God’s Wisdom in Election Humbles the World (1 Corinthians Sermon 6)
September 02, 2018 | Andrew Davis
The Wealthy “Movers and Shakers” of this World
So turn in your Bibles to the text that you just heard or read, 1 Corinthians Chapter 1. we're looking this morning at the end of this marvelous chapter, verses 26-31. A number of years ago I watched an episode of a program that was popular at that time, called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I actually feel like I'm confessing sin to you that I watched the show.
I'm not saying how many episodes I watched, but I did watch at least one. And the show was set up to take the viewers into the mansions and the daily lives of the beautiful people, the jet set, the elite, the creme de la creme of our generations. You could see their lavish provisions, their stunning Real Estate, scenic vistas, overpowering architecture of their mansions of the wealthiest people in the world. And like voyeurs, you could stand on the outside looking in, and just basically covet, I guess. The show eventually morphed into a spinoff on VH1 called The Fabulous life of ... So that was the same thing. Jay-Z and Beyoncé. I don't know how you pronounce that. Sorry. (I'm going to become smaller and smaller in your estimation, that's part of the goal of the whole sermon). But whoever they are… And I'm not pronouncing any more famous names.
Just looking at their lavish lives, their VIP treatment. Everywhere they go, they're treated like royalty. And my wife I just recently and were in England, we went to the outskirts of Buckingham Palace. The British do that with the Royal Family. They're interesting over here too, Royal weddings are incredibly fascinating to Americans and British people alike, the movers and shakers. Every generation has had those people, the ones that everyone wants to know and be seen with. When they walk by, everyone pulls out at this point, their smart phones and takes photos. And these are people whose decisions are shaping the age and the era in which we live, and their patterns of consumption soar far beyond anything that we could ever achieve in our lives. We've had our own royalty, not just the royal family, but we've had our wealthy folks. I've been to the mansions in Newport, where the robber barons of the late nineteenth century had their summer cottages, so they called them, and were able to sail their yachts there, in Rhode Island.
Many of you I'm sure I've been to the Biltmore Estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and seen... I don't know, the golden bathtubs or whatever it is, that are in Biltmore. Well they... Those people existed in Paul's day, as well. The noble classes, the ruling elites, the overwhelmingly rich, the famous, the scholars, the philosophers who are world renowned, and people had come from all of the world to sit at the feet of the Greek philosophers and learn wisdom from them. Now, in this section of Scripture, Paul makes it plain that God purposely did not choose many of such people for his church. Now, this runs directly contrary to the wisdom of the world, the world's wisdom is seen in trusting human capability, human power. So human personality, human wealth human ingenuity human politics human military force, human power to build human empires, is the story of the world, the history of the world. The Corinthian church, though, converted to Christ by the gospel, was still thinking in a worldly way, about all these things.
And this is seen in their divisions and factions. They were breaking into subgroups one saying, "I follow Paul", another "I follow Apollos" another, "I follow Peter." And their whole way of thinking about great leaders, and sitting at their feet was very worldly. They were thinking, as the phrases in the text today, according to the flesh. They had a mind according to the flesh. We're going to talk about that phrase, it's worldly thinking. And Paul has to correct them, as a shepherd of their souls, he has to correct this whole faulty way of thinking and he has to correct ours as well, he has to show them that God's whole way of dealing with sinful humanity and redemptive history is to slaughter our pride, everything he has done, literally from before the foundation of the world, until the end of the world will be to slaughter human pride. It's devilish, this pride of ours, this arrogance, it's devilish. And He, in order to save us, must make us lowly and meek and submissive to His infinite greatness, so that we will not continue to imitate the devil in his arrogance, who was so filled with self love, he was so impressed by what he was, that he thought to raise himself up higher and higher and topple God from His heavenly throne.
