3 ways to pursue Christ-like humility in a digital culture

July 11, 2018

Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance. –St. Augustine

In the first-century, Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians where he included a call to Christ-like humility. The city of Philippi was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture because of its location on Via Egnatia—a famous highway stretching across extensive territory. With this expansive road spreading cultural ideology from diverse areas, Paul intentionally invited the Philippians to do nothing out of selfish ambition, look to the needs of others, and have the humble attitude of Christ (Phil 2:3-5).

A different kind of road to navigate

Today, we do not live on a literal road that facilitates the movement of cultural ideas around the globe; however, we are operating in a culture that transcends international borders—the online world. Via Egnatia provided Christians with specific challenges, as well as unique opportunities, much like the internet. Paul’s invitation to humility is just as relevant to those of us who seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth in the digital era.

Ross Inman, professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, points out predominant features of the online culture while considering how believers might virtuously navigate the cyber world. Inman explains, “Our present digital age—driven by immediacy, instant self-expression, virality and virtual ‘friendships’—carries with it unique challenges for character formation.” Inman goes on to say, “This is certainly not to say that it is impossible to maneuver one’s way through digital culture in a responsible and virtuous manner as a follower of Christ.”

The mission, therefore, is not to abandon digital platforms altogether, but to bring the essence of Christ into an ever-growing online reality.

How to pursue humility in a digital age

The digital culture will establish “virtual” habits over virtuous character within believers if we do not purposely seek to cultivate Christ-like conduct when communicating online. Here are several ways we can be mindful online:  

1. Engage with wisdom: In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a lady calling out from different public areas including elevated places, the intersection of paths, city gates, and the entrance of doorways (Prov. 8:2-3). Lady Wisdom is by no means silent about her beliefs when it comes to public discourse. While speaking out with extreme conviction, however, she considers knowledge and discretion to be co-laborers alongside her and reviles any sort of arrogant pride or perverse speech (Prov. 8:12-13).

Today’s instantaneous online climate invites individuals to share thoughts about numerous topics—many related to important issues. We should exhibit wisdom and discretion as believers, though, and repudiate unhelpful discourse. Like Lady Wisdom, our voices should not be quiet; however, we must allow wise caution to accompany both our speech and actions (James 1:22-25).  

The mission, therefore, is not to abandon digital platforms altogether, but to bring the essence of Christ into an ever-growing online reality.

2. Identify heart motives: The temptation to elevate “self” over Christ is heightened in the online world because it is oriented around the individual. St. Thomas Aquinas, an influential medieval theologian, described four potential manifestations of self-centered pride that oppose humility. He defined pride as being self-exalting, self-creating, self-serving, and self-building. Each form of conceit magnifies a personal excellence above the humble nature of Christ.

As believers with an online presence, we can reject prideful persuasions that place self before Christ. One way we can begin resisting sinful inclinations is to be aware that vanity disguises itself in a variety of ways. For example, we might post in such a manner that is seemingly innocent, yet in our hearts, we desire adoration and recognition from others. When we take time to assess the intentions of our hearts, we are able to identify inward motives. Then, we can prayerfully purge ourselves of the pride that attempts to fortify personal kingdoms rather than advance the Kingdom of God (John 18:36).  

3. Initiate formative practices: The character of Christ is forged in seemingly mundane moments of life. For believers who desire to cultivate and exemplify Christ’s humility, we can monitor our mindless use of social media through personal awareness. For example, knowing how much time and how often we check our accounts can help us steward our internet usage in a manner that glorifies God. Also, taking lengthy “social media sabbaticals” will provide space for personal reflection and create much-needed time to commune with the Lord.  

Ryan McAnnally-Linz offers practical recommendations for maneuvering the online world. He states,

An example [a suggestion] would be turning off notifications of likes, comments, and retweets. Constructive practices of attentiveness, in turn, seek to develop habits of attending to God’s will for and work in the world. Most often, [these practices] intentionally heighten our focus on some place where we expect to see God at work in the world, such as among the poor and marginalized.

McAnnally-Linz emphasizes the value of minimizing actions which could glorify self by prioritizing habits focused on an eternal purpose. Incorporating these intentional habits can help us look beyond ourselves and the online world so that we see through the lens of God’s heart for all of humanity.  

When Paul wraps up his invitation to Christ-like humility, he explains to the Philippian church how Jesus received the name higher than any other name because of his self-emptying example and humble obedience (Phil. 2:7-9). Paul proclaims every knee will bow and tongue confess the greatness of Christ for the glory of the Lord (vv. 10-11). Like the Christians in Philippi living near Via Egnatia, we have a unique opportunity to represent Christ. We are invited to put God’s humble heart and glory on full display as we walk with Jesus through the difficulties of the digital culture.

Grace Hody

Grace Hody is a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Her theological interests include Old Testament Studies, Analytic Theology, and Philosophy. She is currently teaching history and language at a classical academy. Read More by this Author