What True Humility Is and Is Not

Common Mistakes about Humility

One mistake that we can make in thinking about humility is seeing it as self-hatred, as though to be humble means you’re constantly attacking yourself or you’re denying your own worth. The commandment is love your neighbor as yourself, not love your neighbor instead of yourself. And so we want to call people toward recognizing their own dignity and value and not thinking that humility is at odds with that.


Gavin Ortlund

In Humility, Gavin Ortlund explains that humility is not just an abstract virtue but a mark of gospel integrity, casting a vision for gospel-centered humility that is ultimately self-forgetfulness leading to joy.

Another mistake that we can make is thinking that humility means we’re denying our talents or we’re hiding our talents. If you’re able to play the drums really well but you’re humble, you’ll never tell the band teacher. Or, if you can pitch a 90-mile-an-hour fastball but you’re humble, you won’t tell the baseball coach. But humility doesn’t mean hiding our talents.

Another mistake we can make is thinking of it as weakness, as though a humble person is someone that you can push around and they don’t really stand up for what they believe in. That’s not humility either.

It helps me to think about humility as self-forgetfulness leading to joy. None of these counterfeit ideas of humility that sometimes float around in certain cultures lead to joy. None of them lead to flourishing. True humility does lead to a kind of self-forgetfulness and joy. We can embrace life as we ought to—as God designed it.

True humility does lead to a kind of self-forgetfulness and joy.

We can have a bounce in our step. We can recognize we have a contribution to make. We just don’t take ourselves all that seriously in the process. There’s a great quote going back to C. S. Lewis, and Tim Keller has said the same thing: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” And I think that’s helpful.

We’re just not so concerned about ourselves one way or the other. And that’s helpful because it helps us see that humility is a pathway to joy and flourishing and living life as we ought to live it. I’d even put it as strongly as to say that for a proud person, humility is like an oasis in the desert. It’s a way back to joy and flourishing.

Gavin Ortlund is the author of Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness.

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