And when he was thrown down to the Earth, He then recruited the human race to join him in a similar arrogant upswing to, topple God from His throne. It's the nature of our rebellion. So 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, Paul is showing how God saves sinners in ways that seem foolish and weak and shameful. And he does this in three steps, and we're looking this morning at the second of the three steps, the first is to look at Christ, and him crucified. Foolishness to the Greeks. A stumbling block to the Jews, initially offensive, it levels human pride. The second step in his progressive argument to show how God is about slaying human pride and doing things that make no sense to us and our fleshly thinking. Is the church itself, the Corinthian church. It's made up of unimpressive people, who are not the best and the brightest. They were not the Movers and Shakers, they were not the beautiful people, they did not live the lifestyles of the rich and famous, instead, they were those generally despised by people like that.
Paul's overall goal here, is to teach Corinthians to think about God and themselves according to true divine heavenly wisdom, and not according to the fleshly wisdom they've been thinking. The third step, we'll see next time I preach in 1 Corinthians, and chapter 2 is to look at himself, the preacher. And he's just not impressive. And his presentation wasn't impressive. He was with them in weakness and fear much trembling, and he didn't use wise and persuasive words, he just preached the gospel. And so that's going to be the third of the three humbling steps.
I. God’s Wisdom in Calling Not Many “Movers and Shakers” (verse 26)
So let's look this morning at verse 26, God's wisdom in calling not many movers and shakers. Paul asked the Corinthians to consider their own condition. Verse 26: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many influential, not many of noble birth." Actually, in the Greek, the verse 26 begins with the command "See." So he wants them to see themselves.
John Calvin said at the beginning of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, "Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consist in two parts: The knowledge of God and of ourselves." Faith is the eyesight of the soul, by which we can rightly see both. We can see the greatness and majesty of God and you can finally rightly look at yourself. And so that's what he's calling them do in verse 26. Now turn your gaze on yourself for just a moment, look at yourself. But it's a humbling gaze. Faith humbles us about ourselves. He wants them to think of themselves with sober judgment, he's not trying to humiliate them. And God's strategy was not to choose the best and the brightest from every generation. That phrase, "the best and the brightest", came into the American vocabulary during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. He was filling his cabinet posts and his administration positions with young experts in every fields, and that phrase came in, "the best and the brightest."
They were the Whiz Kids of policy. And president Eisenhower been an older previous generation, JFK represented new young leaders, and so they were the best and the brightest. And so, he is assembling his team of geniuses to help run the country. Paul wants the Corinthians to look honestly at themselves and to realize that they were not that. They were commoners. Perhaps even below average in life achievement, in intelligence and in human influence, political influence. So look at yourselves when you were called. Now, this word "called", we mentioned it last time, very significant theologically, it has to do with the sovereign drawing, the calling of God, of sinners, out of darkness into light. The sovereign activity of Almighty God, King on his throne, and saving sinners like us, he calls us. Romans 8:29-30, he speaks of this sovereign calling of God and salvation. It says there "For those whom God for new, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called. And those whom He called, He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified."
So step by step, he works in the elect to bring them from darkness to eternal glory, and the calling is part of His sovereign plan. Now, the calling on in the life of an elect person begins the moment they're born. Everything they hear, every experience that they have is divinely orchestrated eventually to bring that individual to faith in Christ, God is very wise in this, and he's preparing them to come to faith in Christ. But here, Paul, I think, is meaning, especially that last step, when they heard the Gospel preached, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, who is crucified for sinners like you and me, and He was buried on the third day, He was raised to life. That Gospel…They heard it, and then, the secret sovereign power the of Holy Spirit of God, reached within their souls, and transformed them, took out the heart of stone, gave them a heart of flesh. He changed their entire perspective by sovereign grace. They were called. The God, as it says in Romans 4, "who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were." The sovereign calling.
What Was Your Life Circumstance When You Were Called?
