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Justification by Works Involves Boasting!

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Covenant Reformed News


May 2020 • Volume XVIII, Issue 1

Justification by Works Involves Boasting!

Strikingly, Paul’s first argument against the notion that Abraham was justified by works is from the idea of boasting: “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Rom. 4:2). This verse highlights the ground of boasting or glorifying, that upon which the activity of boasting rests: man’s “works”!

The apostle’s argument presupposes man’s innate sinful pride that is deeply rooted in us since the fall. Whatever our “achievements,” we immediately become puffed up and boastful, both in ourselves and to others. This applies to our “success” in whatever field or area: a good exam result, doing well at work, getting our houses nice and clean, or even winning at marbles or any game! Boasting especially results if we think we have made ourselves righteous in the sight of Almighty God!

As Reformed Christians, we easily understand this apostolic argument and we have used it ourselves in witnessing to unbelievers who reckon that they are righteous by their own will or works. “But then, you have earned your salvation,” we say. “Surely, this is a proud doctrine, for anyone who could make it to heaven on the basis of his achievements, even in part, would be able to boast that he was there because of his own worth or efforts. He distinguished himself above others!”

Though the self-righteous do not like this argument—and do all they can to get out of it—it is a thoroughly biblical way of reasoning that is especially found in the writings of the apostle Paul. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:27); “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor. 1:27-29); “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (I Cor. 4:7); “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:13-14); “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9); “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

Thus we returned to Romans 4:2: “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Three simple points flow from this. First, Abraham would have boasted, if he had made himself righteous by his own deeds. Second, God, however, would have been singularly unimpressed. Third, if this would have been the case with father Abraham, then no fallen human being can ever be justified by his or her works! All of this, beloved, points us to righteousness in the crucified and risen Christ alone! 

Rev. A. Stewart

Last modified on 26 May 2020
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 18
  • Issue: 1
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001

Website: www.cprf.co.uk/

Contact Details

  • Address
    7 Lislunnan Road
  • City
    Ballymena
  • State or Province
    Co.Antrim
  • Zip Code
    BT42 3NR
  • Country
    Ireland
  • Telephone
    (01144) 28 25 891851
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