Bragging about what we have attained and accomplished is a constant temptation. It’s also evidence of our deepest desires to be good enough. We’re searching for evidence of right being through right doing. Boasting is an expression of our desire to belong. It’s seeking comfort, confidence, and affirmation. It’s what we do to find security in who we are. Surely the gospel addresses this, but how?
Paul’s letter to the Galatians puts the gospel on display in a way that may be the clearest practical expression we have in Scripture. Faith in the gospel saves us by supernaturally and fundamentally changing us, so we freely live gospel-formed lives. What we do, or don’t do, means nothing unless we are alive in Christ and walk in step with the Spirit.
This is in contrast to a lie, both in Galatia and the world today, “You must assimilate to a particular way of doing in order to have right being.” This focus on doing inevitably results in boasting about accomplishments and status, boasting in discipline and skill, but the roots are deeper.
By the end of the letter it becomes clear that the issues the Galatians have, attempting to live faithful lives, are rooted in an inability to rightly see who they are. The same is true for us. Our misbehavior is the evidence of a being issue, and all our wrongdoing is the fruit of it.
Here’s the Root
Attempting to find our being apart from gospel belief, we become boastful in ourselves and envious of others. Everyone does it. Some pretend they’re something they’re not, while others may actually believe they’re something they’re not. Both live as if they don’t need the Spirit.
At the most fundamental level, we long to hear and believe the voice of our Father affirm us: “Well, done,” and “This is my child, with whom I’m pleased.” But when we attempt to live apart from the Spirit we choose to ignore His voice. This makes us anxious and afraid like Adam and Eve hiding and lying. Desperate to fix this ourselves, we habitually seek the affirmation of people through our boasting. Believing the lie that we’re unable or unworthy to hear our Father’s voice, we settle, seeking to satisfy this deeply human longing by using people.
In our wrongdoing we don’t love people, we love what they make us feel. This inevitably causes disunity and distrust, and the competitiveness often drives apart the family of God. This results in more isolation and a greater dependence on proclaiming a hopeless lie. We find ourselves boasting from arrogance in our performance, or boasting from insecurity in our pretending—either way it’s a desperate cry for purpose, for belonging, for being.
So What is to Be Done?
Paul tells the Galatians, if you catch someone doing any wrong, the spiritual, those who humbly walk by the Spirit, are to restore them with gentleness (Gal. 6:1). If someone has a lapse in right behavior, from a moment of unbelief, this person is caught in wrongdoing, but it most certainly is connected to wrong being. They are restored by gospel affirmation—hearing how their doing doesn’t match who they truly are.
And how is it we return to who we truly are? Perhaps we could follow the example of Paul. He says, they (the religious in Galatia) boast in the flesh, but “far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). It seems boasting isn’t innately evil. Certainly, we can’t pretend or perform enough to amount to anything eternal, but if we learn to boast in the cross, like Paul, we’re dead to the ways of the world and the flesh, no longer measured by their metrics.
It seems Paul is acknowledging that boasting is in fact essential for finding our being. Only it’s not by boasting in our doing—there’s no life there. When we boast in the cross, however, it reveals our dependence on the sufficiency of our Savior to give us a new being. It’s boasting in a Truth that liberates us from the lie.
Our right being is about the faithfulness of Jesus, in whom we now live by faith. He lived perfectly according to the Law, and as He was crucified, we too were crucified in Him. As He died, we died. As He now lives, we’re alive in Him. He redeemed us from death in His resurrection. In this work He made us the diverse family of God, embodying Him in the world, no cultural assimilation required.
Because of the cross we no longer need to seek our being through comparison and competition, using people to feel good about ourselves. Because, through the cross, we hear our Father say, “Well done. I’m pleased.” Jesus became sin on the cross, so that we might become the righteousness of God. Now we can be healed, restored, and made alive in Him. We boast in the cross, and we find our being in Jesus. From our righteous being all righteous doing will flow.