’s top people – and pride of grace is the worst of the lot.  All these forms of spiritual degeneration banish true spiritual joy, which for healthy believers is constant, and create pitfalls for pastors in abundance.”

On the other hand, humility is the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness. A humble person simply thinks of himself or herself less. Paul sets it forth beautifully in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

May I leave you with one helpful skill to cultivate the grace of humility. Actively look for ways that God is at work in the lives of other people around you. Ask yourself: Where have you seen God’s grace and Spirit at work in the lives of others in your family, your work place, and your church and tell them so?  Are the members of your family more aware of the evidences of grace that you’ve noticed in them or of your barrage of criticism?  How about your kids?  When was the last time you specifically shared with your son or daughter an evidence of God’s grace that you’ve noticed in his or her life?

Our vitality, unity and outward focus as a church are easily threatened by squabbles and conflicts. Please take this challenge personally and pray that the Lord would send times of refreshing from His presence so that we become people marked by our strong trust in the Lord and His promises, by our readiness to forgive others the way that we have been forgiven, and by our humility that willingly serves the interest of Jesus Christ in the lives of others.

A Family for Others from Philippians 2

What does it look like to live as a family for others? As THE MAN for others, Jesus saved us rather than Himself at the cross and, “every time we reflect on the cross, Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here for you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying’” (John Stott). From the incarnation to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the skies, Jesus is there for others. As we contemplate all that He has done for us, we begin to change in some major ways. We begin to live lives of radical humility, sacrificial service, and bold risk-taking.

First of all, becoming a family for others cures us of our spiritual cancer of pride to live a life of radical humility (Philippians 2:1-11). As C.S. Lewis says, “pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love…” Unchecked pride leads to one activity… grumbling and complaining (v.14). One way we cultivate this blessed gift of self-forgetfulness is by actively identifying evidences of God’s grace in the lives of others. Paul calls attention to God’s work in the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus. Begin to observe how the Spirit reveals His fruit and His gifts in the lives of others around you and intentionally encourage and thank them for what you see the Lord doing. Consider this: What is one way that you will resolve to weaken pride and cultivate humility?

Secondly, becoming a family for others liberates us from complaining to sacrificially serve others for God’s glory (2:12-24). Like Timothy of old, we resolve to serve the interests of Jesus Christ in the lives of others (v.21). Reflect on this: What is one way that the Lord is calling you and your family to serve others for His glory?

Thirdly, becoming a family for others liberates us from the enchantment of security and galvanizes us to take risks in building Christ’s church (2:25-30). Here we examined the life of Epaphroditus who risked his life in serving Christ. We take risks when we sacrifice our own interests, comforts and resources to make much of Jesus Christ and prove that He is more precious to us than anything else. Ponder this: What is one risk that the Lord is asking you to take for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom?

Safety is a mirage. It didn’t exist for the Apostle Paul, Timothy or Epaproditus. It doesn’t exist for you. They had two choices: waste their lives or live with risk. Today we enjoy the privileges of the gospel because of the risks they took. Let us follow in their train for risk is right!

Growing in Humility

Français : Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre ...

Français : Lavement des pieds de Saint Pierre par Jésus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one of his ordination charges given while Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey offered some wise and practical advice on how to grow in humility:

First, thank God, often and always… Thank God, carefully and wonderingly, for your continuing privileges and for every experience of his goodness. Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.

Secondly, take care about confession of your sins... Be sure to criticize yourself in God’s presence: That is your self-examination. And put yourself under the divine criticism: That is your confession.

Thirdly, be ready to accept humiliations. They can hurt terribly, but they help you to be humble. There can be the trivial humiliations. Accept them. There can be the bigger humiliations… All these can be so many chances to be a little nearer to our humble and crucified Lord…

Fourthly, do not worry about status… there is only one status that our Lord bids us be concerned with, and that is the status of of proximity to himself…

Fifthly, use your sense of humor. Laugh about things, laugh at the absurdities of life, laugh about yourself, and about your own absurdity. We are all of us infinitesimally small and ludicrous creatures within God’s universe. You have to be serious, but never be solemn, because if you are solemn about anything there is the risk of becoming solemn about yourself.

– Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, (London: SPCK, 1972), 79-81. Quoted in Pride, Humility, and God in the book Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality Presented to James Houston, p. 121.