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Self Humiliation

By John T. Sneed




This article was suggested by the sermon John Piper did on the life of Charles Simeon.[1] Simeon, as quoted by Piper, talked of a constant “growing downward” in his life which led to a great awareness of the greatness and mercy of God and a keen awareness of his own sinfulness resulting in true humility. As I listened to the life of Simeon, I found much that resonated with me. More importantly, I found much that resonated with Christ. Consider, for example, these words of Jesus “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matt. 19:30). A chapter later, Jesus says “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:27). Finally, there are these words of Jesus, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:11). I find Jesus saying a lot about how those who would be great having to become least among the people of God. So, when I read about Simeon and growing downward, I want to know more. This is especially important when we understand that growing downward in our own eyes leads us to greater adoration for our Lord Jesus Christ.

In developing this article, I have read Piper, Owen, Bunyan, and others and have come to understand that self humiliation rightly falls under the listing of spiritual disciplines. These are disciplines of life which foster a deeper reverence for God and hence, a more lively holiness in our personal lives. However, in giving credit where credit is due, I confess that Piper has been my chief guide in the development of this article.[2]

What is Self Humiliation?

Self humiliation is the discipline of meditation of our sinfulness in comparison to God’s perfections. In reading Piper, the paragraph I find the most resonance with is: “Simeon was utterly unlike most of us today who think that we should get rid once and for all of feelings of vileness and unworthiness as soon as we can. For him, adoration only grew in the freshly plowed soil of humiliation for sin. So he actually labored to know his true sinfulness and his remaining corruption as a Christian.”[3] Simeon, quoted by Piper, says this about himself: “I have never thought that the circumstance of God’s having forgiven me, was any reason why I should forgive myself; on the contrary, I have always judged it better to loathe myself the more, in proportion as I was assured that God was pacified towards me (Ezekiel 16:63).”[4] Simeon finds allies in John Bunyan, who says, “The best saints are the most aware of their sins, and most apt to make mountains of their molehills.”[5] Charles Spurgeon also comes to Simeon’s defense when he says, “Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are.”[6] And this, “As you grow downward in humility seek also to grow upward, having nearer approaches to God in prayer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus.”[7] Other examples could be brought.[8]

Self humiliation is not the morbid fascination with self flagellation over our past sins. It is also not the judgmental attitude towards others. It is self humiliation. It is the constant awareness of our utter sinfulness in comparison to God’s perfections and glory.


“If I am something, then I am nothing; but if I am nothing then I might become something … useful for the glory of God.”

The Results of Self Humiliation

There are four practical benefits that are immediately apparent in the practice of self humiliation. The first is the manifestation of humility in the believer. Simeon’s spiritual life involved two primary quests: “growing downward in humility and growing upward in adoring communion with God.”[9] The apostle Paul tells us that we ought not to think more highly of ourselves than we should (Romans 12:3). The practice of the discipline of self humiliation cultivates that very mindset in us. We may be tempted to pride when we compare of Christian lives with those of other Christians; however, there is no place for pride when we compare our sinful selves to the majesty of the Most High God. If we have a right view of ourselves and a right view of God, there is no ground for pride to take root. Indeed, as we grow constantly downward, the ground for pride will grow less and less. We will grow to that place Spurgeon mentioned where we are “content to be nothing, for that is what you are.”[10]

Another benefit is the grateful heart that is developed in the believer. The bible says “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). God demonstrated His love for us by sending Jesus Christ, His only Son, to be the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Oftentimes Christians fail to see or fail to acknowledge the extent of Christ’s atoning work because they forget from how far into the pit the Lord had to reach to pull them out. The practice of self humiliation is a constant reminder of our great sinfulness and therefore, how great a work of God it was to save us from our sin. When I am reminded of how great a sinner I am, I can only be grateful that God saw fit to show mercy to me and save me. I look at myself and loathe myself and the sin I find in myself. Yet, with all the blackness in me, God loved me enough to have His Son die for me. I realize that I come to God as a beggar, offering nothing to Him in exchange for His mercy. I see it is by an act of His grace, according to His will, that I am saved and I can only fall on my face before Him and thank Him for being merciful. In this way, gratitude of heart is developed, and if my meditation on my sinfulness is constant, then the grateful heart will also be a constant.

Related to this is true worship. Jesus told the woman of Sychar that God was looking for people who would worship Him in Spirit and in truth. So many modern trends seem opposed to this because they tend to invest some measure of merit in man. In this way, God is robbed of His full worship because man has demeaned God and exalted himself. Most religious errors can be traced to too low a view of God and too high a view of men. Self humiliation works against this trend. Piper was right when he said that if Simeon was right (about not seeing the need to forgive himself of his sin), then vast sections of the modern Church are dead wrong. Worship is the acknowledgement of who God is in proper relation to who we are. Only through the discipline of self humiliation can we come to have proper views of ourselves and of God. The Reformers of old argued Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone. Many Christians will give God the glory, but only the one who has become nothing in his own person will give all the glory to God alone.

