Isn’t it great having nothing to boast about?!

Isn’t it wonderful that we have nothing to boast about when it comes to salvation? It frees us from all that one-upmanship among Christians who think they’re doing a much better job of being Christian by all the good works they’re doing, by all the people they’ve got coming to their church, by all the missions they’ve been on, or by all the testimonies they give since “giving their hearts to the Lord.”

Listening to them can be a real downer, especially when you can’t boast like they can! But isn’t it wonderful being able to rest in Christ’s grace, knowing that salvation is all his doing, that the faith we need is all his doing, and even the works we do are all his doing? We don’t have to boast to assure ourselves that we’re being Christian. Grace is sufficient.

But grace isn’t sufficient if we’re saying we need works of our own as well for salvation. It’s like the Christian who told me, “I hope I die on a good day, when I’m hard at work doing missions and serving people with a great attitude, and I haven’t had a bad thought about anyone all day.” Why? Because in his mind good works and being a good person are what Christians do for their salvation. It’s the part we’re required to play. It’s our proof that we’re Christian. No wonder, then, that Christians naturally lean to boasting about how well they and their church are doing, because what else have they got to prove they’re Christian?

But God didn’t set things up so we have to prove we’re Christian. He freed us from all that by grace. Grace means our salvation doesn’t involve any works from us at all. If it did then “grace would no longer be grace,” Romans 11:6. But since grace is grace, there’s no need at all for us to come up with things we’re doing to boast about.

God chose people who’ve got nothing to boast about anyway. “He chose the lowly things of this world,” 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, “so that no one may boast before him.” But having nothing to boast about is very fortunate, because it puts the focus where it should be: “It is BECAUSE OF HIM that you are in Christ Jesus,” verse 30. It’s only because HE “has become FOR US wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” It’s only because of him that we’re Christians at all. “Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord,'” verse 31. Boasting about him and his grace, not our works, is what Christians do.

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Is repentance something we do?

Does salvation depend on our repentance and faith? It seems so in Acts 2:38, where it looks like repentance is something we must do before we can be forgiven. And again in Acts 3:19, that we must repent to have our sins blotted out, as though repentance is a condition we must fulfill before our salvation kicks in. Is repentance a work we must do, therefore, as a prerequisite to our salvation?

Repentance is a must, no doubt about that, but how can we – as lifetime enemies of God (Romans 5:10), with minds in captivity to sin (Romans 7:11, 23), and living to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature while totally under the sway of the devil (Ephesians 2:2-3) – repent?! Repentance is the last thing a human mind is capable of. Oh, we may feel remorse for doing bad things, but willingly turn one’s entire life toward God (Acts 3:19)? What human is capable of doing that?

No human is. Romans 8:7 tells us flatly that we’re hostile to God. The diabolical influence of our sinful nature has imprisoned us in a body of death that “does not submit to God’s law, NOR CAN IT DO SO.” In other words, we can’t repent. We’re so “weakened by our sinful nature,” verse 3, that even God’s law can’t change us. We are “by nature objects of wrath,” Ephesians 2:3. “But,” verse 4, “GOD made us alive even when we were dead in transgressions – it is power that HE has exercised for us believers.” It takes God’s power to enable us to repent, because we’re helpless and “dead in our transgressions.”  It’s the “goodness of GOD that leads us to repentance,” Romans 2:4, not our goodness or our noble desire. It is “GODLY sorrow that brings repentance that leads to salvation,” 2 Corinthians 7:10, not ours. “Worldly sorrow” – the only kind we’re capable of – “brings death,” same verse.

So why would Peter yell out to people to “Repent” when they couldn’t repent? Because, Acts 2:36, the crucified Jesus was now the glorified Lord and Christ, whose job it was from God “to bless you by turning each of you from his wicked ways,” Acts 3:26. WHO was doing the turning? Jesus was. Who was turning their minds away from self to God? Jesus was. Who was creating the Godly sorrow and Godly repentance they so desperately needed? It was the “one who has been appointed for you – even Jesus,” verse 20.

In other words, it was all Jesus’ doing, not theirs. Jesus was GIVING them repentance. It was all part of the great gift of salvation that God had given them in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Peter could yell “Repent,” because Jesus had given them the heart to repent.

Is reward a right incentive for a Christian?

Notice with Adam and Eve that God never offered them any reward if they did what he said? Did God say to Eve, “If you stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you get to live forever in this Paradise and never have any troubles again”? No, he didn’t. All he said was, “Don’t eat off that Tree or you will die.”

The one offering rewards for their actions was the serpent. That was his tactic. He won over Eve by telling her what she’d gain for herself if she ate the forbidden fruit, Genesis 3:5: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And how easily Eve was hooked. The promise of some gain to herself had huge appeal, verse 6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Self-interest, self-worth and self-gratification easily tempted Eve into doing what the serpent said.

And how many Christians preach Heaven and Hell as an incentive to do what God says, too? “Become a Christian and you won’t go to hell,” is what so many Christians say. But what’s the difference between Christians saying that and the serpent telling Eve, “You will not surely die”? It’s the same thing being said, and the same tactic being used. It’s using gain to oneself as an incentive to act. Eat the fruit and you won’t die. Become a Christian and you won’t go to hell.

What it does, though, is make people become Christians for selfish reasons. They’re into Christianity for what they can get. But we learn from the story of Israel that offering the most amazing incentives – as God did to Israel – doesn’t work. “Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession,” he told the Israelites in Exodus 19:5, and they liked the sound of that, enough to reply, “We will do everything the Lord has said,” verse 8. But did they? No, they didn’t. Even with God himself providing everything they needed and protecting them from every danger, it was never enough to make them obey him, as any parent finds out using rewards to get their children to obey too.

But doesn’t Scripture offer rewards as incentive to Christians to trust and obey? Never – because Christians realize that all the rewards we could ever want have already been won for us by Jesus Christ. They’re already ours, 2 Peter 1:3-4. There’s no appeal to self necessary, therefore, to get them. Appeal to self is, and always has been, the serpent’s incentive.