So think of what you were at that moment, what was your life circumstance? That last decisive step. Did God call you because you were so awesome? Did God call because you were so spectacular? So bright and shiny? Not at all. Actually, He specifically chose you in part, it seems Corinthians, because you are not all that. He actually wanted his church made up for the most part of people who were despised in the world. That's what the text is saying. Now, many of you have had the experience on the playground of being chosen or maybe not chosen for the kickball team. Alright? Usually what happened when I was going to school is you would have the two best kickball players stand as Team, A Team B and then they would alternate and pick on down until every spot was filled. You know exactly… Some of you are already cringing, because you know where I'm going, the one thing you don't want is to be the last person chosen on the kickball team. Because it meant that you stunk at kickball. And so that's humiliating.
But here, God seems to be choosing his church the exact opposite way from the way we would do it. He's not looking at capabilities. He's not looking at life achievement. He's actually putting his church together very differently than the way we would do it. He was not choosing the powers that be, but those things that are not, the text says. And so look... He goes through a list of what God didn't choose. He says "Not many of you are wise by human standards." or literally, the Greek is "according to the flesh." It's a very important phrase theologically. The flesh here, means "according to that worldly perspective," that worldly way of thinking, that he's fighting against in this whole chapter. That human perspective, the Corinthians were not wise according to human standards. No one was traveling from all over Greece to come and sit at their feet and listen to their wisdom. No one is writing down the pearls that came from their mouths. They just weren't all that. They were just average people leading average intellectual lives.
Paul also had some other phrases. Not many were powerful, not many of noble birds. So the powerful here might refer to physical strength. As Jeremiah 9, that we'll get to in a moment, says, "Let not the strong man boast of his strength." So it could be that, but probably more likely, just influence in the community, like political strength, power, power. The Corinthians were not the policy shapers of their age, they didn't set the policies, there in Corinth. Their opinions carried very little weight, no one was asking them to weigh in on the hottest issues of the day. They were not the Movers and Shakers, they were the moved and the shaken. When Gallio, the proconsul there in Corinth, made his policies, they followed and submitted or they were deemed criminals. So they were not the policy makers.
Neither were they of noble birth. That referred to their status in society. No one was writing down their heritage, their coat of arms, their great great grandfather was so and so and their great grandfather was so and so, and on down to their father, etcetera. No one cared about their genealogy. No one cared about their ancestors or how influential they were.
They were not the moneyed class, they didn't have buying power to bribe officials or startup capital for companies or employment so that they could employ all kinds of poor people. They weren't those kind of people. Not at all, they were the poor, uninfluential people. Commoners.
The Difference Between “Not Many” and “Not Any”
Now, there's an eternity of difference. Just one letter in the English, but an eternity of difference between not many and not any. It is not true that there are not any wise influential, wealthy, noble birth, believers in Christ, that is not true. Even there in Corinth, Crispus the synagogue ruler believed in his household as part of the church. Stephanus and Gaius had households. And that was pretty significant, and so there were some wealthy people there, in the church. Worldwide, and throughout church history, there have always been some that were among the great geniuses of their age, that were also genuine believers in Christ.
I think about Augustine, whose writings would take a lifetime to study, the depth of his thinking is almost incalculable. John Calvin was training to be a lawyer when he was converted, brilliant mind. Apostle Paul himself, he was recognized as a very brilliant individual, so much so that at one point, one of his judges said, "Your great learning is driving you insane." So clearly an educated individual. Think about Blaze Pascal, the 17th Century French philosopher, mathematician, brilliant, lover of Jesus Christ. We were talking this morning, one church member and I, about Isaac Newton. Big question mark on him, brilliant guy, one of the greatest scientists of all time. He believed in the deity of Christ, but didn't believe in the Trinity. So interesting. Don't know about him. But Isaac Newton was one of the best and the brightest of his generation. You've got some Kings like Charlemagne, perhaps, or Good King Wenceslas who were genuinely believers, it seems, and used their positions of power to serve Christ. But there are not many.
