For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
In yesterday's reflection, we examined the last phrase of Ephesians 2:9, "so that no one can boast." The fact that salvation comes by grace and not by works means that we should not feel pride in our spiritual status or brag about our spiritual accomplishments.
Before we leave the subject of boasting, it's worth noting that a certain kind of spiritual boasting is actually good. Paul does not mention this in Ephesians, but he does in writing to the Corinthians, who were boasting about their spiritual prowess. That sort of boasting is not good, Paul wrote. But, paraphrasing a verse from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, Paul adds, "Let one who boasts boast in the Lord."
The passage in Jeremiah reads: "This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD" (Jer 9:23-24). Paul makes the focus of righteous boasting even simpler by urging us to boast in the Lord.
In his commentary on Ephesians 2:9, the Reformed theologian John Calvin writes, "Some room must always remain for man’s boasting, so long as, independently of grace, merits are of any avail. Paul’s doctrine is overthrown, unless the whole praise is rendered to God alone and to his mercy." Or, to put it more positively, the trust of salvation by grace leads us to praise God and to boast of God's wonders. Boasting, in this case, is simply a matter of telling others how great God is, how loving, how gracious.
I love hearing people boast about God. This often happens in a retreat at Laity Lodge through what we call a "lay witness." A person or couple will stand up before the group and speak openly of how God has touched their lives. Sometimes the stories are downright spectacular. But, often they bear witnesses to the quiet, gentle, faithful presence of God in people's lives. Such boasting not only glorifies God, but also encourages those of us who have gathered.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever boast about God's grace at work in your life? When? Is God blessing you in ways that ought to be shared with others, for their encouragement and upbuilding?
PRAYER: Thank you, gracious God, for your goodness to me. Thank you for all the ways you have blessed and are blessing me. Help me, I pray, to share your goodness with others. May I do so humbly, sensitively, and in a way that gives you all the glory. Most of all, may I be free in boasting about your love poured out through Jesus Christ. You are the best, Lord. You're truly amazing. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.