Why Does Paul Bring Up the Subject of Boasting?
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 Ephesians 2:9, after saying that salvation by grace through faith is "not by works," Paul adds, "so that no one can boast." Why does he bring up the issue of boasting?
Paul frequently mentions boasting in his letters. (The Greek verb "to boast" or nouns meaning "boast" show up 47 times in the Pauline letters, though only once in Ephesians.) In part, this reflects Paul's experience as a Jew (see Rom. 2:17, for example). Though their size and influence in the Roman world was small, Jews felt religious pride because they alone were in a covenant relationship with the one true God.
But boasting was not limited to Jews. In the honor/shame culture of Paul's day, boasting was common as people sought to enhance their social standing. This infected even pagan converts to Christianity (see 1 Cor 3:21; 4:7). Boasting is an outward expression of inward pride. This pride is nurtured by comparing oneself to others. Those who boast say not just "I am good" but "I am better than those people." All human beings, no matter their religious experience, are tempted to boast in order to boost their own egos and cultural influence.
Of course, some of us have been trained not to boast. Yet, even if we don't openly extol our religious accomplishments, we might very well feel a sense of pride that implicitly claims credit for our spiritual standing. Have you ever found yourself secretly looking down on others? On Christians who don't believe as you do? On people of other religions? On those who have no faith?
The more we accept the truth of salvation by grace alone, the more we will be unable to bask in pride, whether expressed or not. Rather, we will be humbly grateful for what God has given us and humbly eager to share it with others.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever been around people who openly boast about their religious accomplishments? Do you ever feel a pride about your spiritual achievements?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I don't think I've ever boasted out loud about my salvation or my Christian beliefs. I know better than this. But, I confess to you what you already know about me. There are times when I can be puffed up about myself, times when I seem to take credit for that which comes only from your grace. Forgive me, Lord, for my boasting, even if it is hidden in my heart. May I be so awestruck by the wonder of your grace that sinful pride has no place in my soul. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.