Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Boasting - Part 3

"Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished." - Proverbs 16:5
For the past two posts (On Boasting - Part 1 and On Boasting - Part 2), I have been discussing the sin of boasting within the family of God. How do we as Christians tend to boast in a sinful way, and yet too often not recognize it in our lives? There are six ways that we boast that I am exploring in these posts, and I'll list them here for reference:
  1. Boasting in our faith
  2. Boasting in our morality
  3. Boasting in correct doctrine
  4. Boasting in life circumstances (whether good or bad)
  5. Boasting in achievement
  6. Boasting in our independent spirit
Recently, I have encountered the subject of boasting in many different situations over the last several weeks. It all started when our small group was studying Romans 3:27; then I starting reading a book by Jerry Bridges entitled Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate that has a section in it on the sin of pride; and our Sunday School class recently went through a discussion of Jeremiah 9:23-24. This has given me a lot of time to think about this subject and to start working on this sin of boasting as I see it in my life today. I am hoping that these posts will encourage us all in our walk with Christ, helping in our sanctification to greater godliness.

We have already covered the first two ways that Christians are prone to boast: In our faith, and in our moral self-righteousness. The two ways that I would like to cover in this post are boasting in correct doctrine (or you could call this boasting in knowledge), and boasting in our life circumstances (whether good or bad).

Boasting in Correct Doctrine
Closely related to pride in morality is our doctrinal pride. This is the assumption that whatever my doctrinal beliefs are, they are right, and anyone who thinks otherwise is theologically inferior. Anyone who cares about doctrine at all are susceptible to this form of boasting. And those who do not really consider doctrine that important even look with contempt on those who do. It doesn't matter what doctrinal belief you hold to: Arminianism or Calvinism; Dispensational or Covenant theology; Paedo-baptist or Credo-baptist; Continuationist or Cessationist. This is boasting in a particular belief system, whatever that belief system may be, and and attitude that puts ourselves as spiritually superior than others who hold different beliefs.

Paul addresses this type of boasting in his letter to the Corinthians. This was a church who was having issues with divisions in the church over various subjects. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses the church in their attitude toward those who would not eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. The Corinthians' conclusion in this case was that it was okay to eat this food because it fell within the bounds of Christian liberty. Paul did not disagree with the Corinthian church about their conclusion, but he did address their pride over those who did not have that belief. In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul says, "Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that 'all of us possess knowledge.' This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up".

If your Calvinism or Arminianism or dispensationalism or view of the end times causes you to feel superior to others, then you may be falling under the sin of boasting in knowledge. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-19, Paul addresses the church's puffed up "knowledge" once more: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God...".

This is not to say that we should not have strong convictions about doctrine, but if those convictions cause us to consider others and spiritually less significant than ourselves, we have allowed our flesh to turn them into sin. If you think that this even might be an area of sin in your life, please prayerfully consider how to hold onto your strong convictions with a genuine attitude of humility.
"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." - 1 Peter 5:5-7

Boasting in Life Circumstances (Whether Good or Bad)
I think that we can all understand how we may boast in circumstances that are good in our lives. If we get an unexpected windfall, if we win the lottery, if our circumstances allow us to be in the right place at the right time for some sort of blessing. It's easy in those instances to boast in the good things that have happened to us without attributing them to our God through whom every good gift and every perfect gift comes (James 1:17). But I would tend to say that this is not the normative way that we, as Christians, boast in our circumstances. In fact, I would say that we more readily give glory to God when something good happens to us unexpectedly, and we have no qualms with doing so.

Where I believe that we can easily sin in this area is when our circumstances are not good. This is where I have seen many Christians describe in detail the bad circumstance they are currently in for a couple of different reasons: a) to gather those around them who will make them feel better, or b) to one-up others who are also suffering through bad circumstances. I see this all the time in the church, and it grieves me that this attitude shows mistrust in God and a confidence in something other than the Lord whom we serve.

God gives us several ways in which we should approach life's bad circumstances. The first is found in Matthew 5:43-44 which says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you". Jesus is telling us that no matter who is our enemy, whether our deadbeat ex-husband, or our co-worker who is slandering us, we need to be praying for them. Notice that he does not say, "Pray for your enemies, that they may be made into nice people, more like yourselves". This lesson is also found in Romans 12:14-21.

Another is found in Philippians 4:11-13:
"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
What is the remedy for facing our bad circumstances? Learn to be content in everything, for you can endure all things through Christ. Go to Him in prayer for everything, not to others, and not blaming others for your circumstances, for God is in control of all.

"Then how do we pray for our enemies or for our bad circumstances?" you might say. Well, prayer changes things. This is an important concept to understand. Prayer also changes
us. Most of us pray to change the situation, to change our circumstances, and to change the other person. We should be praying for these things, but we should also be looking at how God is using these circumstances to deal with us. When we pray like that we can potentially realize several things:
  1. How have I contributed or am I contributing to the bad circumstance? Oftentimes, we want to stand back and be the victim, but God wants something better for us. He wants us to be sanctified to become more holy ourselves. What is God teaching me about sin in my own life through this circumstance?
  2. How can I put myself in my enemies' shoes? Romans 3 tells us that no one is up to God's standard of righteousness. If we can understand that our enemy is a sinner just like us who needs God's forgiveness just as we do, that understanding can help us pray for others outside of the circumstances in which they have put us.
  3. How can I be an instrument of God's grace through this circumstance? Often, we end up thinking too much of ourselves when we are hard-pressed under a bad situation. "How can I survive? Why am I here? Look how hard it is for me!" But our eyes should be focused on God throughout every circumstance in our lives, and, in so doing, we can be used by him as an instrument for his grace and mercy for others.
All of these scriptures we have seen show us how to have freedom from self-preoccupation and self-infatuation and self-exaltation. And, much more than that — though that is crucial — we can be fully rooted in Christ-preoccupation and Christ-infatuation and Christ-exaltation through our circumstances, whatever they may be.

Next time: Boasting in achievement and boasting in our own independent spirit.

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