In his new mini book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller mentions a part of Mere Christianity wherein C.S. Lewis says the thing you would remember from meeting a truly humble person is that he “took a real interest in what you said to him“. In response, Keller writes the following:
Gospel humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, “I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?” True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.
I think Keller is spot-on, which is what got me to thinking about how someone gets to a place where they are characterized by true gospel-humility. If what Keller says is true, then we cannot simply try to be more humble because this will only focus our thoughts back on ourselves. We’ll constantly ask questions of ourselves like, “Did I come across as arrogant when I said that?” or “Did I show enough interest in that person?” These kinds of question only help us adopt a performance mentality that leads us to pride if the answer is good and self-pity (just another form of self-centeredness) if it is bad.
True gospel-humility comes as a result of losing ourselves in the glory of the gospel. This is why after Paul commands the Philippians, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4), he goes straight into how this kind of humility was displayed in Jesus when he came from heaven to earth to the cross (vv. 5-8). Paul doesn’t tell them to look inside of themselves but outside of themselves in order to think of others. But not just anywhere outside of themselves. If we’re going to forget ourselves and have true humility formed in us, we have to preoccupy ourselves with Jesus. So it doesn’t mean that there is no trying involved in becoming humble, but the trying is really more about plunging deeper into the heart of God than concentrating on being more humble.