Heads of states like Abraham Kuyper, who is, I think, a Dutch prime minister and a strong believer in Christ and used his position for the glory of God. Wealthy people, some like RG Le Tourneu gave a reverse tithe, he kept 10% of what he made and gave 90% away to the Christian causes. A very wealthy individual. Selina Hastings known as the countess of Huntington, used her money and her influence in British society to do countless good works. Evangelical works. Was a patron, and friend of George Whitfield. Then there's William Wilberforce, who as a member of Parliament, but also a member of the ruling aristocratic class who used his power and his influence to end the British slave trade. So we're not going to say "Not any," just "Not many." And so those that actually were among the best and the brightest of their generation, even they were slain, their pride was slaughtered by the gospel, and they recognized that everything they had they got from God.
And it still, their own intellect is as nothing like a candle to the sun of the intellect of God. They're humbled by it. So percentage-wise, worldwide, not many. And so I would say, overall, in the entire world population, there are not many Christians. Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it, but small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." So already, genuine Christians, are not many population-wise, but even of those, a very small percentage are the movers and shakers, the best and the brightest, the brilliant, not many at all.
II. God’s Actions in Electing the “Foolish Things” (verse 27)
Now, why? Why? Well, it's because this was God's intention. God did this on purpose. It was God's action in electing the foolish things. Look at verse 27, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." This is a strong statement of sovereign election. The end of 1 Corinthians 1 is one of the strongest passages on the of doctrine of sovereign election, for salvation, you'll find in the Bible. God chose those who would be saved. He assembles His church as He sees fit. He's going to say it straight out in verse 30. Look down at verse 30 and there's a strong statement there. Don't miss it.
Verse 30, "It is because of Him," referring to God, "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus." That's about as clear as you'll ever get it said. If you are a Christian today, it's because of God, God's sovereign election that is working in your life, so it's not an accident. This makeup of not many is not an accident. And your salvation is not an accident. It's not by your unaided free will, like one day you up and decided to become a Christian. Jesus said to His apostles, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear much fruit."
Now, I do believe we choose Christ. I just think we choose Him after He has chosen us, and as a consequence of Him choosing us. Just like it says in 1 John, "We love because He first loved us." So also we choose Christ because He first chose us. That's what this is teaching. Even more amazing, that the Scripture teaches us that God made this choice before the foundation of the world. In Ephesians 1:4-6, it says, "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ."
So before the foundation of the world, by sovereign election, He chose us. He did not choose based on any foreseen righteousness on our part, like God saw... It’s not like he looked down through the corridors of time, and saw that someday you would believe in Him, or someday you would be righteous, and on that basis, He chose. The Scripture teaches exactly the opposite. As a matter of fact, it says that he chose before you were born, so that you couldn't boast. He teaches us in Romans 9:11-12, speaking about Jacob and Esau, "Yet before the twins were born or had done anything, good or bad, in order that God's purpose in election might stand..." What is God's purpose? "Not by works, but by Him who calls." That's God's purpose, so that when we get to Heaven, we'll realize it was not by works, but by Him, God, who calls. So that's God's purpose in choosing us before the foundation of the world.
Not “Unconditional Election” but Sovereign Election
Now, I would here say that it's not good to speak of "unconditional election." I think that's not a good phrase. I told you that I would offend every one of you at some point in these sermons in Corinthians, so now I get to offend the five-point Calvinists who love the TULIP acronym, and the U stands for unconditional election. I think it is not a good term. It implies that God, willy-nilly, for no reason at all, just chooses. I don't think that's true. God is a very rational being. He has His reasons for everything.
I would prefer, instead, "sovereign election," that God chooses based on His own reasons. I think there's at least two indications this is true. God wants some people around the throne from every tribe, language, people, and nation, so says Revelation Seven. So the fact that you are from this tribe, or this language, or nation matters, because none of those are going to slip through the cracks, and, "Oh, I guess there weren't any representatives from that tribe or that language." So God sovereignly elected some from every tribe, every language, every people.
And here in this text, it seems that God intentionally chooses, for the most part, those that are rejected by the world. It's not an accident. God's ways are not our ways, friends. As Isaiah 55 says very plainly, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord. As the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." Or again, as it says at the end of Romans 11, "Oh, the depths of the riches, and the wisdom, and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable His judgments and His paths, beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him…" and I like to say, "Back to Him" "are all things. To Him, be the glory forever."
