True Greatness
Author: C. J. Mahaney


In a small country church an elderly man was voted the most humble person and given a pin to wear as a reward. The next Sunday he wore the pin and they had to ask him to return it. This apocryphal story illustrates the difficulty of writing about humility. Mahaney, a former pastor and currently the leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries, admits to being a proud person pursuing humility by the grace of God. Humility, the antidote to the number one sin of pride, is both extremely important and continually elusive.

Mahaney talks with us about the battle of pride and humility, Jesus as the only true provider and illustration of humility, and practices than can help us cultivate humility. The further you read, the better it gets.

Best Chapter: Chapter 3. Greatness Redefined

"If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." (40, quoting Jesus in Mark 9:35) This turns upside down our ideas of greatness. Pursuing greatness in our culture consists of self-interested, self-indulgent, and self-sufficient individuals glorifying themselves through selfish ambition. Biblical greatness is serving others for the glory of God. (44)

Key Insights

"Humility is our greatest friend and pride our greatest enemy." (14)

Definition: "Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness." (22)

Pride infects us all. "Pride is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin." (quoting John Stott) "Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him." The single goal of pride is self-glorification - to rob God of legitimate glory and glorify oneself. God's hatred of pride is both pure and holy. (29-33)

"True greatness is attained only by emulating the Savior's example-and made possible only by the Savior's sacrifice." (58)

"It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size." (67, quoting John Stott)

At the beginning of each day:
  • Acknowledge your need for God. (68)
  • Express gratefulness to God. (70)
  • Practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study and worship. That acknowledges that "I need You." (72)
  • Use your commute time to memorize Scripture. (73)
  • Give Jesus your burdens. (74)

Study the attributes of God (to show us the vast differences between God and us), the doctrines of grace (to leave us no room for self-congratulation), the doctrine of sin (to show us our true condition). "Sin is subtle and difficult to discern, especially the sin of pride." (93)

Play golf (it's very humbling) and laugh at yourself. (94)

Do you have a habit of being critical of others, of seeing their weaknesses? Identify evidences of grace in others. Look for how God is at work in them. (97-8)

Is your spouse more aware of your criticism or your encouragement of the signs of growth? And what about your children? If you are faithful to encourage your children, your correction when it is needed will be more effective because you have a grace-centered relationship. (107)

Do people see you as a critic or fault-finder? Are you quick to notice the warts? Be quick to notice the work of God in people. Encourage others every day. Corrupting talk is forbidden. (Eph 4:29) Impart grace through your words. Build others up. "When you examine your words you'll discover your heart." "Only the humble are genuinely concerned about edifying and encouraging others." (107-121)

Invite and pursue correction. Sin deceives and blinds you. You need feedback from others to understand your heart. You need others to hold God's Word in front of you like a mirror. (123-127)

I will never become competent at observing my own sin. I need to invite others to look into my life and correct me. I will always need help. My sin may be obvious to others. They may see it clearly or imperfectly. Even if they are inaccurate, I can learn. They can exhort and encourage me. I will never outgrow this need. (133-4)

What about your ambitions for your children? Are they in line with true greatness as exhibited by Jesus? "Ultimately, that's what parenting is mostly about-it's about preparing our children for the final day." (158)

"Ultimately, there can be no effective expansion of your life's mission and ministry, no fulfillment of the specific purpose He's called you to, apart from the cultivating of humility in your heart and the weakening of pride in your life." (169)

Humility: True Greatness
C. J. Mahaney, 2005, 176 pp.

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