February 15, 2010

"Where then is boasting?"

When I lived in Kincannon Hall, during my sophomore year of college, I had a full page magazine advertisement cut out and hanging on my wall. The entire page was pink, with the simple words 'NO BELLYACHING' written in white letters in the middle of the page. I don’t remember for sure, but given the unique message and background color, I think it must have been a spot for Pepto Bismol. At any rate, I evidently thought it was quite clever (though I haven’t always obeyed what it said!).

But I’ve been thinking that maybe a new sign is in order for this college student turned 30-something pastor. I need a sign (more in my heart than simply on my wall) that says, in just as memorable a way as that Pepto add, something like: 'NO BOASTING'. For that is a necessary message for me … and one that the apostle Paul proclaims in Romans 3.27. After explaining that men, women, girls and boys can never be made right with God based on their own merits; that men, women, girls and boys have no plea before God except the righteousness of another person (Jesus); that salvation comes only to those who admit that they are moral failures and rest in Jesus alone to save them … Paul makes practical application by asking: “Where then is boasting?”. Answer: “It is excluded.” Boasting is absolutely barred from the Christian life!

In other words, people who understand the gospel of free, unmerited, un-paid-for, undeserved grace are the last people in the world who should ever even think about boasting about anything. More simply: Christians are the last people on earth who ought ever to be in the least bit prideful!

Does that sound obvious? Of course it does. But it must not be as obvious as we think it is … or Paul would have no need to have brought it up! Indeed, though the folly of boasting is obvious, Christians still do it all the time. Simply listen to or read a wide range of Christians talking (or preaching, or Facebooking, or tweeting, or blogging, or Google buzzing) about some ethical issue and you will invariably find that many of them (though not all) write and/or speak from an imaginary moral high ground. They belittle those who are in the ethical wrong and never once give any hint that they are embarrassed at their own struggles with sin. Indeed, Christians often speak without any hint that they are thankful to God that the same grace that He has poured out on them is available to the dead-beat dad, or the homosexual, or the radical feminist, or the politician.

So much of public Christian discourse (especially when it comes to morals) falls afoul, it seems to me, of Romans 3.27 (sadly, you can probably find some examples of that even in searching the archives of this blog). That’s not to say that public discourse on moral issues is somehow faux pas, or that Christians should shy away from it. It’s just to say that Christians ought to sit down at the coffee table, or belly up to the keyboard, or step up to the pulpit with a lot less swagger and a lot more humility than is often done.

Having said that, this very article could fall into the same boastful moralizing (ironically, on the issue of pride!) if I didn’t now say that the reason I chose to write about Romans 3.27 is because I myself desperately need reminding that “boasting" is "excluded” for those who truly believe the gospel of free grace for desperate sinners. Why do I need to hear that? Because, even when I am outwardly humble, I would often like to walk around with my head held high, feeling like I am doing a good job, and being a good person. In fact, just this past week, as I was preparing to preach on the blessing of feeling forgiven, I stopped to examine my own heart. And what was inside was something like: ‘Well, I really like feeling like I don’t need a lot of forgiveness. I’d rather feel like I’ve had a good week than to really blow it so that I need to preach this point to myself.’ Translation: ‘I’d rather feel worthy than forgiven. I’d rather feel like God is pleased with me because I’ve had a good week than to wrestle with the simultaneous high and low of realizing that nothing but what Jesus has done can make God pleased with me.’

And then I was a real jerk on Saturday night … and God forced me to have to preach Isaiah 1.18 to myself on Sunday morning. But I’d have rather boasted – not out loud mind, you. But I’d have rather preached Isaiah 1.18 thinking how badly everyone else needed those words of comfort and forgiveness rather than being in desperate need for them myself. But, mercifully, God allowed me to fall back down to earth. And this morning, as I opened Romans 3, it all made sense. God would rather me live in Romans 3.27 than to have what I call ‘a good week’.

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