So I think that's what it is. God's ways are not... You can't track Him. You think about, like in the Old West, there would be somebody that was a really good expert tracker. They could track even horses hoofs on hard rock. They knew how to follow. They could trace out where someone had gone, skillful trackers. What he's saying is, that the most skillful human tracker can't trace God's paths. We don't know where He's been and we can't tell where He's going, except that He tells us directly, in big picture. And so we wouldn't have done it this way. And I think He's doing all this, so that we realize all of our achievements, and all of our capabilities, our intelligence, our wealth, all of it came from Him. What do you have that you didn't receive? And if you did receive it, why would you ever boast as though you did not? You got to realize everything you have is someday going to go back to Him, because He gave it, and so there's this humbling work.
And we should not think that God, if He had only tweaked the message, if He could have fixed the message, it'd be more popular among the wealthy, and more popular among the movers and shakers. It’s not like He needs to fix the message. See, now you're starting to meddle in the things of God. You know, we tend to think that way on campus. "If the star quarterback could come to Christ, think what influence he would have." Or the president of the student body, "If she would come to Christ, what influence she could have." Or the Nobel Prize winners, "If one of them would just be converted, what influence they could have." We want to give God advice, "Would you just convert a lot of these people, God?" And then everybody would follow after. But that's exactly the kind of thinking that God, through Paul, is trying to slay here. The Gospel is for the humble and lowly, little children, poor outcasts.
Do you remember in John 7, Jesus' brothers want to give Him some advice on being Messiah? The arrogance, it's amazing. Jesus wasn't going up to the feast in John Seven. His brothers are surprised, so they go to Jesus in John 7:3-5 to give Him some advice. I picture one of them putting his arm around Jesus, say, "Can I just give you some advice here? I mean, you're really good at this whole miracle thing. I don't know how you do it. It's amazing. But no one who does miracles like this stays hidden. Jesus, this makes no sense. Go up to Jerusalem, where everyone is, and put on a show." John 7:5, "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." It's a display of unbelief to try to give God that kind of advice. You don't put an arm around God and give Him some advice on how He could manage His affairs better. "If only He could win the best and the brightest, then everyone would follow along." God knows what He's doing.
There's a clear example of this in Judges chapter 7. Do you remember the story of Gideon? When the Midianites were ravaging the land, God raised up Gideon, who was not an impressive individual. And it was time for Gideon to raise an army, and then God comes to Gideon. Do you remember what He tells him? "Gideon, you have too many men" here. I mean, that's got to be a first in military history. "Gideon, your army's too big. Send some of them home." But He says, specifically, in Judges 7, why? In order that the Israelites might not boast against me that their military power won this battle. Send them home. Two thirds of them went home, 22000 who trembled and were afraid of battle. So they went home, leaving a smaller number. But then God came a second time to Gideon and said, "You still have too many men, so we're going to divide them up in an interesting way. We're going to watch how they drink water. And the ones that lap water like a dog, we'll hold on to them." 300 of them. Now, don't think they're like the 300 Spartans, the mightiest warriors. No, they are 300 guys who lapped water like a dog.
And what was their job going to be in the battle? They're going to not hold a sword in their hand. They're going to hold a torch, and a lantern, and a trumpet, and they're going to break the torch, and shout, and blow a trumpet, and then the Midianites will kill themselves. So you could go to these heroes after the battle and say,
"What did you do? First of all, how did you get chosen?"
"I lapped water like a dog."
"But I was the best dog lapper of all the 300. I was number one."
"Really? Well, what did you do after that in the battle?"
"I smashed a jar, and held a torch, and blew a trumpet."
"Well, but how about how many Midianites did you kill?"
That whole thing is a picture, as in the day of Midian's defeat. Isaiah 9 says, "You have broken the yoke that burdens and the bar across our shoulders, for unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given." Isaiah 9 says that our salvation, just like that Midianite victory. What did we do? And we got humbled. So in verse 27-29 God shames and nullifies the arrogance of man. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things, the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. This was done purposely. He doesn't need to improve the message, so it plays better in the halls of power. It's exactly what He wanted to do.
