by Mike Ratliff
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
It is very common in the visible church in our time to hear preachers and teachers and people within local bodies of believers to boast about all sorts of things pertaining to their salvation or walk. They boast about their confirmation, baptism, church membership, Holy Communion, keeping the Ten Commandments, living the Sermon on the Mount, giving to charity, and living a moral life. It is not uncommon to hear some even boast about their faith, but all boasting is rooted in good works, not grace.
In this post we will look at the Greek word that is translated as “boast.” The Apostle Paul used a form of καυχάομαι or kauchaomai, “to boast, vaunt oneself, be proud,” thirty-five times in his letters. Paul’s argument in against those who were “boasting” in their walk or salvation went something like my following paraphrase from 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who made you to differ from another? And what have you that you did not receive? Now if you did receive it, why do you “glory” [καυχάομαι] as if you had not received it?” Do you see how any form of man-centered “theology” would have a problem with Paul’s argument?
I remember in the very early days of my walk struggling with these issues. The preaching and teaching I heard continually led me to believe that Paul’s argument was somehow flawed because, after all, didn’t I “do something” not just receive something? Of course we were also told never to glory in that “something,” but still I would read the following passage and see the holes in the theology I was holding to.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
This salvation is mine because God made me alive together with Christ–by grace I have been saved–and I have been raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places in Christ, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness through me in Christ Jesus. For by grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I may not boast. For I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them…
Doesn’t that read a whole lot different when you do it like that? Well, in any case, from where did my salvation come? How come I am a Christian? It is all God’s work. I received it by faith through the grace of God according to His work in me. If you are in Christ then it is so with you as well. Why? So that no one who is truly in Christ can take credit for any of it.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 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 1:26-31 ESV)
None of us have anything to boast about. Paul makes it clear in this passage that we who are in Christ are to glory in the Lord alone. To say that we must add our works to God’s grace is most contradictory statement we could ever formulate. Any theology that mixes grace with works or faith with merit, not matter how sincere the motive, is heresy, plain and simple, and is to be cursed (Galatians 1:8,9).
Soli Deo Gloria!