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.

Jesus and Politics

Do you ever wonder what Jesus would say about politics if He were alive today? Would He endorse a certain candidate or political party? Would He take a stance on specific legislation, or at least on particular issues?

Jesus did not talk much about politics, His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). He actually had opportunities to gain great political power and turned them down (John 6:15). But there was one occasion on which Jesus was asked point blank about His stance on a specific political issue. In Mark 12, it is recorded that a group of Pharisees and Herodians asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”

As it turns out, the poll-tax was a “hot button issue” in Jesus’ day. Historians tell us that it had been instituted in 5 A.D. when Jesus was a boy, and its institution was the cause of political riots. In fact, a man named Judas of Galilee had led a revolt in which He cleansed the temple and told fellow Jews not to pay the poll-tax. In a sense, the poll-tax had become a symbol of the oppression of God’s people by Caesar.

It is no coincidence that Jesus, having spent time preaching about a new kingdom (Matthew 4:17) and having recently cleansed the temple (Mark 11:15-19) was asked for a firm stance on this issue.

And the answer to this question was probably contested by the Pharisees (who opposed Roman rule) and the Herodians (who supported it), meaning that Jesus was being asked about a sensitive issue in front of two political parties who disagreed. To make the situation even more difficult, they ask Him in a way that demanded a straightforward answer: “Shall we pay or shall we not pay?” (Mark 12:15). There was no getting around it, Jesus might have to step on someone’s toes.

His answer was brilliant. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In one sentence, He must have both pleased and offended both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees would be offended that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but pleased that He esteemed God above Caeser. The Herodians would be pleased that Jesus seemed to support the tax, but offended that Jesus would suggest that an allegiance to God might undermine an allegiance to Caesar.

Essentially, Jesus revealed that the issues at stake were more far reaching and complicated than these religious and political leaders were making them out to be. Sure, the money was stamped by Caesar’s mint and had his image on them, so paying the tax was just. But the bigger issue of sorting out allegiances to God and government was and continues to be more nuanced than that.

Maybe if Jesus were around today, He would manage to do what He did in the gospel accounts. He might very well offend all of us, wherever we might stand on particular issues. He might very well defy all political categorization. He might teach us that among all of the complex issues of life, God must have first place (Matthew 6:33), the golden rule must govern our actions (Matthew 7:12), and that His word must be our guide above and beyond all parties and politicians (Mark 12:17, Psalm 119:105).

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Self-Examination

In our recent sermon on dealing with sin we looked at Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7 to examine ourselves first before making judgments about the actions of others. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

This is not the only Bible passage that talks about self-examination.

  • In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Christians are told, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:28 applies this idea specifically to observing the Lord’s Supper: a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
  • In Lamentations 3:40, Israel was exhorted, Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!”

He may not have stated it directly, but Jesus encouraged His listeners to examine themselves when He said:  “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Jesus was emphasizing that the way we look at the world colors all of our experiences. The wise man will stop to consider not only what he sees, but also the eye with which he sees it and the mind with which he interprets it.

There is so much that needs to be done in the world. Billions of people need to know about Christ, including many of our friends and family. But before we can take the next step, we must make sure that we are right with God in our own personal lives.

May it never be said of us what Jesus said of the religious leaders in His life, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” The Pharisees had big plans for traveling the world and making disciples, but they had failed to disciple themselves.

As Ravi Zacharias says of the contemporary man, “Like Alexander the Great, he has conquered the world around him, but has not yet conquered himself.”

Self-examination is not seeking to justify ourselves by comparing our actions to those of other people. Rather than being satisfied with being “better than so-and-so,” we must step back and evaluate ourselves objectively.

Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. (Galatians 6:4)

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