III. God Shames and Nullifies the Arrogance of Man (verses 27-29)
And the negative message here, is He wants to shame and nullify. That's His goal. He wants to shame human pride and nullify it, so that in the end, no one will boast before Him. Why? What does that mean? First and foremost, that we will realize, even if we were pure as light and didn't need an atoning sacrifice, we are still just creatures and He is the Creator. And so just as the holy angels, who have never sinned, cover their faces and their feet, and tremble before Him, because they're creatures and He is infinitely above them as Creator, so will we be humbled, but even more. We weren't pure. We rebelled. We were rebels. We sinned against this Holy God, and we have been redeemed by the blood of His Son, and so we should be doubly humble in His presence.
So God, in order to achieve that, shows the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He rejects the ruminations of Plato, and Aristotle, and Socrates. He's not going that direction. He's going to choose you, Corinthians. He's going to choose us. And in this way, He's going to shame them, if they will not repent. Now, again, it's not "not any." There could be some of those great philosophers that could be won to Christ, so Paul did go to Mars Hill and some of them were interested. But in general, He's trying to shame them and they will... Their shaming is incomplete now. They're not ashamed. They're proud, and they're doing well, and they're succeeding, but they will be shamed in the end on Judgment Day, when millions, hundreds of millions of what they would have called nobodies, (God wouldn't call them that, but they would have called them nobodies), are going into glory, and they themselves are excluded, because of their sins. So God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth." The meek are those that are humble and lowly. They're not the fighting warrior types. They're the types that the Nazi tyrants loved, those that just kneeled down before the tyrant's sword and they get decapitated. Tyrants like the Nazis love those types. The Vikings, when they used to go up and down the coastlines marauding, they loved the monasteries, a lot of gold, not a lot of warriors. Special breed of man that was clad in linen garments and died very easily. In Japan, the Shoguns absolutely despised the Christians. They thought nothing of them, because they were a warrior class and the Christians just died like nothing. They just wilted and died. They did not respect... The Nazis, the Vikings, the Shoguns did not respect this kind of thing, but God is going to give to those meek Christians, the Earth, when all is said and done. And those mighty, godless empire builders will be shamed on Judgment Day, when they end up with nothing.
IV. God’s Sovereignty in Assembling the Church of Christ (verse 30)
So God assembles the Church of Christ as He sees fit. Look again in Verse 30, "It is because of Him, [because of God], that you are in Christ Jesus." This is the basis of all of your praise. When you've come together on Sunday morning, we worship. When you praise Him on Monday morning, tomorrow morning, when you praise Him, you can say, "God, I am a Christian because of you. It is because of you that I believe in Jesus." As he says in Romans 6:17, "Thanks be to God that you obey the Gospel. Thank God you obey. Thank God you believe. Thank God you repented. Thank God He chose you. " "It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus." That's what it's teaching here.
Now, God does that by the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit. Look again at 1 Corinthians 2:14. I'm going to probably have you look at that verse just about every week. But there it says, "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot accept them, because they're spiritually discerned." But if you're a Christian, that whole thing is turned around. You are a person with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has come into your life, and therefore, you do indeed accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. They are no longer foolishness to you, but they have been revealed as wisdom and power to you. That's how you see the cross. And you can understand them, because you've been healed from your mental confusion, the darkness of the mind and heart that was the essence of our sin. You've been healed from all that by the sovereign power of the Spirit, and now you have the mind of Christ, and you can see the cross properly. Thanks be to God.
V. God’s Ultimate Purpose: Humble Worship from Redeemed Sinners (verses 30-31)
Now, God's ultimate purpose in all this has to do with eternity. Look at Verse 30-31, "It is because of Him that you were in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, let him who boasts boast in the Lord."
