Have you ever fallen into the trap of keeping score of SINS vs. GOOD ACTIONS? Worse yet do you fall into the trap of thinking God is keeping score? Most of us have all listened to the “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” song ever since we were kids and now that we are adults many of us affix those lyrics to our relationship with God.
God is making a listAnd checking it twice; Gonna find out Who’s naughty and niceJesus Christ is coming again
He sees you when you’re sleeping He knows when you’re awake He knows if you’ve been bad or good So be good for goodness sake!
We became so fixated on the “list” as children and we knew then that we did not want to receive a lump of coal. We wanted to be on the nice list. Sadly as we became adults many of us have spent our lives trying to “work” or “earn” our way onto God’s good list. After all, hell is worse than coal and eternal salvation is better than our favorite toy.
Allow me to present an illustration. In football everyone keeps a close eye on the stats for the game. Generally the team that has the most time of possession, the most yards passing and the most yards rushing wins the game. BUT NOT ALWAYS! Sometimes strangely enough at the end of the game the team that won, did not control the time of possession nor did they have the most yards. In these games it is usually a couple of lucky breaks that allowed the team with the loosing stats to still win the game.
For us in our relationship with God it is not “a lucky break” that allows us to win the prize of eternal life. The gift of freely given grace, and our faith in Jesus Christ is what allows us to enjoy eternity with God even though we most likely came up short in our stats and short on our naughty and nice list. At the end of life our sins will outnumber our good efforts and yet through the grace of God and our belief in his son Jesus we have hope in the prize of salvation (Romans 3:23).
My point in addressing this issue is to “relieve the burden” that I see many Christians placing on themselves as they work to earn their salvation. The discussion of this subject matter brings me precariously close to the century’s old debate over “faith alone” or “faith and works”. I was so concerned about falling into that debate that I have solicited input from two close Christian friends of mine, one Catholic and one non-Catholic prior to writing todays email. It has always been my desire in all of my 4thdayletters to write on the areas of our common agreement in faith.
For anyone seeking a deep theological explanation of this debate you will not find it here today. My faith is too simple for that depth. Thousands of years and millions of papers have been used to address the differences so I want to try to address my views on this issue and what I perceive that we believe in common. Let me again state my purpose which is to help those struggling to “earn” their way into heaven.
I participate in a Christian blog and I regularly see people posting their concerns for their eternal damnation because they’ve tripped up in some aspect of their Christian journey. Of course they immediately seek forgiveness but often times they set about trying to “earn” back the good graces that they somehow feel they have lost due to their transgression.
I think we all agree there will be a day of judgment. Matthew 25:31-46 makes this quite clear. As to the cause for the separation of some into the eternal fire we see these two important verses:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me
Our confusion on this issue I believe can set in with the difficulty of trying to understand SANCTIFICATION and JUSTIFICATION. I think we generally agree that Sanctification is the process of becoming holy. It is the process by which the love of God is infused by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). God’s unearned favor rests upon us through Grace. We are made holy though him….with him….and in him exclusively!
Our understanding of justification is what will usually cause our confusion. Through justification as we saw above in Matthew we are held accountable for our actions. However, justification also leads us to the saving power of Christ. Justification throught Christ allows our actions to be placed before the Lord so that we may be reconciled to Him. Just as with sanctification, grace makes justification possible. In all ways, we are lead back to the power of grace. It is often thought that Paul’s writings and James’ writings are in opposition to each other concerning our faith and works. But we all know the Bible does not contradict itself. Let’s take a closer glimpse.
James has this to say about works: James 2:17-18
“So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”
And Paul says this which at first may seem the opposite of James. Ephesians 2:8-9“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”
But Paul then adds this about works: Ephesians 2:10
“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
One of my friends shared a quote with me that he had heard someone say: “Faith alone saves, period! But faith that is alone is not genuine.” This, while not a Biblical quote, makes for interesting contemplation on this topic.
For me the bottom line is this. Our God is a God of healing, not a God of damnation (this is not to refute the existence of hell). Some non- Christian faiths have a view of God as master and humans as mere slaves. That god solely keeps score and you must earn your way to eternal life. As Christians we do not see God as master but as Abba father.
We know and believe in a God who sent His son to redeem us from our sinful ways. We see a God who longs so much for us to spend eternity with Him that He allowed His own son to experience torture and death so that we in turn may experience joy and life eternal. If we truly accept the gift of free grace and have faith in Jesus our actions would then become our statement of belief. We do good works so as to please our Savior and share His love for us with others in need NOT to earn His favor. We do the good we do because it is a natural consequence of His love for us. He shares His love with us and we in turn share it with others.
God knows our hearts! We can’t fool God! Will we sin? Yes! We are fallen creatures and through our innate nature to sin, no matter how hard we strive on our own we will fall short of the mark. When we fall, we get up, seek forgiveness and move on again. No score card needed. He knows if we are trying. We need to know that without Him there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. He wants us to live in joy. We must quit beating ourselves up for our stumbles and falls. He is there for us. Our actions have consequences but the desire of our hearts to do His will is whatHe looks for.
Throw the score card away, God has. We must love God above all else and love our neighbor as He loves us. We must strive to do His will, knowing full well we will at times trip and fall. We must live our lives as joy filled Christian with the hope of life eternal.
I offer my thanks to my dear friends who helped significantly with their contributions for today’s 4thdayletter.
Heavenly Father I place my faith and trust in your son Jesus Christ. May my actions in this life reflect my belief in Him. Pick me up when I fall. Grant me the grace to love others as you love me. Grant me joy in this life and hope in life eternal, amen.