Intro I am not much. I have not written a book, saved a life, or invented a teleporter. I am not the valedictorian of my class, the life of the party, nor the reason some people get up in the morning. I cannot arrange a symphony, write an iPhone app, or melt the hearts of many with a song. My artistic ability is negative points, my income is zero dollars an hour, my clothes were never in style, and my car is a station wagon. Indeed, when I gaze upon my classmates and peers, all the wondrous things they have done, become, have, and are, the disparity between my own life and theirs seems infinite.
“But those are worldly accolades, and not what the Lord desires,” you would say. Granted. But consider this: I have never gone on a missions trip, brought anyone to Christ, nor been persecuted for being bold for the gospel of Jesus. I cannot recall word-for-word the very basic Scriptures which form the foundation of the Christian faith, tell you any Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, summarize five-point Calvinism from memory, nor argue from the Scriptures as Paul did to show that Jesus is the Son of God. I have not been baptized, I am not an official member of a local church, my prayer life is laughable, and my sanctification is at the very infant stages. I look at my own heart and soul, and hear one resounding echo: depraved, depraved, depraved.
“Oh, but you have potential. There’s still time,” you say. I might. But in all likeliness, that potential will probably never turn into much. I figure, if God blesses me with the modern average lifespan, sixty-seven years, I have around fifty more years until this heart stops pumping and this brain stops firing. Or in other words, my life is about thirty percent over. And since I’ve wasted the first three tenths watching too much television, playing too many video games, and studying too many temporary things, I have to cram an entire lifetime into the seventy percent left. Of course, all of that assumes that I’ll even live to sixty-seven; it well may be that the Lord will take me home sooner. I might have fifty years—or fifty minutes. That’s a little unsettling; I haven’t done anything yet. So much to do. So little time.
“Wow. You do suck,” you finally admit. Yeah, I know. And frankly, I would feel pretty bad about myself, with no hope or any motivation to get out of bed if it weren’t for this treasure: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, though which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14-15) Don’t get me wrong. I read that verse before I started writing this. I certainly cannot claim to have followed this successfully. But as I think about what God is saying through Paul here, I realized how much sense it makes. In the end, I’ve come to this conclusion: it is downright ridiculous to boast, to place any of my worth, treasure, time, energy, money, affections, or compassions in, or for, anything other than Jesus Himself and His atoning work through crucifixion and resurrection.
Point number one: it is ridiculous to boast in anything but Christ’s cross because we have nothing else worthy enough to boast in. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) Before God, we have two things. He brings His Son, the most precious thing in all the cosmos, His precious, only begotten Son worthy of an eternity of praise from every part of creation, who exchanged His righteousness for our sin, so that we are forgiven and no longer condemned. We bring our own righteousness, dripping with the sweat of our efforts, stained black with the sludge of our pride, torn by our spiteful words, filled with the nauseating stench of our sin.
Which do you choose? What are you going to hold up as your righteousness? What are you going to point to and say, “That’s my Savior! That is my God!” ? What are you going to let absorb the worship of your hands, heart, mind, soul, and strength? What are going to praise, sing towards, write about, contend for, boast in—the filth that you hold within your hands, or the God that holds you in His hands? All of our righteous deeds: how many people we’ve evangelized to, how we’re using our talents to work and love for His glory, how we’re serving the body of Christ out of self-sacrificing love—are wonderful, Spirit inspired, good things, but they are not what we are to boast in. Our good works, for which we were “...created in Christ Jesus… which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10) are indeed good. But apart from Jesus, it’s all filthy garments. Don’t insult Jesus, and choose yourself over Him. It won’t go well.
Point number two: if indeed you are in Christ, boasting in anything other than the cross of Christ muddles the gospel message and bears a false witness to nonChristians. The world has lumped Christianity together with all the other religions, as merely one way to get to ‘God,’ ignoring what Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) For the glory of God, and their understanding, it must be corrected.
What separates Christianity from every other religion, philosophy, ‘life-style,’ ideology, belief system, is one, it’s true, and two, the good works are the effects, not the cause. Jesus is so mind-blowing because He initiates, saving us “while we were yet sinners” by “d[ying] for us” (Romans 5:8), making forgiveness the cause, and works the effect. All the false religions of the world are so unattractive because it requires you to do a lot of work to appease an malicious, capricious, cruel deity in the sky, with no guarantee it/he/she will accept your offering.
In false organized religion and false self-made unorganized religion, there is no genuine life-change, joy, truth, grace, or love as the one true God promises, only self-righteousness or despair. The Christian believes that “He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) No one has, and no one can, gain their righteousness by good works. Instead, the good works are to come from an overflow of thankfulness, worship of a gloriously, entirely good God, because we are already righteous, redeemed. In true, Biblical Christianity, God runs after His rebellious creations, saving them from plunging down a cliff of death and destruction that we so desire, and gives us real life with and in Him. Anything else is false.