Now, the Holy Spirit sovereignly works in our hearts, and changes us, and draws us by the hearing of the Gospel, by the hearing of the Word, like you're hearing it right now, draws us into the Kingdom. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus. And the Spirit makes you think about Christ differently, so you then realize who Jesus is to you, and Jesus has become for you, your righteousness. That's the Gospel. That's justification. Jesus is your righteousness, not your own obedience to the law or any of your good works. Jesus' obedience to the law is your righteousness. Jesus' achievement of perfect righteousness before the Father has become yours. Jesus has become for you righteousness. Not only that, He has become for you sanctification. He is your holiness, not just your positional standing of righteousness, but your progressive growth into holiness is Jesus. To God be the glory. And He also has become your redemption, not just the beginning redemption that you have stepped into, but the final vindication on Judgment Day, of all your sins redeemed.
Now, He does all this, as it is written, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." Putting it simply and very humanly, God doesn't want to spend eternity listening to you or me boast about ourselves. "I'm not listening to that. I'm going to save you in such a way that you will be completely humbled when all is said and done." And God's very wise about this. And he quotes... Paul reaches for the quote in Jeremiah 9:23-24.
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, let not the strong man boast of his strength, let not the rich man boast of his wealth, but let him who boasts, boast in this, that he knows and understands Me, that I'm a God who forgives sins. I am merciful, let him who boasts, boast in Me, in that I show him mercy." God does all of this for the praise of His glorious grace, so that we'll boast in Him. Now, what does this mean to boast? God has given your mind the ability to analyze from lesser to greater, from things that are low to things that are exalted. And we have a hierarchy of greatness, of excellence, and we speak, when something hits a trigger level, we speak and we start to praise that thing, we start to boast in it. Our problem is fundamentally we think very highly of ourselves, we think we are excellent, and so we boast in ourselves, or we'll boast similarly another humans and their achievements. God wants us to boast, and He wants us to speak words of praise and greatness of God.
A number of months ago I preached at Southern Seminary, and I was preaching a message. Afterwards I went out to eat with Dr. Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, and Greg Willis, a good friend of mine who's a professor of Church History there. And we went to a restaurant, ate lunch, and then after that went to a popsicle boutique, one of these high-end popsicle places, and we got gourmet popsicles. And then oddly drove to a cemetery to eat them. But Dr. Mohler has a sense of history and he just loves Cave Hill Cemetery, and we went there, and there is the grave of one of the founders of Southern Seminary, James P. Boyce. So we stood there eating popsicles and talking. And I don't know, maybe there's just an interesting wisdom there to realize some day we're all going to die. And it's especially poignant in that just diagonally across from there is Mohammad Ali's cemetery with the words, "Our service to others is the rent we pay for our room in heaven." Pure works righteousness. And I thought Ali was the quintessential self-boasting athlete, he actually led the way in saying, "I am the greatest." And so many athletes have followed. I think before that there was at least an effort at false humility. But after that, all the gloves are off with many, not all, but many just, "I am the greatest. I'm the greatest."
But here's the thing, death just has the power to humble us all, and everything, every attribute we have is temporary, all of it, all of our intelligence, all of our skill, all of our money, all of our physical strength, is going to go away and we are all going to die someday. And so, someday if I know that I'm dying, and I'm on my death bed, I'm lying there and my days or my hours are coming to an end and I'm aware of it, not always the case, most people actually don't die aware that they're about to die. But if I am on my death bed, and maybe my family's with me, at that point I will not be thinking about anything except this, Christ is my righteousness, by faith, not by works, Christ is my righteousness. I will not be thinking about sanctification, I'll not be thinking about infinite journeys anymore, I'll be thinking about this, I was forgiven by faith, I was justified by faith in Christ, that's it. And anything that I achieved, any good works, it's only by the grace of God, but it really will not be on my mind at that point, I'll be trusting in Christ's death and resurrection alone for my forgiveness.
