The Path to Humility
(and the Path to Revival)
Robert Wurtz II
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5-6 ESV)
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Peter 5:5-6 ESV)
John the Baptist brought the people back to the Jordon river to remind them of their ancestors, the Israelites, passing over to the Promised Land from Egypt. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came to earth; and therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven was near. The first step to preparing to meet him was to humble themselves utterly. Publically confessing their sins accomplished this.
Called to the Wilderness
Confession and repentance come front and center as the people heed John’s call and go out to him in the wilderness. But, first, they needed to own their history as rebellious people who wandered there for 40 years before finally crossing the Jordan and later spent 70 years exiled in Babylon because of sin.
We’re kept from what the people confessed while in the river. We don’t need to know about their sins. The fact that they were in the river where everyone could see them confessing was enough to convince everyone that the person had sinned and needed forgiveness. Confession of sins belongs implicitly, if not explicitly, to the meaning of repentance. (WBC) It is verbally acknowledging what they had done publically and not privately (Vincent).
Let God Be True
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. (Luke 7:29-30)
Confession of sin affects a change wherein the one confessing exchanges pride for humility. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this process. Neglect it, and you miss the first step to getting right with God. The universality of the confessions meant that everyone who wished to get right confessed and was baptized, while the religious leaders rejected God’s will in this regard.
Confession of sins and water baptism were made in response to the counsel of God. When people agree with God and His word, they “let God be true,” which means, “God, you are right; I have sinned against You.” The religious leaders rejected the counsel of God against them and therefore did not confess or receive baptism. It was humiliating and diminished them in the eyes of the people; consequently, they wouldn’t participate.
Sometimes people are aware of our sins, and we think nobody knows. David found out that he hadn’t gotten by with his sin. The men who brought Bathsheeba to him knew about it; consequently, even the enemies of Israel knew (2 Samuel 12:14 NKJV). Some people are very good at keeping you from knowing that they know. If Nathan hadn’t confronted him, people might have played along with David’s coverup indefinitely. They may smile to his face and despise his hypocrisy in their hearts. People would have talked and talked over time, and David’s reputation would have suffered far more damage than humbling himself and admitting the sin. We could never have taken David seriously had he not confessed.
Step One: Humble Yourself
Humbling ourselves is something we must do. God is well able to humble people, but you and I don’t want that. A cursory reading of the Bible reveals a persistent emphasis on humility, which means “small in your own eyes.” So what does it mean to humble ourselves? One example Jesus gave was the people of Nineveh (Matthew 12:41). Though they had no Bible, the Ninevites still understood that they must humble themselves before God, though they didn’t know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11).
On the other hand, the religious leaders rejected confession and baptism not because they didn’t understand it but because they did understand it. They knew what it would do to their reputation. So they took a “never let them see you sweat” outlook, meaning they never wanted people to know they were less than perfect. And this is the essence of the sin that God hates the most, pride (Proverbs 6:17). They were too proud to humble themselves, confess their sins, and be baptized.
Confession of sin is arguably the most humbling thing a person can do. (D. Prince) Is it any wonder that the proud religious leaders rejected it? When people confess their sins, they “level set” with God and man. You are saying, as did David, “I have sinned against the Lord.” But despite its effectiveness, many reject confession because it’s too effective. They think to themselves, “surely there is another way! What will people think of me if I let my guard down and confess in front of them?”
Step 2: Let This Mind Be in You
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus had no sin to confess; He was perfect and innocent. So He took a more radical approach to humble Himself. He took on the form of sinful humankind! Despite our resistance to humbling ourselves in confession and repentance, Jesus was the consummate example of how to humble ourselves. He came from Heaven to earth, not the regal robes of the Son of God (as it were), but in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). Further, He humbled Himself in the form of a servant (enslaved person). He had no desire to flaunt His reputation as the Son of God or King of Kings; but surrendered Himself to the hands of wicked men to be utterly humiliated on the cross.
The Humility of Jesus
Confessing sin is lightweight behavior compared to what Jesus did. If we were humiliated for our sins the way we deserve, it would look more like a scene from the passion of Christ than standing in the Jordan River confessing. But instead, Jesus was humiliated beyond all recognition for our sins, and we get uptight at the idea that we need to confess.
Unlike the religious leaders, Jesus refused to improve His standing in the court of human opinion. He wasn’t interested in polls or ratings. Instead, He did what He saw His Father doing and lived to please Him alone. This “mindset” is entirely different from the religious leaders who glorified themselves and one another (John 5:44). They refused to humble themselves. Why? It’s hard to promote yourself in people’s eyes when you’re confessing your sins.
Step Three: Confess Reality
Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden. (1 Timothy 5:24-25 NKJV)
Maybe you are perfect and have no sin to confess. Praise God! But what if you do? What’s the use of hiding our sins now when God will reveal unconfessed sins at the Judgment? Why should we pretend to be more spiritual and perfect than we truly are? Who are we fooling? Our family and friends? Our spouse? Not God. Not the angelic host. Not Satan. Imagine the gasps in Heaven among the earthlings when God pulls the cover to reveal people’s hidden sins while pretending to be holy. All because they were too proud to humble themselves on earth, confess, and renounce their sins.
It’s easy to speak of our good works and accomplishments. Why? We love to be esteemed and praised. We detest being embarrassed and criticized. But we have a choice. Will we publish our good works for all to see and then hide our shortcomings and sins, or will we do the reverse?
One of these days, the truth of 1 Timothy 5:24 is going to play out. Some people’s sins will follow them to judgment because they didn’t go before them. They hid them and pretended they were blameless. Yet God sees. They escaped notice, confession, and repentance on earth, but God’s judgment will eventually pull together all the loose threads that elude human administration. (NICNT)