Author: Ron Graham
You and I must hear, believe, and obey the gospel, each of our own volition. That decision for Christ and obedience to the gospel is essential. It is a condition of receiving salvation by grace. However Jesus puts this into perspective for us:
“When you have done all that is commanded of you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves and we have done only what was our duty'” (Luke 17:1-10).
We cannot boast that we, by believing and obeying the gospel, have earned our salvation. Paul makes this clear in several statements...
"Where then is boasting? It is excluded ...by a law of faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:27-28).
"God has chosen the 'foolish' things... to shame the 'wise'... that none should boast before God" (1Corinthians 1:27-31).
"May I never boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).
"By grace you have been saved though faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Unfortunately these passages are sometimes taken to mean that if we claim to do anything that contributes to our own salvation, if we think we have the intelligence to make a decision for or against God's way, then we are boasting.
This is not Paul's point at all. He is talking about people who say they don't need Jesus, they are good enough to go to heaven on their own. I once heard a person say, "I don't need your Jesus. I live a good life, and when I stand before God I'm quite sure I'll go to heaven." Now that is certainly a boast, and it is that kind of boasting that Paul is talking about.
There are four key words in the scriptures (sacrifice, plan, gift, and glory) which show that we have nothing to boast of, even though we examine the gospel with our own intelligence, and follow it of our own volition.
A sacrifice is required to make atonement for sins. However any sacrifice we offer to God is going to fall short of his perfect standard just as surely as we do ourselves. So whilst it's a lovely thought that God would accept a sacrifice for our sins, we can't find one that's sufficient.
God long ago anticipated that obstacle. God himself could provide a perfect sacrifice for us. He could see no reason why he should reject a sacrifice just because it was from himself, not from us.
The sacrifice had to be perfect. That's what mattered. It's sufficiency did not consist in our providing it. So God provided the sacrifice of his only begotten Son because nothing else would do (1Peter 2:21-25).
"He committed no sin... and he himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so we could die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed" (1Peter 2:22,24).
God ordained that his Son should become flesh; he should become as those for whom he was to be sacrificed. So "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).
God ordained that his Son, having become one of us, should live the righteous life that all of us have failed to live. "He committed no sin" (1Peter 2:21-25).
God ordained that his Son should suffer and be put to death as a wrongdoer, although he had done no wrong. "The Christ should suffer... and enter into his glory" (Luke 24:25-26).
God ordained that his Son should rise from the dead and ascend into heaven as our great High Priest. Having sacrificed his own flesh and blood as the sufficient and perfect sacrifice, he is "a high priest who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Magesty in the heavens" (Hebrews 8:1).
With these facts in mind, we can see that we have nothing to boast of. Even though we claim the capacity to understand and believe these facts, to be humbled by them, and to give thanks to God of our own volition, where is the boasting? As Paul says, "it is excluded".
Peter proclaimed that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross came about "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:22-24). God had a plan of salvation, and he made it come to pass.
As for you and me, we had no plan of our own. Did you plan your first sin? Probably not. That's why most of us can't even remember when we personally sinned for the first time. It was an unplanned event, and what a terrible pickle it got us into.
Worse still, you and I had no plan to get out of that pickle, any more than we had a plan to get into it. How foolish was that? Nothing to boast about there. We came under the wrath of God, under eternal condemnation, and for what? Most of us have to say, "I dunno!"
Now God is not foolish. He is the All Wise God. He knew we would be in a pickle, so he planned a way out of it. Where would we be if God had not ordained that plan for us? This is God's plan of salvation, not ours. Even though we accept that plan and decide to follow it of our own volition, what have we to boast of? We can but offer thanks to God.
Salvation is the gift of God. The well known verse tells us that God "gave" (John 3:16). Everything about God's plan of salvation rests on this. It is the gift of God. It is not something we earned.
Even if we claim the intelligence and capacity to appreciate this gift and to accept it, we give God the glory. "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17-18).
If I use my faculties to accept God’s gift of salvation, what shall I boast of? Can I take credit for my faculties? No, they are a good and perfect gift from God. It is all the gift of God, and I can only say humbly, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2Corinthians 9:15).
One kind of gift is inheritance. Imagine you are told that a rich relative has left you ten million dollars, but you have to make a long and difficult journey to get it. Does that make the ten million no longer a gift or any less a gift?
Christians are heirs to "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints... an inheritance imperishable and undefiled that will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (Ephesians 1:181Peter 1:4).
When God lays down certain conditions for receiving that inheritance, and we fulfill them, that inheritance is no less a gift, and we have no reason to boast before God, but only to praise him.
Paul uses this word in Romans where he says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
Let us say that you believe in Jesus of your own intelligence and will, and you obey the Lord of your own volition. You suffer tribulation as a Christian. You even become a martyr for the sake of Christ and his cross, because you were unwilling to deny the Lord.
Having done all this, will you come to glory because you have merited it? No, rather because you have inherited it. You will enter glory because of what Jesus did for you. What you did for him was your duty.
No matter how hard and long we work for the Lord, the reward he will grant us bears no comparison with the effort we have put in or the hardship we have suffered.
This does not mean that God takes no account of our works, or that they are meaningless, but their comparison with the unimaginable glory of the reward shows it to be of grace, not of meritorious works. And we have nothing of which to boast.
Nevertheless our Saviour’s words are true: "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every one according to what each has done" (Revelation 22:12).