No Room for Boasting

Is the church basically just a group of people who think that they are better than everybody else, because they hold themselves to a bunch of traditions and rules that they think makes them superior?

Perhaps unfortunately that is sometimes the way churchgoers actually feel, but the Bible itself does not describe Jesus’ church that way. In fact, the book of Romans takes pains to make it abundantly clear that the righteousness of the church is NOT about how good they are as people, but rather how kind God has been to pour His grace out on those who will put their faith in Him.

The book of Romans gives us principles such as these:

“There is none righteous, not even one… There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.”

The point is that people in the church are not naturally “better people” than those outside. Rather, they are clothed with the goodness of Jesus. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Church is all about Jesus, and His goodness.

These principles led Paul to say these words in 1 Corinthians 4: “To me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself… Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.”

In other words, Paul was saying that the job of the church is not to figure out who is the best Christian and who is the most lousy, or to brag about how good we are. Instead, judgment belongs to God, and we rest in His promises for those who are faithful.

And yet, while the church is not obsessed with being “better than” other people or figuring out who is the holiest, it is still true that the church strives for moral excellence. In the fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians, The church in Thessalonica is commended for walking as they should, with the instruction “that you excel still more.” Again in the same chapter they are complimented for the love that they have for one another, yet they are told, “but we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.”

And in an odd way, it is the very fact that the church is justified by faith rather than by works that enables the church to grow spiritually. Because of Christ’s sacrifice and the words of scripture, we can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and this frees us from negative thinking and constant fear of punishment or failure, so that we can walk down the path of holiness with confidence and joy. We can also be free from the pettiness of comparing ourselves to those around us. It has been said, “it is amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.”

The church is not simply a place for “good people” who make all the right decisions in life. It is a place for broken people to find justification by faith, to rest in God’s promises, and to follow Him as well as they can on the pathway of righteousness.

The Hunger for Approval

It is human nature to hunger for approval.  The opinions of parents, spouses, friends, and even strangers tend to be extremely important to us, even when we might wish that they were not.  We may feel miserable or angry when they express disdain for us, or overjoyed when they seem to approve.

Maybe our hunger for approval leads us to spend money on gadgets to impress others.  A popular quote puts it this way: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

Maybe our hunger for approval drives us to find our deepest identity in a sports team, hobbyist community, political party, or activist group.  Being accepted by that group can come to mean everything to us.

Maybe we simply go through life feeling wounded whenever someone dares to disagree with us.

Pop culture claims to have an answer to this problem.  Contemporary voices tell us that the only person whose opinion really matters is our own.  If you like yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks, right?  But basing our perceived value even on our own opinions of ourselves can be perilous.

We may feel triumphant for a moment when we accomplish something important, only to sink back into uncertainty and self-doubt again.

Maybe our hunger for self-approval manifests itself in the building up of a persona.  We pride ourselves on being a reasonable voice in a sea of hopelessly misled lemmings.  We find some quality in ourselves, whatever it may be, that we are convinced makes us morally commendable, and we emphasize it to ourselves over and over again, cultivating an inflated ego.

Paul presents an alternative view in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4: “to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

It was “a very small thing” to Paul whether the Corinthians gave him a positive verdict or not.  In Galatians 1:10 he reveals his position on the approval of men quite clearly: For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

But Paul takes things a step further.  He even goes so far as to say that he does not put much stock in his own opinion of himself.  Examine the verse again.  Paul says: in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

Not only did Paul not base his value off of what others thought of him, he did not even base his value off of what he thought of himself.  Thank you to Tim Keller in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness for pointing this out to me. 

Paul’s identity was grounded totally in what God thought of Him.  And God thought of Paul what God thinks of all of us. God thinks we are worth dying for.
Thumbs up