Why is Humility so Attractive in Other People?

Why is Humility so Attractive in Other People?

Why is it that when you see someone acting full of themselves you are repelled but when you see someone acting humble that you find yourself being attracted?  That is the question we will explore in this blog post.  If being humble is seen as winsome and desirable, how do we grow in this grace and how do we cultivate a humble spirit?  We will also explore why living with a humble spirit is difficult and how the SDI 2.0 and the three passions of the soul are involved.

The classic book on humility was written by Andrew Murray entitled Humility: The Beauty of Holiness.  I highly recommend this book as it is available to be read online for free.  In this book he claims that humility is the personal attribute that is the source of all the others.  St. Augustine said this, “My dear Dioscorus, I wish you to submit with complete devotion, and to construct no other way for yourself of grasping and holding the truth than the way constructed by Him who, as God, saw how faltering were our steps. This way is first humility, second humility, third humility, and however often you should ask me I would say the same, not because there are not other precepts to be explained, but, if humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, and if it is not set before us to look upon, and beside us to lean upon, and behind us to fence us in, pride will wrest from our hand any good deed we do while we are in the very act of taking pleasure in it.” (Letters (83-130), ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Wilfrid Parsons, vol. 18, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 282.).  The development of humility is the key to transformation.

The opposite of humility is pride.  When Adam and Eve chose to believe the deception of the serpent in the garden, they did so with desire to be “like God.”  They wanted to be elevated to god status.  Satan himself chose the same path.  Humility is the characteristic where we see ourselves as we really are without distortion.  Secular definitions of humility focus on the concept of debasement, a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness.  However, Scripture teaches us something a little different, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Rom. 12:3-5 NIV).  To think “soberly” is to have a non-distorted view of ourselves.  Be realistic about your gifts and your relationship to others in regard to your spiritual gifts.  Scripture does not teach us to debase ourselves.  Feeling bad about our faults and failings is not what humility is about.  But we must begin with an honest and true picture of our situation.

If humility is a Godly trait, Adam and Eve reflected humility before the Fall.  They were made in the image of God, reflecting the character and attribute of God which is perfect.  God sees himself as he really is – the supreme being over all creation.  But there is more to humility than seeing oneself as we really are.  We learn that from Christ himself.  In Philippians 2:3-8 we read, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”


Jesus had a realistic understanding of himself.  He was in his very nature God!  But he chose to forfeit his privilege to save the world from sin and death.  The one who deserved to be served chose to serve – even at considerable cost.

Humility requires a realistic understanding of self, but it does not demand status on that basis.  Rather it yields to the welfare of others.  It is willing to take a servant’s role for the sake of other people.  Jesus demonstrated this to us.  When we see someone live like this, we are attracted to them.  There is something divine that draws us in.  It is the image of God being revealed.

The Scripture reveals the true reality of our lives as sinful and even describes our good deeds as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).  The Law is our teacher and was designed to show our weakness and need of a savior.  Understanding and recognizing the full extent of our sin is critical to developing humility.  But it is not in itself sufficient to bring about our transformation.  The transformation comes through the grace given to us when we understand the full reality of God’s love for us when he adopted us as his sons and daughters in spite of our unworthiness!  The Spirit of God is constantly whispering in our ears that we are not orphans or slaves but are children of God with all the benefits and inheritance thereof (Rom. 8:14-17).

Humility will never be on display until we grasp the grace of God afforded to us through the work and gift of Christ.  Abasement because of the knowledge of our sin cannot produce the fruit of humility that is so attractive in others.  Those who live in abasement wallow in their sin and if anything, strive to convince others they are not debase.  They strive after acceptance from others, significance in the eyes of others, and try to bring about security to their lives apart from trusting God.  These strivings look more like pride than humility.  Striving to obtain what only God’s grace can provide is what is behind behavior that looks like pride.

Those who know the full extent of God’s love through Christ have nothing to strive after because God has provided everything we need.  Christ has set us free so we are free indeed! (John 8:36).  This is the only way we can return to the garden identity with true humility.  Then we can follow Christ in his example of laying down his life for others.

Biblical humility understands the full extent of our lostness and sin, but also has embraced the fullness of our adoption as children of God.  We are free to sacrificially lay our lives down for the sake of others just as Christ has instructed and modeled for us.

The three passions that line up with the three corners of the SDI triangle, help us to understanding our own desires to establish our own identity apart from Christ.  SDI is a great self-awareness tool.  But the Gospel is what brings about our transformation.  The Gospel enables us to live with humility – “it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works that anyone can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Humility is on display when we allow others to bring forth their strengths and we don’t insist on ours being the only voice.  Humility is at work when we sacrifice our preferences and desires for the sake of someone else.  Unity is often the fruit of humility because we don’t insist that our needs are most important.  When humility triumphs, those who don’t deserve grace are given grace because we received grace in the same way.  Humility changes everything.  It changes the way we relate to each other, the way we lead, and the way we serve.  It changes the way we worship and who we worship.

As you reflect this advent season on the humble coming of Christ as a servant, let us grow in humility.  May the world see our humility and be attracted to the one who is transforming us back into his image.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.