Applications. First, just meditate on this whole thing and just ask yourself the question, "Why does God hate human boasting so much?" There's something sick about human boasting, something twisted. Imagine a vain movie star who goes to some spectacular scenery, like the Grand Canyons of the Alps, and hires somebody to hold a big mirror in front of him or her, and they spend the whole time looking at themselves. Or somebody who takes a selfie facing the wrong direction, the Grand Canyon's that way, but so enamored with what their own face looks like. Something's off there. I've been thinking about all these illustrations at this very point, I tried some out on my kids this morning, their needle didn't move much, but I'm going to give it a shot.
Imagine an art expert who works as a curator of a museum, and has for a weekend a Rembrandt to put a new frame on and all that, invites all his friends over and one of them is a new painter who's taking painting lessons at the local library, and has brought his newest oil painting of a nice pastoral scene with a couple of cows, and a wooden fence. And so, there side by side is a Rembrandt and this oil painting, and the entire group spends the entire time praising the little oil painting that was done by the art student. You're like, "Something is off in your estimation." You are surrounded every moment by infinite greatness, the display of God's greatness in creation, and then as we read in Scripture, the even greater display of His greatness and redemption, so you ought to boast in God and not in anything else. So I tend to think the best way to look at this is therapy. God is healing us from a twisted perspective so that we will spend eternity boasting in God. God's not weak, He's not insecure, He doesn't need an ego trip, it's that we're sick and He wants to heal us. And He heals us, as John Piper once said, not by making much of us, but by enabling us to make much of Him for all eternity.
So when you think about that, just think about how God has humbled you in salvation by choosing you before you were born, from before the foundation of the world, not based on anything He saw in you, positively. And how He saved you before you were born, two centuries before, or two millennia before you were born, by having Jesus die for your sins, and He did all of the work for you. And then you were justified by simply believing and not by any work so that no one can boast, just by grace, and that this faith that you have is not of yourselves, it's a gift of God. Ephesians 2:9, so that no one can boast, and then you begin, you roll up your sleeves and start trying to live the Christian life.
Friends, how's it going? How are you doing? "Oh Pastor, we're doing great. I had a phenomenal week, I was perfect this week." Can you imagine someone saying that? So now we're in the sanctification thing, and oh, how humbling it is. And for decades we battled indwelling sin and don't do very well, and God keeps forgiving, and forgiving, and covering, and forgiving, and covering. And then finally we die, and in an instant He glorifies you and makes you just like Jesus. And you're like, "Lord, why didn't you do that when I was converted? I would have had such an awesome life." Don't give advice to God. He knows exactly what He's doing, He's humbling, humbling, humbling, humbling, and humbling you, so that you'll spend eternity boasting in the Lord.
So practically, whenever you're tempted to boast in yourself or some other human achievement, stop. Boast in the Lord. Say something great about Jesus. Say something great. Next time you're in a conflict with your spouse, not that you ever have them or that I ever have them ever, but if that should ever happen, realize how much of it is based on your arrogance and your pride, and just boast in the Lord at that point, don't be prideful, don't be angry and prideful. And in terms of the gospel, let me just say something to you who are on the outside, you came in here and you are not yet converted, this gospel is for you. Yes, it's meant to humble you, but boy, it's also meant to exalt you and to bring you to Heaven and make you glorious. So I'm just appealing to you, while there's time turn away from yourself, turn away from your good works, turn away from everything you're clinging to, and trust in Christ and you will be forgiven of all of your sins. And for you evangelists, which should be all of you who are converted, as you share the gospel, do it as a form of worship. Just worship Jesus in front of some unbelievers this week, just talk about how great He is, and see what God will do.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we are mindful of how arrogant we are. We are very, very proud people. And we need that pride to be leveled. I pray that You would the use Word of God to level our pride, just level it, God. Forgive us for continuing to build these towers of Babel about how great we are. Forgive us. Because it says in Isaiah 2, "Every lofty thing will be leveled, and the pride of man brought low, the Lord alone will be exalted in that day." Oh God, help the Lord alone be exalted now in our hearts. Oh God, I pray for lost people that you have brought here sovereignly, that they would turn away from their own achievements and their trusting in their money, and then their intelligence, that they would turn away and that they would trust in Christ and Him crucified as their only hope. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.