Humility is not one of my most notable virtues. I may not always come off as arrogant, but I’m pretty sure that I’m more than sure of myself most of the time.
At the same time, I’m also prone to brutal self-criticism. Yeah, I’m a mess.
I walk and talk like I’m the most confident person in the world, and sometimes…sometimes, I even fool myself. But not for long.
No, I crash pretty quickly, and amidst the wreckage all I can find is self-doubt, second-guessing, and despair.
But enough about me and how I’m in this cycle of “bragging and ragging.” It’s time to break that pattern.
The Wrong Kind of Bragging
I was a bit of a “holy roller” in high school: Christian t-shirts, a Book of Hope, and an overactive sense of my own morality. Whether my classmates caught or not, I still feel terrible about my attitude toward many of them.
To anyone who had to deal with me between 1998 and 2002, especially the graduating class of 2002, I’m sorry.
You see, I had the Christian t-shirts and literature, but I didn’t have a fundamental awareness of the Jesus I was representing. I was trying to brag about myself, my morality, my ability to follow the rules. Only years later would I come to realize how far off I truly was.
You see, after college, I made a startling discovery about the truth of Christianity: my efforts, my successes, and—thank God, my failures!—don’t matter. My relationship with Jesus has never been about what I bring to the table. I could give you a lot of references to the Bible to support this, but if you’re a Christian and reading the Bible hasn’t made this clear to you yet, then I don’t know what else will help.1 If you’re not a Christian, reading a bunch of Bible verses wouldn’t mean much to you, so let me tell you a little story. (Of course, if you’d like a more traditional church presentation of this same idea, you can check out this sermon or this one.)
There once was a king who ruled his kingdom with absolute power, but he did so perfectly. He didn’t abuse his power but instead used it to protect and promote the welfare of his subjects. Even still, this wasn’t good enough for some people. They tried to stage a rebellion against the king. They failed.
He brought them before him and passed sentence upon them: death. (What king, even one so noble, would let rebels live? They would always be a threat to his kingdom.) However, before the sentence could be carried out, the king’s son, the crown prince, stepped in…
But that’s a different story that what I want to tell right now, and you can probably see through the analogy anyway. Let’s fast forward a bit. The rebels, having been spared their punishment, have not been released back to their homes. Instead, they have been adopted into the king’s family and given all the rights and privileges of his son, the crown prince.
Now, imagine that one of those rebels, living in the luxury and splendor of the palace, goes down to the stables everyday to work. Not because he wants to. In fact, he really doesn’t like horses. No, he goes to the stables in a feeble attempt to “earn his keep.” He fails to realize, however, that sons don’t earn their keep. Sons enjoy the blessings and love of the father. They may work for enjoyment and a sense of satisfaction that one takes from the work one loves, but there is no need to work for the purpose of earning anything. All has been provided by the father, the king.
I was that adopted son, the former rebel, who for some reason thought that he must earn what the King freely offered. I thought that I had to obey, had to perform, had to earn in order to make God happy. And so I worked, strove, suffered, and sacrificed to please God.
And I bragged about my successes.
And I ragged on my failures.
I was a terrible Christian.
Return on Investment
And maybe I still am, at times. You see, I sometimes worry about how much God gave to get me. The price was high; has it been worth it? When I ask the question, it’s a sign that I’m about to rag on myself for being a failure. This is not how it should be. My entire mindset has been wrong for a long time, and I’m still learning how to correct.
How wrong have I been about Christianity? Once, I literally prayed that I would give God a good “return on investment.” Yep, that’s right. I prayed that God, who has chosen me to be one of His children and gladly calls Himself my “Father,” would get a spiritual “profit” off the investment of His Son’s life in the process of my salvation.
But God doesn’t view me as an investment opportunity; He sees me as a son to love, nurture, and correct.
He’s see you the same way, and I’m sorry if my life hasn’t been a good presentation of that truth.
The theme of the gospel isn’t, “Look at Jesus’ life and do the same.” That’s impossible. No, the them of the gospel is: Look at Jesus’ sacrifice. Accept His death in your place and His righteousness for your selfishness. Then, let God teach you how to live like Jesus.
You see, one of the biggest truths of the gospel is that Jesus came to Earth to do what we couldn’t do: live rightly. When He died for our sins, He didn’t just take away all of the bad things we’d done by suffering our punishment. He also gave us His righteousness. This means that I no longer have a long record of failures; I have Jesus’ record of successful living. When God looks at me, He doesn’t see a failure, a rebel, a wretch. He sees His Son, even though I’ll never be able to live up to the standard Jesus set.
This is the gospel, though: I don’t have to measure up to Jesus’ standard. I get to rest upon His success and allow God to work in my heart and slowly teach and transform me so that I am free to rise to Jesus’ standard. Will I make it in this life? Will I achieve moral perfection? No, of course not, but that’s even more reason to stop trying. I can stop trying to earn God’s love by being good and simply rest in the goodness of Jesus.
My bad cycle of bragging and ragging starts with my sick desire to earn God’s love. If I wasn’t trying to do good in order to be loved and accepted, I would have nothing to brag about, and since I can fail if I’m not trying to succeed, I wouldn’t have to rag on myself. At this point, I can resist inserting a little bit of scripture.
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (The Message)
New Bragging; No Ragging
We have nothing to brag about except what Jesus did for us. “He loves me so much that…” We can brag about that, but then again, we could all brag about that. We could all boast and brag about how much our Father loves us, and we’d all be right and no one would be wronged. Because bragging about me implicitly rags on you for not measuring up to me, but, if I’m bragging about the love God has for me and the righteousness that Christ have given me, there’s no condemnation or criticism directed at you because you have the same opportunity to receive both love and righteousness from God, just as I have.
This is how awesome God is: He gives us a new way off bragging—about Him and His love for us—that lifts us up—He loves me!—without putting others down—He loves you, too! Even better, because my bragging is about what Jesus has done for me and the goodness He provides for me, there is no set-up for ragging. I can’t rag on myself for failing to meet a standard that Jesus has already met! Sure, I definitely need correction in a few areas of my life, and I need to continue to go to God for the strength to succeed in those areas, but I no longer need to worry about succeeding as a means to earn God’s love and salvation. That’s all be dealt with on my behalf by Jesus. I have a new way of bragging and no need for ragging.
My posts usually seem to conclude with a blanket apology from me for rambling on and on, but I think this post needs it more than most. When the author choose himself as his own subject, it’s bound to be a messy work, but I hope that you’ve found something in here that can help you.
Though, I may write a post about this with the scriptural references later. ↩