No Room for Boasting
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“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.”—Romans 3:271
What you boast in is what gives you confidence to go out and face the day. It is the thing of which you say: I am a somebody because I have that. I can beat what comes against me today because I am this. What you boast in is what fundamentally defines you; it is where you draw your identity and self-worth from.
Now, in the gospel, boasting is “excluded.” Why? A great way to understand what Paul means is to look at his own experience. In Philippians 3:5–11, Paul tells us what, before he became a Christian, he had confidence in; what he boasted in: “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” That is quite some list! It includes family pedigree, racial background, professional and educational attainments, and religiosity/morality. Then he says, “I consider them rubbish!”2 He has no confidence in them; he doesn’t boast about them—quite the opposite. He says: “I don’t need any of these things. None of these things help me at all!” What has he given them up for? “That I may gain Christ.” Paul is saying that boasting and believing are opposites; you can’t do both. The principle of faith excludes boasting3 because faith understands that there is nothing we do that justifies us.
If we are to receive Jesus, we must give up boasting. … We only exclude boasting when we realize that our best achievements have done nothing to justify us! To boast in them is like a drowning man clutching a fistful of hundred-dollar bills and shouting, “I’m OK! I’ve got money!”
If you understand the gospel of righteousness received, you will never boast. Or rather, you will never boast in yourself, but you will boast only in someone who is not you, and exclusively about something you did not do: Christ, and him crucified. Paul says he will “never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”4 Christians know they are saved solely and wholly by Christ’s work, not their own. They take no credit for their standing with God, nor for their blessings from God. Their boasting is transferred from themselves to their Savior, because everyone will always “boast” in—draw confidence and hope from—the object of their faith. If you know you are saved by Christ’s work alone, you have great confidence, but it is not self-confidence in your own works; rather, it is Christ-confidence in his death. You face the day, even the day of your death, saying to the world: “I have Christ. His death means that when God looks at me, he sees his beautiful child. World, I need nothing from you, and you can take nothing from me. I have Christ.”—Timothy Keller
Not by works of righteousness
“Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”—Ephesians 2:95
It’s encouraging to people to see that you’re not perfect, or that even their leaders are not perfect, they’re human. Look at Moses. Look at King David. Look at Joseph. There is a long string of imperfect people in the Bible and in church history. They were all men. Men of faith, but all of them had feet of clay and all of them made mistakes, and the Lord had to show that they were flesh and blood and just as weak as we are and made mistakes like we all do, and anything good that was accomplished was all the Lord.
It had to be all the Lord, for they became shining examples—not of their own greatness but of their utter dependence on the Lord. God was glorified, because sometimes they were dandy bad examples, which showed it was only the Lord that pulled them through. It was only the Lord that saved them. It was only the Lord that gave them the final victory. And it wasn’t of themselves, but of the Lord.
Just like salvation; it’s “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”6 “Faith cometh by hearing the Word of God,”7 but we’re saved by grace through faith. And it’s not of ourselves, lest any man should boast; it’s the gift of God. An awful lot of our preaching and teaching sometimes may seem to be like “we did it” and “we made it, and you should too.” We have to keep reminding ourselves and others (and if we don’t, God will) that it was all the Lord, that He’s the one that did it, and “without Him we can do nothing.”8—David Brandt Berg
Degrees of glory
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”—2 Corinthians 3:189
I fear sometimes that a doctrine which is popular in the church, about degrees of glory, is not altogether unassociated with that old self-righteousness of ours which is very loath to die. “One star differs from another star in glory” is a great truth—but this the stars may do without differing in degrees. One star may shine with one radiance, and another with another; indeed, astronomers tell us that there are many varieties of color among stars of the same magnitude!
One man may differ from another, without supposing a difference in rank, honor, or degree. For my part, I do not see anything about degrees in glory in Scripture, and I do not believe in the doctrine; at least if there are degrees; mark this, they cannot be according to works, but must be of divine grace alone! I cannot consider that because one Christian has been more devoted to Christ than another, therefore, there will be an eternal difference, for this is to introduce works …” Oh, brothers and sisters, I think we can serve God from some other motive than that base one of trying to be greater than our brethren in heaven!
If I should get to heaven at all, I do not care who is greater than I am, for if anyone shall have more happiness in heaven than I shall, then I shall have more happiness, too; for the sympathy between one soul and another will there be so intense and so great, that all the heavens of the righteous will be my heaven, and therefore, what you have, I shall have, because we shall all be one in fellowship far more perfectly than on earth. The private member will there be swallowed up in the common body. Surely, brothers and sisters, if any of you can have brighter places in heaven, and more happiness and more joy than I, I will be glad to know it. The prospect does not excite any envy in my soul now, or if it did now, it certainly would not then, for I should feel, that the more you had, the more I should have!
Perfect communion in all good things is not compatible with the private enrichment of one above another. Even on earth, the saints had all things common when they were in a heavenly state, and I am persuaded they will have all things common in glory. I do not believe in gentlemen in heaven, and the poor Christians behind the door; I believe that our union with each other will be so great that distinctions will be utterly lost, and that we shall all have such a joint communion, and interest, and fellowship, that there will be no such thing as private possessions, private ranks, and private honors—for we shall there, to the fullest extent, be one in Christ!—Charles Spurgeon
Published on Anchor May 2016. Read by Jason Lawrence.
2 Philippians 3:8.
3 Romans 3:27.
4 Galatians 6:14.
6 Ephesians 2:8–9.
7 Romans 10:17.
8 John 15:5.