This past year in my Early Christian Spirituality course at TBS we had a lecture on Basil of Caesarea's theology of humility. His twentieth homily was full of great theological insight and practical suggestions for how to live with greater humility.
One of his suggestions for how to stir up humility is simply to recall one's past sins. It is only possible for me to become proud and think more highly of myself than I ought when I forget what I ought to think of myself--namely, when I forget what I've done and what I deserve from a holy God.
Sometimes, however, instead of genuine humility, I find that meditating on past sins (or even present sinfulness) just produces feelings of guilt and regret. I think about wrong things that I've done and how horrible they were. Then I think about the ongoing consequences of things I've done (how I've made people feel or things that happen to others as a result of my sins) and it just gets worse.
The trouble of course is that my focus is on the wrong place. The thing which should create in me the deepest and truest humility is looking at the cross. Despite what I so often see, the worst consequence of my sin isn't the hurt feelings of other people--it is the death of the Son of God. As the hymnwriter put it:
"Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue..."The truth is that while the cross reveals grace and mercy, wrath and justice, it also reveals truth about me. Nowhere do I see the true end of all my sins and my sinful heart better than in the cross.
What is the cross? It is the place where the only one who was ever innocent, the only one who was ever truly pure, was beaten and mocked, whipped and murdered for me. Why? Because that's what my sins deserve.
But the hymnwriter didn't stop there...
"Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,This is the mystery of grace in the wonder of the cross. The only truly beautiful, truly innocent, truly perfect man to walk this earth in nothing but love became the victim of violent hatred--and I was the offender. But yet, in this--the greatest of all travesties, that God would be rejected by man--my pardon is sealed. It is complete. He accomplished it all.
Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too"
In the cross I see the absolute depravity of my sin... the absolute godlessness of my soul left to its own power. If given my way, I would kill God. But here's the irony: in God's grace, my God was killed for me. What wonderful grace!
How can the recipient of such grace know anything but humility? How can pride find a place in any heart which has rightly evaluated the cross?
"Thus while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue,Go figure: the answer to something in the Christian's life is to look more to the cross... who would've thought? No fancy programs, no insider-tricks... just look to the cross.
Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy, my spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy... yet live by him I killed."
What does it mean that Christ died for me? It means my sin deserved death. If my sin doesn't deserve death, and Christ died, then we mock the cross and make God out to be a liar. The cross, then, was superfluous.
But if my sin was so deep that I would desire the death of God, and that I deserved the eternity of punishment Christ bore on my behalf, then I need to do some serious thinking about who and what I really am. This type of thinking can lead only to deepest despair for those outside of Christ. But it will lead to endless joy and deepest hope for those who have seen their burdens tumble to the sepulchre.