Grace eliminates for us the possibility of any boasting or any self-glory. Regardless of our material accomplishments—no matter how may doctorate degrees we may have, how much money we may have accumulated, or how many good deeds we may have done—no one can boast before God because, as verse 30 says, we are "of Him." Here is the key to understanding this. In spiritual terms, all that we have accomplished has been done only because of what He gave.
If we want to go back that far, it all began when He gave us life. In terms of spiritual life, we have to go back only as far as His calling. We would not have accomplished anything that we have accomplished spiritually—for instance, kept the Sabbath and the holy days—except that God called us and made us understand His truth. He led us to repentance. He impressed the importance of doing what He revealed on our minds so that we would do them, and so forth. The unilateral acts of God begin to pile up—grace upon grace. God is with us in this entire process.
What we have spiritually is only possible because we are "of Him," that is, because of what we have been given. This particular phrase—we are "of Him"—is describing a personal attachment. It is as if we are part of a living body, which we are, since the church is a living, spiritual organism. The picture that is in the apostle Paul's mind is that we are directly connected to Him, even as the toe is attached to the foot, which is in turn connected to the ankle and then to the leg. All of this is connected, and it receives its strength, life, existence, growth, repair, etc. because it is part of the body. So are we connected to God and receive all these things.
What does the toe have to boast for playing its role in the body? Even so, nobody can boast before God because of grace. We have what we have spiritually only because He has given it.
Further, if our spiritual lives and growth are going to continue, we can do this only within this same environment. If the toe is cut from the body, it begins to die immediately. A degeneration begins to occur immediately. We can apply the same analogy to our spiritual life.
So, there is no bragging, no boasting, before God for anything that we have spiritually. We have it because of our personal attachment to the living Jesus Christ.
Why is this important? Because it puts the relationship with God and fellow man into its proper perspective. Many theologians insist that what they derive from the Bible and from their own experiences in life, is that carnally, the underlying drive or motivation in all relationships is self-assertion, that is, the desire for recognition, pride. We want to be known for what we have done. "I have accomplished this." "I built that." "This is my place." "This is my spouse." The self basks in the glow of the fact that he exists and has and does things. It is a drive to be recognized, noticed, praised, rewarded, and even submitted to, because of who one is and what he feels he has done.
This has horrible ramifications for the relationship with God. Jesus' own counsel to His apostles—and His advise extends to us—is to go in the exact opposite direction and make ourselves of no reputation (as He did; Philippians 2:5-8). He says, "Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4). A child is of no value to society because he produces nothing, cannot do anything of value, and in a way, is nothing more than a parasite, as some cultures see children.
Notice, though, that Jesus says that becoming like a little child is the way to real power—in the Kingdom of God. It is the way to gain the right kind of recognition and promotion—the kind that God would give us by grace, not what we have earned on our own.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
I Corinthians 1:26-29 resounds through our minds as a constant reminder that we are the foolish, weak, base and despised of this world. In these verses God formally states that He has sought no particular advantage in carrying out His purpose by calling us.
This is humbling in both a present and future sense. We seem to fall short when we compare ourselves to those who have accomplished great things or seem to have strong and good character in today's world. When we consider the World Tomorrow and the daunting challenges that will face those reconstructing a world out of the chaos of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, it is enough to make us feel completely inadequate.
Vanity keeps telling us we are intelligent, beautiful, clever, talented, cultured, and unappreciated, but these verses should pull us back to reality. God's assessment is accurate because when we compare our accomplishments with people in the world, ours fade into near nothingness!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Rule!
Nobody will ever come before God and say, "I did it by the strength of my own hands." Though this person may have faith and a strong will, he is certainly not perfect. Many times, when the Israelites' faith broke down, God had to intervene in some way to save them. Whether it is Israel at the Red Sea or Israel out in the wilderness, time and again He had to intervene and spare them, even in times when they showed a measure of faith.
Since man's creation, humans have been exalting themselves against God by choosing to do things their own way. However, there is only one way that works eternally, and every human being will be led to see his weaknesses and know that it is by grace that we are saved. This realization does wonders to a person's feelings about himself, making humility possible. This, in turn, makes it possible for him to yield to God, which makes it possible for him to deal with other human beings, not with a high hand or as a master to a slave, but as a friend—as an understanding brother or sister who has gone through similar experiences and seen their own failures, and who can commiserate, sympathize, show compassion and mercy, encourage, and inspire the one who has failed.
