I find myself thinking often about the things the Apostle Paul said about himself. Despite the great good he did to spread the Good News, he referred to himself in such glowing terms as “chief among sinners” (1 Tim.) and “least of all the holy ones” (Eph. 3). No one could accuse Paul of resting on his own laurels! Instead of boasting about his own achievements, Paul chose to boast about the accomplishments of his peers in Jesus, and of course in the wondrous works of the Lord.

Reading Paul’s epistles has brought me face-to-face with the sharp contrast between true and false humility. Sometimes pride masquerades itself as humility through self-deprecation, which seeks to be told it’s good enough. In other words, think of the “pious humility” of one who might claim to be a terrible sinner, a mess-up, just the worst, but what they’re really hoping for is someone to tell them they aren’t really that bad after all.

True humility, on the other hand, is the understanding of the human condition. It’s the recognition of the truth in passages like Ephesians 2, which speaks of the dead state we all came from. It’s a genuine, unmitigated face-to-face confrontation with our very nature that allows us to realize we are broken, flawed, powerless on our own—and that it’s only through Christ that we have enough. That we ARE enough. Of all the bad things he did before Jesus reached his heart, Paul was not unaware. Rather than boasting in his own strength, in the things he endured and survived, he boasted in Christ—through whom he had a second chance and the opportunity to be part of something greater.

One of my mentors likes to use the phrase “none of us deserves to be here” – and it’s true. We are saved by grace, not works. An understanding that we didn’t receive our glorious salvation of ourselves, but by the gift of God, brings us face-to-face with just how broken we are without Him.

Once we cease to rely on our singular strength, once we stop falling back on the support of our own merit—as if that could ever be enough to carry us through—we open our hearts to the humbleness that allows us to be true vessels of God and Christ.

But in order to be good witnesses for them, we can’t be witnesses of ourselves. We must start from a place of true humility.