Mahaney argues that humility attracts God’s attention (Isaiah 66:2), resulting in divine blessings. The book’s purpose, then, is to help the reader cultivate a life of humility that results in receiving God’s “exquisite pleasures” (p.21). This quest begins by understanding humility, pride and true greatness. Humility is defined as “…assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness” (p.22). Since humans are sinful and pride the root of every sin, an integral part of cultivating humility is recognizing pride’s presence and how it manifests itself in one’s life (p.30). Pride is a grab for divine status, Mahaney says, and a refusal to acknowledge dependence upon God (p.31). Consequently, prideful hearts pursue greatness via selfish motives and self-sufficiency for the purpose of self-glorification (p.44).
By contrast, Jesus defined greatness as “Serving others for the glory of God,” and his sacrificial death is the quintessential demonstration of true greatness and humility—an act that cannot be replicated by fallen men and women (p.44). Therefore, genuine humility cannot be attained apart from Christ’s sacrificial death (pp.47-48). Although not directly stated, Mahaney infers that faith in Christ’s atoning death is a prerequisite for genuine humility and it is the force by which Christians serve others for the glory of God.
With this in mind, Mahaney provides a list of practical exercises to help Christians continually weaken pride and cultivate humility. Some are daily exercises, others are long-term pursuits. Mahaney concludes that the pursuit of humility is important for all Christians because “…there can be no effective expansion of your life’s mission and ministry, no fulfillment of the specific purpose [God has called] you to, apart from the cultivation of humility in your heart and the weakening of pride in your life” (p.169).
Critique and Application
Humility: True Greatness offers invaluable insight into the nature of sin, pride and humility, but its genius is how it exposes the dangers and pervasiveness of pride. Mahaney rightly asserts that pride plagues all humans and that God hates pride more than any other sin. Therefore, humility is a relentless pursuit that requires examining one’s life continually for signs of pride, and then taking practical steps to defeat it. This is indispensable advice for the culture in which we live. An additional value is the long list of practical exercises, which comprise more than half the book. These exercises make the book a handy reference manual in the daily battle against pride. For this reason, Humility is recommended for all Christians to read and keep on-hand for reference.
If there is a negative critique to be made it is that Mahaney seems to write skewed toward a Christian audience. For example, chapter four is a wonderful explanation of the gospel, but how one receives the gospel is unclear. Thus readers from un-churched backgrounds might be left wondering how one practically “flees to the cross” or how to take part in “the Savior’s unique sacrifice” (pp.48; 168). If recommending this book to non-Christians, some further explanation of how to receive the gospel is advised.
Two applications from the book spoke to me the most, though all are important. First, I want to learn how to invite and pursue correction (Chapter 10). This does not come naturally to me, but I recognize its value because I am aware of spiritual blind spots. I want to make it a habit from this point forward to invite godly people to gently and lovingly correct me when I am out of step with my profession of faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life (p.133). Finally, I want to learn how to laugh often, especially at myself (pp.94-95). This is an area I greatly wish to improve, not only for myself, but for the sake of my children. My desire is for them to learn humility from me, and Mahaney is right when he says that laughter is a divine gift that helps subdue pride and results in experiencing “the joy of a humble life” (p.95).