God will work in each person and will do it in such a way that he will come to realize that merely knowing the truth—and even believing the truth and acting on it—are not enough. God must save them by grace.
This is not to say that works are unimportant. They are vital to maintaining and developing a relationship with God. They are important in building character, and in this sense, without works we will have a difficult time being saved. If nothing else, doing good works shows that a relationship exists between a person and God. So works are important to earning rewards, to building character, to providing a witness for God, but they still will not save us of and by themselves because, since we are imperfect, they are also terribly flawed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 1)
This passage, a New Testament parallel of Deuteronomy 7:7, removes any doubt about the qualifications of those God has chosen to call. Twice in verse 27 and once in verse 28 Paul says, "God has chosen." We did not volunteer. He did not choose us for any skill, ability, or social quality we had. Even those who are "wise," "mighty," and "noble" are not that way through godly spirituality.
Instead, God, with deliberate forethought, chose those who were foolish, base, despised, and nothing. What a rag-tag outfit we are! God certainly has not surrounded Himself with the elite to give Himself an advantage in His battle against Satan! He has given Himself, it seems, a great disadvantage in dealing with us when better people may be readily available.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
Let him glory, not in human nature—not in what he has done by way of works—but "let him glory in the Lord."
We can summarize what Paul writes here by putting it into different words. He says: "It is because of what the Father did. It is because of His work that we are in Christ, for in Christ are all the riches of salvation. All that we are that is right, we owe to them; therefore, if we're going to glory, let us glory in the Lord."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1)
God has purposely chosen this means to put proud and stiff-necked man totally in debt to Him for the most important achievement in all of life. Men have accomplished much and will continue to do many great things. However, verses 19-21 expose why the wise of this world will not submit to God. The reason becomes clear in the phrase, "the foolishness of preaching" (verse 21, King James Version [KJV]). This translation is somewhat misleading in the King James; it should read "the foolishness of the message preached," as in the New King James Version (NKJV). Paul is not saying that the wise of this world reject the act of preaching but that they consider the content of the message preached to be foolish. In other words, the wise will not believe the gospel, most specifically that God in the flesh has died for the sins of the world.
It cannot be overestimated how important humility expressed by faith before God is to the overall spiritual purpose of God for each individual! Each person must know as fully as possible that Christ died for him, that his own works do not provide forgiveness, and that he has not created himself in Christ Jesus. Nobody evolves into a godly person on the strength of his own will. It is God who works in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13). No new creation creates itself. So, by and large, God calls the undignified, base, weak, and foolish of this world, people whom the unbelieving wise consider to be insignificant and of no account. He does this so that no human will glory in His presence. On this, a German commentator, Johann Albrecht Bengel, clarifies, "We have permission to glory, not before God, but in God."
The term "in Christ Jesus" (I Corinthians 1:30) indicates that we are in an intimate relationship with Him. Paul then details—through the terms "wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption"—that God, using our believing, humble, submissive cooperation, will be responsible for all things accomplished in and through us. Some modern commentators believe that, because "wise" and "wisdom" appear so many times earlier in this chapter, the terms "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption" should be in parentheses because Paul intends them to define what he means by true wisdom in this context.
God, then, is pleased to save those who believe and to do a mighty work in them. This set Abel apart from, as far as we know, every other person living on earth at that time. What he did by faith pictures what everyone who receives salvation must also do to begin his walk toward the Kingdom of God. Everyone must be called of God; believe enough of His Word to know that he is a sinner who needs the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins; repent, that is, undergo a change of mind toward God; and be justified, made legally righteous by having Jesus Christ's righteousness imputed to him. This enables a relationship with God to begin, and sanctification unto glorification can proceed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
Paul inserts this truth to help the proud Corinthians—and us—to understand with humility who and what we are. Where could we possibly acquire the spiritual power to live a righteous life that would be pleasing to and glorifying of God? It most certainly is not in us as a natural result of being born human.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace
God has set up a system to call, convert, and educate a people for Himself. They are a minority, very few in number. They are not mighty, noble, and learned, but the weak of the world. God calls them and gives them His Spirit and teachers to help them understand. Of all people on earth, only they have a chance to understand the Bible.
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 Corinthians 1:26:
1 Samuel 3:1
1 Corinthians 2:2
1 Corinthians 6:1-3