Another benefit is the manifestation of Christlikeness in us. Paul challenges us (Christians) to let the same mind be in us that was also in Christ Jesus. Jesus, being God, took on the form of a human being and became of no reputation, a servant, obedient to death. Jesus, being everything, became nothing. In so doing, God has exalted Him to the highest place. As Christians, we have all the spiritual fruit in us that we are ever going to have. Yet, this fruit is not manifested often or well in us. The reason is that there is too much of us, ourselves, left that masks the spiritual fruit and prevents Christ from living in and through us. Therefore, our Christian lives are spent learning to take up our crosses and die daily. When we die to ourselves, our wills, and our flesh, then Christ is able to living through us (Gal. 2:20). This is the pathway to Christlikeness. Self humiliation is the pathway of self mortification for the glory of Christ.

Finally, self humiliation teaches us that we are still plagued by sin and the flesh. Since we still struggle with sin and still fall into sin, we become aware that God’s grace is a constant work in our lives. Instead of being a one time outpouring of grace, at the time of our conversion, God’s grace is like a river leading to a waterfall; it is constantly being poured out. From the day God began to work in our hearts until the day He brings us home to Glory, His grace has been a continual stream flowing from Him to us. It never stops. So, we have experienced grace and we are experiencing grace. Everything we do flows from grace because it never stops. Self humiliation is the awareness that we have never “arrived.” We are always works in progress. It is the awareness that we are never sufficient in ourselves for any task. Self humiliation drives us in the hand of God and makes us dependent on Him for all the good in us. So, in the end, it is “all of grace.”


Self humiliation as a spiritual discipline was suggested to me by a message on the life of Charles Simeon that was done by John Piper. Self humiliation is the discipline of cultivating a deep awareness of our personal sinfulness in relation to God which results in a deep humility in the believer and an ever growing adoration of God in the perfections of all His attributes. It is acknowledged that this is not a common way of thinking among Christians in this modern day, yet the benefits offered to us by God through this discipline make it important to be recovered in these times.

The church in the 21st century is beset by many problems. Among them is a pride and arrogance about who we are and an overblown concept of our true importance. The disciplines of scripture reading, prayer, service, worship attendance and so on, are often neglected. The lessons of the past about relying on scripture alone and doing all things to the glory of God alone are no longer understood. Near the top of all these are the sins of failing to see God as He truly is and believing we are much better creatures than we truly are. Only when our relationship with God is brought back into a right relationship according to scripture, will these other matters begin to be addressed. Self humiliation is a discipline that can help bring this about.

Self humiliation is a discipline for today. When we read Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we see churches who have left their first love, forgotten why they do what they do and who think they have accomplished all they have without Christ. Self humiliation sets our sinfulness in front of our eyes alongside the majesty of a glorious, merciful and almighty God. When we once again see ourselves as we are in comparison to whom He really is, God’s greatest blessings will be poured out on us again. The pathway to exaltation in heaven is the pathway of humiliation in life. Let us all purpose to grow downward so that, in the end, Christ is our “all in all.”






Piper, J. (1989). Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering. The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. http://www.desiringgod.org/Online_Library/OnlineArticles/Biographies/89simeion.htm.


Piper, J. (2002). The Roots of Endurance. Crossway: Wheaton .

Sanna, E. (1998). The Riches of Bunyan. Barbour: Ulrichsville.

Spurgeon, C. (1954). Lectures to My Students. Zondervan: Grand Rapids .

Swem, E. (1888). Spurgeon’s Gold. Soli Deo Gloria: Morgan.



[1]  See Piper, J. (2002). The Roots of Endurance. Wheaton : Crossway.

[2]  Probably the living theologian who has had the most influence on my theology and thinking has been John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church , Minneapolis , MN .

[3]  Piper, p. 107.

[4]  Simeon, as quoted in Piper, p. 108.

[5]  Sanna, p. 174.

[6]  From Spurgeon’s lecture, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” p. 164.

[7]  Swem, “Spurgeon’s Gold,” p. 182.

[8]  Two come to my mind although I cannot now find the references. One is from Bunyan, that “we should always keep our sin before our eyes.” The other is from Spurgeon who said, in reference to John 3:30 that “God is glorified in direct proportion to how much men are abased. Since God is infinite and there is not limit to how high he can be glorified, there is also no limit to how low man can be abased.” Spurgeon also said the “truth of any doctrine can be established in how high it exalts God and how low it views man.” But I note that these are things I have read but for which I cannot immediately find the references.

[9]  Piper, “Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering for Christ’s Sake.” P. 11.

[10]  Ibid.


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