In last week’s thought we saw that the church, the ekklesia, is a group of people called out by God and given a new allegiance and a new relationship with God.

This raises an important question: by what criteria did God determine which people he called out of the world to make his own? What did these people have that others did not have? Do they have something to boast about, some claim to significance, some intrinsic goodness, some innate or achieved superiority, because of which God chose them in preference to those he did not call?

And to this question the Bible answers: ‘No!’ There is nothing in these people that made God call them.

Not because of personal goodness

The Bible makes it clear that God does not call people because of personal goodness or righteousness. In God’s estimation ‘there is no one righteous, not even one’ [Romans 3:10]. Nor can we say that he calls people because they are not as bad as others; in God’s way of looking at things ‘there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ [Romans 3:22,23].

Jesus put it clearly: ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ [Matthew 9:13]. Further, Paul teaches that it was ‘while we were still sinners’ that Christ died for us [Romans 5:8].

Not because of personal greatness

The Bible also makes it clear that God does not call people because of personal greatness.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome: ‘when we were still powerless Christ died for us’ [Romans 5:6].

And to the church at Corinth: ‘Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world … God chose the weak things of the world … he chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things …’ [1Corinthians 1:26-28].

The church – called by grace

There are no personal criteria by which God determined who would comprise the church. If we front up to God with our religious résumé, thinking that its contents will merit our inclusion in his people, we will find that it is useless:

Jesus pointed this out in the story about the Pharisee and the tax-collector in Luke 18:9-14.

In Philippians 3:3b-9 Paul tells us how he personally came to understand this, realizing that his religious résumé, which he had thought highly significant, a reason for personal boasting, was, in fact, totally useless for acceptance with God.

As Paul says, God called us ‘not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace’ [2Timothy 1:9].

Because God called us by grace, and not by any personal goodness or greatness of ours, because we, the church, are a bunch of nobodies, a bunch of sinners, the Bible outlaws boasting by the church. Those who comprise the church have no personal superiority that makes them better than the world:

‘Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.’ [Romans 3:27]

‘For it is by grace … not by works, so that no one can boast’ [Ephesians 2:9].

‘If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself’ [Galatians 6:3].

God did it this way ‘so that no one may boast before him’ [1Corinthians 1:29].

Beacuse God did it this way, not calling people on the basis of personal merit, all who comprise the church have one thing, and one thing only, to boast about, to glory in, to rejoice in: we glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in ourselves [Philippians 3:3].

In this the Old Testament command is accomplished:

'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom,

or the strong man boast of his strength

or the rich man boast of his riches.

but let him who boasts boast about this:

that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD,

who exercises kindenss, justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight.' [Jeremiah 9:23, 24]

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2021