Boasting in Another
In the late 1530s Martin Luther preached through the first four chapters of John. In a sermon on John 1:16, Luther said:
It is amazing that we are so given to pride, to boasting and bragging, and that we glory in such things as our beauty, riches, noble birth, power, skill, wisdom, honorable life, good works. . . .
If we want to boast, then let us boast that we receive from the fullness of Christ. . . . Whoever wishes to be safeguarded from the devil’s might and to escape sin and death must draw from this well, Christ; from Him flows all salvation and eternal bliss. This fountain is inexhaustible; it is full of grace and truth before God; it never fails no matter how much we draw from it. Even if we all dip from it without stopping, it cannot be emptied, but it remains a perennial fount of grace and truth, an unfathomable well, an eternal fountain. The more we draw from it, the more it gives. . . .
This fountain constantly overflows with sheer grace. Whoever wishes to enjoy Christ’s grace – and no one is excluded – let him come and receive it from Him. You will never drain this fountain of living water; it will never run dry. You will all draw from it much more than enough, and yet it will remain a perennial well. (Luther’s Works, 22:133–34)
Four helpful clarifications from Luther here.
1. We will boast. The question is not if we will boast but of what. We are, as Luther says, “given to” boasting. The hunger for significance, for glory, emanates from way down deep at the core of who we are.
2. It is not bad things in which we are tempted to boast. It is good things. “Beauty, riches, power, skill, wisdom, honorable life, good works.”
3. The Christian life is not one of squashing the impulse to boast, to glory in something, but of directing it rightly. You are free to boast. The Bible tells you to do so (Jer. 9:23–24; 1 Cor. 1:31; Heb. 3:6). You sin if you do not boast. And our boast is: Christ (Gal. 6:14). We glory in what Another has done.
4. The reason for this boasting is outrageous: limitless grace. Our natural intuitions whisper, “Don’t draw too much grace just now. You have a whole lifetime ahead of you. Spread it out. Use it wisely. Don’t spend all your grace now!” The gospel scatters such law-infused thoughts with this promise: Come to Christ, keep coming to him, keep boasting in him. You will never out-sin his grace. His mercy is not measured. Not cautious, suspicious, reluctant. The kindness of Christ “constantly overflows with sheer grace.” As Jonathan Edwards said, God’s love is “an infinite ocean of love, without shores and without bottom.” Inexhaustible.
Dane Ortlund is Senior Editor in the Bible Division at Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois. He has a Ph.D. from Wheaton College and is the author of A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards (Christian Focus, 2008). He blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology
This post originally appeared at The Gospel Coalition on July 13, 2011.