Someone told me recently that God has been humbling him through some circumstances of his life, and I told him that’s a good place to be because God gives grace to the humble. So he asked, “What does that mean? What does grace look like for the humble?”
My reply came from 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6 where both authors make the same claim by quoting Solomon, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Prov 3:34 ESV).
Occasionally when I’ve had this conversation I think that the questioner imagines grace to be a quasi-material substance that washes over us when we grow in humility. Kind of like a Gatorade bath for a winning football coach or being slimed on a Nickelodeon game show. But that’s not what grace for the humble is.
So what does it mean that God gives grace to the humble? What is that? Doesn’t God give grace to everyone on earth? After all, the sun shines on the just and the unjust (Mt 5:45). Yes, He does. This is God’s common grace—a way that he is good to all humanity. Further, we know that God has special grace—saving grace—for those that are his—those that believe the gospel (2 Tim 1:9; Eph 2:8-9). So are Simon Peter and James saying that God has even more special (specialer?) grace for those believers that are also growing in humility? Yes, God does.
Speaking about James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 John Frame says, “God gives additional gifts of grace to whom he has first given the grace of humility. …God loves his people unconditionally; but he also loves them more and more, in response to their obedience. The same may be said of grace.”John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 245 n25.
So what is this grace that comes only to the humble? I believe there are three types of grace God gives in response to humility.
The Grace of Honor and Vindication
The very next verse in 1 Peter claims that at the proper time God exalts the humble (5:6), and this is consistent with other Scripture passages that make the same claim (Mt 23:12; Luke 18:14). But lest you and I expect it immediately let’s remember that Peter was writing to suffering Christians, and it’s likely that he meant vindication and honor in the next life. That would be the “due time” of 1 Peter 5:6. So while it’s possible that God honors the humble today, you probably should plan on it being when Christ comes again. But it will happen; God promises it.
The Grace of Intimacy and Closeness
A second way that God gives grace to the humble is that he offers closer fellowship with Himself. This is also consistent with Scripture.
Isaiah 57:15 (ESV) For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (cf. Psa 119:132)
This type of grace is clearly seen in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 because it’s contrasted with God opposing the proud or resisting the proud. God keeps the proud at arm’s length which means the humble are welcomed into intimacy and closeness. This fits the context because James 4:8 tells us that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. So the humble are granted nearness to God. That’s grace.
The Grace of Empowerment and Enablement
The third way that God gives grace to the humble is he grants them the power to obey God, to please God, and to do the good works he has planned for us (Eph 2:10). The Apostle Paul agrees when he claimed “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Cor 15:10a ESV).
So when you are humble, when you are growing in humility, God gives you a greater ability to obey him. He grants you power to please him. Those that are humble actually recognize this as a wonderful gift because they genuinely want to please God in the power he provides. The humble don’t try to please God in their own strength; they know they cannot. Instead, they depend upon God’s grace and God grants it to them abundantly.
So you’re not getting “slimed” or “Gatoraded” by grace when you grow in humility. At least not literally. No, you’re getting something far better. God rushes to the humble. God might exalt you. He will definitely give you deeper intimacy, and he undoubtedly will grant you the strength to take the next obedient step for his glory. And those graces from God are joy to a believer.
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. (Isa 66:2b ESV)
|John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 245 n25.