God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:28-31
Ought a man be boastful? While our knee-jerk reaction may be to cast aside all boasting, it really depends on the subject of our boasts. There’s an old saying that does not ring hollow: It ain’t bragging if it’s true.
Growing up in a typical American Baptist church, I learned the foundation of the true faith: Christ lived as we cannot –perfectly– and died as we must –condemned. But I did more than that. I prayed. I sang hymns. I invited Jesus into my heart as my personal lord and savior in a small Baptist church camp at a young age. I was baptized by immersion in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit in order that I would be obedient to Christ and publicly profess my faith in him. Over five years later, I again took the sign of baptism by immersion in the triune name of God because I had become convinced by my internal feelings that for the first time I was truly a believer and that my earlier baptism was really just in accordance with the tradition in my church. I volunteered countless hours in my late teens and early 20’s and worked to “further God’s kingdom,” all in an attempt to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.”
Yet it was not enough. When I read the scriptures as one would read an instruction manual that fell from heaven, by necessity I saw my “Christian walk” as my own effort to please God. I believed Christ because it’s what I had to do to please God. I sang hymns, prayed, and was baptized for the same reason. These are all good things but if I was to take the scriptures seriously, how was I to know the point when God would examine my life and call me a worthy servant? Worse still, what was I to do when I still found sin in my life? Moreover, at times it seemed that sin had a free reign! On my mind constantly was my prayer of salvation and my second baptism. I would pray: “my God, I’m trying my best to live a holy life, why do I keep failing you? Why must I exist in such despair? If I loved you, I would obey you. Do I then not love you?”
There is no comfort afforded in the scriptures for the one who searches his works for signs of his faith in Christ and at its crux, the only answer I obtained from the pulpit and smaller groups concerning my sin was “Jesus is there to save you, but the right living (and thus proof of saving faith) is up to you. You must prove your salvation by your works.”
What a woeful existence. The scriptures say “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28
was is me.
And it’s you, too. We each have our own stories of success and failure but more so, it is undeniable that we have a penchant for hypocrisy and an admiration of lawlessness. Somewhere along the line though, the lord was gracious to reveal my dependence upon him. All of those things I had founded my faith on, all of them, I have learned to count as loss, that I may gain Christ. I have learned that in my flesh dwells nothing good, that I was chosen in Christ before the world existed, and that my growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ springs from God’s promise, not my effort.
I’ve learned that salvation is of the lord, beginning to end. I have learned that I am a poor, miserable sinner, yet I have God’s riches and an inheritance as an adopted son in and through Christ, because Christ is my brother. Now that’s something worth boasting about!
It has been a long, and at times painful, journey but I have not forgotten where I started. I have a love for fundamentalist evangelical Christians. In many ways, I am indebted to them. Yet they are missing out on the fullness of the gospel. Like a strange example of dehydrated, desperate men finding a spring in the wilderness, instead of cupping their hands and imbibing as the chilly waters fill them by no human effort, they ravenously clench their fists in the flow and yank them back out –empty– over and over, lest they be accused of failing to fulfill their duty in the hydration process!
Some manage to live this way the remaining days of their lives, tasting just enough of the tiny droplets on their fingers not to care that there’s a way to drink their fill if they’d just slow down and rest. Others tire and wither, unable to sustain the effort it takes for a simple drink of water.
My hope is that by aggregating and summarizing the mountain of theological media I consume (audio, video, blogs, books, articles) that some of them would stumble on this and understand the fullness of God’s grace in Christ, in whatever circuitous manner is required to bring them rest.
For the love of man, and the glory of God.