1 Corinthians 1:26
Grace eliminates for us the possibility of any boasting or any self-glory. Regardless of our material accomplishments—no matter how many 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 advice 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