“It is not by works in order that no one should boast.”
Why would someone boast about something they did not earn or merit? I believe that it is safe to say that if we truly understood the notion of salvation by grace, boasting would never even begin to be a part of our vocabulary or mindset. We are but humiliated worms before the grandeur of God and he has chosen to bestow upon us something more wonderful than we can conceive. He has chosen to transform us from the worms that we are into men — glorified men in the image of His Son. And he does this at the cost of trampling His Son underfoot — the place we deserve to be.
Yet, people do boast. Sometimes Calvinists are guilty of thinking that their election was a result of who they are or something that they did. Even worse, sometimes Calvinists think that their election is a result of their church membership and that God has reserved a space in heaven just for them because of the long list of deeds that they have done in conjunction with their church membership. Such a view is a distortion of the Biblical doctrine of election and it is a perversion of what Calvin taught.
The Arminians and Wesleyans and others who adhere to a kind of free-will, decision theology are guilty of the same thing, though. Many will brag about their decision to choose Christ or about the way they wrestled through all of the arguments against God as if they had anything to do with their salvation. They tend to deny election entirely or they twist its definition such that it becomes meaningless, making them deniers of the Word of God and rejectors of the notion of grace.
Whether the Arminian error or the Calvinist error, salvation is not of you. It is of God’s grace through faith. And God chose in his sovereignty to save his elect in this way to prevent his elect, sinners as we are, from boasting. It is not the one who labors for salvation nor is it the one who chooses salvation, it is God who chose to save some out of his mercy (Romans 9:16). If works has anything to do with our salvation, then grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6). It is a merciful thing that God has done, you know, robbing us of any foothold for pride. Pride destroys and the sacrifice acceptable to God is a pure and contrite heart.
So, if you find someone boasting in their election or telling others how they had decided to choose Christ, beware. They are either woefully ignorant of the scriptures or are ignoring them. Ask them to show you in the Scriptures anywhere that teaches them that they can boast in their participation in their salvation. It simply cannot be done. Then humbly show that person this passage. If we must boast, let us boast in Christ and in Christ alone, not in the things we have done.
P.S. and a vent… As I look back on close to two decades of ministry, it strikes me that on occasion (not very often), I have been challenged to answer the question: “What have you done in your ministry here?” When that is said it usually has been intended in a hurtful manner but it also vastly misunderstands the scriptures and grace. Yes, we are saved to good works, but those works, as Paul will explain, are prepared in eternity past for us to do — in other words, it is God who gets glory for them, not us. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that the good works we do are to be done in secret and outside of the eyes of men. The best and proper answer that we can give to those who challenge our ministry in this way is to say that we have been Christ’s unworthy servants.
My point in bringing this up, other than venting for a moment, is to share my heart with you. Every faithful pastor does many good works as part of the warp and woof of his ministry. And, most of them will never be known by most of the people in the congregation. Further, that is a good thing. We have too many false pastors in this world that go about boasting over all of the things they have done, we don’t need any more. So, if you are tempted to challenge your pastor in this way, don’t. Instead, pray for forgiveness for making room for boasting in your or another’s life.