“I am the Greatest” and Other Half-Truths: A Reflection on Boasting

Recently I attended The Gospel Coalition Conference ’17 and walked away with some insights. In an effort to chronicle these for the world to share (let’s be honest, it will probably be my mom and her Facebook friends) I’ve decided to blog about a few of my biggest takeaways. At the end of the article, I’ll post the video from the conference where I borrowed *cough* (stole) *cough* part of this content from.

Talladega Nights is one of the greatest achievements of cinematic history. Okay maybe that’s stretching it but it does have a pretty great (and hilarious) story. Ricky Bobby, a man obsessed with racing, gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to race for NASCAR and rises to the top of the racing world, only to fall from his meteoric height after a terrible crash. His subsequent return to success through unconventional training with his distant father leaves him with valuable life lessons in friendship and humility.

At the height of Ricky’s initial success, he’s asked by a reporter to explain the secret behind his success. His response is unsurprisingly as large as his ego, “Well, Dick, here’s the deal. I’m the best there is, plain and simple….you know, I’m just a big, hairy, American winning machine. If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

That “big, hairy, American winning machine” illustrates not only why I don’t watch NASCAR but what the essence of a boast is.

A boast is what an individual uses to give them the strength/confidence/insanity to allow them to do what they normally would not be able to.

Chants, chants, chants, chants……

My job requires me to spend a lot of time around Fraternity and Sorority students. Being a part of Greek life in college, I’m very familiar with the ins and outs of the culture of the Greek system. Most, if not all, of the various Greek life organizations have some sort of chant which I can only assume is meant to be recited as loudly (and incoherently) as possible.

What a chant does is it reinforces the pride of the Fraternity or Sorority into those participating in the battle cry. It helps them get excited about their group and stirs up feelings for their fellow sisters or brothers. It literally builds one’s identity into that organization (and you thought magic spells were only in Harry Potter).

While mostly fun and harmless, chants are, at their core, boasts. That’s why one usually only hears them when an achievement is reached or a competition is underway. The chants are used to celebrate victory (“we won because we are ______”) or to encourage the competitors to victory (“we are ______ and therefore we will win!”).

What we boast in

Take a quick mental look at the relationships you have in your life. What do they boast in? What do your friends boast in? Family? What do you boast in?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have something that we root our identity in, something we use to justify our why we exist, our boast. We all have something we tell ourselves to get through life. “I’m attractive,” “I’m smart,” “I’m popular,” “I’m a good person,” “I’m loved by my significant other”. These are all boasts we tell ourselves when we come to the question, “why am I here?” or “why am I valuable?”

One of the sad realities of life is that the older we get, the more we see the frailty of all of these boasts. We see those who chase youthful appearance becoming paranoid with every graying hair and wrinkle. We see those pursuing knowledge left burdened by the sad truths in life. We see the popular person going to greater and greater lengths to regain fame (looking at you Miley Cyrus). We see the good people turn judgmental and obsessed with discipline. And we see those identified by relationships entering into increasingly more risky and abusive relationships in hopes of finding lasting joy.

The saddest reality comes when we begin to see one or more of these trends in ourselves.

The boast that lasts

Muhammed Ali, boxing champion and legend, once proclaimed, “I am the greatest!”. He was right, he was the greatest. No doubt about it. But the important point to note there is the word was. 

A wise man once told me that everyone who takes home gold at the Olympic games is the best at what they do. For a moment. After that moment they may still be the best but the decline begins. They will someday no longer be the best as they age and future competitors mature. The one thing these athletes, the best athletes, had built their life on will soon be taken away from them.

Their boast will no longer be effective.

If these athletes ever hope of finding a meaningful life after success, they need to find something else to put their boast in. So do we.

But not just any boast will do, because we’ve established that all other boasts will ultimately fail us. They may satisfy temporarily but they will never last. Except for one.

In the book of Galatians, the apostle (early leader of Christianity) Paul says the following to a church under his guidance: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NIV).

Paul’s boast was not in his leadership abilities or his influence though both were exceptional. He rooted his reason for living in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What he’s saying is that this act of Jesus Christ gives him the power to live life.

What the cross does for Paul is it shows him his inability to justify his own existence. Paul can’t do anything or accomplish anything to make himself valuable. None of that does anything for Paul in light of his radical sense of his own sinfulness. Paul was a man able to see the boasts he was pursuing and his powerlessness to stop those outside of God’s intervening work. He literally had to be blinded by God and hear audibly from him to have his eyes opened to the truth, both metaphorically and literally (check out his conversion story in Acts 9).

In stark contrast to the understanding of his own selfish boasting, Paul also saw the amazing love of God in the cross of Christ. On the cross, Paul sees the price of his own boasting, death, being paid by God himself. At the same time he sees the depth of his evil heart, he sees the infinite heights of God’s love for him.

This is what gave Paul the power to go on with life.

This is what gives us the power to go on with life.

When we see how great God’s love for us is in spite of our selfishness, it changes how we answer the questions, “why am I here?” and “why do I value?” We value because of the cost God paid to purchase us for his own, and as his own we are given a purpose to love, serve, and enjoy him forever. Our boast no longer comes from our physical, mental, or relational prowess, but from God’s. And our boast is no longer merely temporary but is now eternal. 

Check out the video where this content was developed from here!!!!!!

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