Now the question remains: Where are the nonChristians getting this false view of Christ? Answer: from the Christians, those who profess to be “little Christs.” I would argue that it is because we don’t display Christ as our treasure, and instead put secondary things in the place of glory.
Point number three: boasting is a matter of worship, and boasting in anything above Christ is idolatry. Here’s a pointed question. What do we boast in, verbal and nonverbal? Secular things: how little sleep we got last night, how much better our Mac is than a PC (or visa versa), how our idea triumphed over another, how funny we are, how well we play our instrument, how much money we saved during that sale, how nice the weather is in our hometown. Or spiritual things: how amazing our church is, how much of a blessing you are to your brothers and sisters how much we are growing, how well we are serving, how much Bible we know.
Christian, do you get it? Apart from Him, you are nothing. Don’t miss that. If Jesus really is your everything like you sing in church on Sunday, without Him, you are nothing. You have nothing. He gives the energy to make it another day. He gives you the money to buy that computer, and the skills to use it. He gives you the intelligence to be create. He gives you wit for humor. He gives you the dexterity and genius to produce beautiful music. He gives you the opportunity to save more money to give more of it away. He controls the weather patterns and climate of the world. He grows His church and builds up the body. He sanctifies and changes your brothers and sisters. He teaches, corrects, rebukes, trains you in righteousness. He gives you the time and capacity to love His people. He gives you the Holy Spirit, to let you understand the Scriptures.
These are blessings of God! And blessings are good. We should be glad, rejoice, and offer thanks for these things, but which do we treasure more: the gifts of our God, or the God who gives the gifts? Can you sing this hymn without a pang of conviction? (http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/search/songs/?query=jesus%20i%20my%20cross%20have%20taken%20resolved)
Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee. Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be. Perish every fond ambition, All I’ve sought or hoped or known. Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own.
Let the world despise and leave me, They have left my Savior, too. Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue. O while Thou dost smile upon me, God of wisdom, love, and might, Foes may hate and friends disown me, Show Thy face and all is bright.
Man may trouble and distress me, ’Twill but drive me to Thy breast. Life with trials hard may press me; Heaven will bring me sweeter rest. Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me While Thy love is left to me; Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
Go, then, earthly fame and treasure, Come disaster, scorn and pain In Thy service, pain is pleasure, With Thy favor, loss is gain I have called Thee Abba Father, I have stayed my heart on Thee Storms may howl, and clouds may gather; All must work for good to me.
Soul, then know thy full salvation Rise o’er sin and fear and care Joy to find in every station, Something still to do or bear. Think what Spirit dwells within thee, Think what Father’s smiles are thine, Think that Jesus died to win thee, Child of heaven, canst thou repine.
Haste thee on from grace to glory, Armed by faith, and winged by prayer. Heaven’s eternal days before thee, God’s own hand shall guide us there. Soon shall close thy earthly mission, Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days, Hope shall change to glad fruition, Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
What if God took away everything but Himself? No more money, college, saints, friends, family, sports, food, shelter, air conditioning, romance, technology, toys, laughter, books, video games, television, bed, pillow, running water, shoes, clothing, health, sight, hearing, mobility, breath, life? Could you say like Paul:
“7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
It’s chilling, isn’t it. The disparity between Paul’s faith, and our own, seems infinite. Praise be to God that our entrance into heaven is not built on how sanctified we are.
Many who read this already understand what I’m trying to convey. Indeed, many have embraced it more fully that, and they should be the ones signing the end of this, and not me, for they live it out better. They are my beloved brothers and sisters, whom I’m learning from and growing with. But for those whom this is new, or something they haven’t embraced, I implore you to learn it. If you are a brother or sister, I encourage you as Peter does:
“5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
“10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:5-11)
But, if you don’t know Christ and are a little afraid of what I’m asking, I understand. Giving up everything for one thing is risky. If you have only one support beam underneath your house, you better be sure it’s a strong one. What if it breaks, what if it cracks, what if you fall off? It might seem more profitable to have many supports. Still, I doubt you can get enough toothpicks to your house up when the hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes, and fires of life come. Jesus promises if He is your sole support, “...I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Does your GPA promise that? How about your self-confidence? Your determination? If they do, they’re lying. You can trust God. I pray you will.
“Okay, I believe you. But, I mean, you still suck,” you say. Very true. But by the grace of God, He’s making me better. I’m a nineteen year old sinner, saved by the blood of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, living by His Spirit for the glory of God the Father. When God looks at me, He sees me for who I am: filthy, torn, broken, worthless, but covered in the precious blood of Christ, and welcomes me with no reservations. It is because of this fact, that God is for me, and loved and forgave me despite my rebellion against Him, that I can get up in the morning, thank God for a new day to live for Him. I will not despair in my shortcomings, however pressing they may be, but will glory in the treasure that washes them all away: Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:3-9