Those who have grown up within the walls of a Reformed church know well that good works do not save and are nothing to boast about. All glory to God! We hear this truth repeatedly from the pulpit, the catechism classroom and around the supper table. And so it should be. If God compares our good works to something worse than filthy rags, then what folly it is to boast in them.
We know not to boast in our works, however, often we forget that it is also possible to boast in our faith. When we put the emphasis on faith, not works, there is the danger of making our faith a source of pride. Then we begin to look down in disdain on those without faith in God. We see a transgender person in rainbow clothes and we scoff at his disordered love. And then we feel good that we are in a God-honouring, heterosexual marriage. We see a young environmental activist shouting about the human evils contributing to climate change and we mock her as a tree-hugging loony. And then we feel good that we know that God is sovereign and our planet groans under the weight of sin. Or we see a Middle-Eastern man kneeling on his prayer mat and we shake our heads in disgust at his devotion to a false god. And then we feel good that we have put our faith in the true God.
It is not wrong to critique the ideas and actions of others. Truth demands that we must. But there is difference between a humble critique and a boastful judgement. Yet, we often slip into this type of boasting. We have put our faith in the right God. We have got it right. We believe the right things. We have faith in Jesus, while others refuse and continue in their sinful ways.
If this is our attitude, we are boasting in our faith. In other words, we are boasting that we have made a choice to put our faith in God. We chose to go to the right church and believe in the right God. We chose to give our life to Christ and live by faith. This type of boasting is in our faith. We are like the Pharisee who looked at the sinner and gave thanks to God that he was better.
If this is the case, we need to go back to Paul’s words in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul reminds the church that we are by nature sinful and the difference between the sinner and the saint is only grace:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9
When we view our faith as something we do, we step into the trap of boasting in ourselves. We see our faith as the work we have done and it makes us better than others. But, as Paul says, faith is not our work, it is a gift from God. A totally and completely undeserved gift. And that leaves zero room for boasting in ourselves while giving us endless reasons to boast in God. We ought to rejoice, with humble gratitude, that God would give us the faith to believe in Jesus, and pray that he would extend that grace to those around us. We recognize that apart from that free and undeserving gift of grace, we too would be lost and foolish. All glory to God! All boasting in Him.