For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast… Ephesians 2:8-9
As we explore being rooted in relationship with God, we have been working through the basic beliefs of Christianity; the Who/What/When/Where/How/Why of faith. In the last post, we examined The Who of Christian faith, and determined that the answer is…
wait for it…
So let’s then move on to the next big question of foundational truth in faith; The What. What exactly is the purpose of this Jesus fellow, the premise of this redemption He offers, and what does a personal relationship with him look like?
Sorry if this seems overly obvious and simplistic, but what if I told you the answer is…
wait for it…
Again, if this seems elementary, it is (which is why it is so important that we fully grasp this concept before we can move on and grow in our faith.) I believe that, just as there are many people who are confused on who Jesus is, even more people are confused on what He expects of us and what his purpose was for coming to this earth. But, simply put, the Christian faith is built on a foundation of WHO Jesus is and WHAT He did on our behalf.
As I said in the last post, God is G-O-D. As in, He is a pretty big deal. He is The Creator of the universe; the maker of all things. He is oxygen and gravity and the very reason life exists – and the very reason you exist. So if this is true, then what does He want with little ol’ messed up folks like us? I believe there is a one word answer for this question. That word is – Relationship!
If the Bible is true – and I believe that it is – then in a thousand of its little stories and in the overarching theme of the big story told within its pages, it tells us this:
God is perfect. We are not. He loves us anyway.
God made us, loves us, and wants a relationship with us. However, while God is merciful and loving, He is also holy and perfect. It is that holiness and perfection that is incompatible with the sinfulness that lies within each and every one of us.
Sin means to miss the mark or to fall short of the perfection of God, and scripture tells us, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) It also tells us that “…your iniquities have separated you from your God…” (Isaiah 59:2) and “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
When we choose to sin, it separates us from our perfect God and death is the necessary payment due. This separation is the angst of all of existence and that payment due is very purpose for which God sent his son, Jesus, to this earth. Jesus was the only perfect and sinless man to ever walk upon the earth, and therefore, the only acceptable sacrifice. His death upon the cross was the necessary atonement for the sinfulness of man, once and for all bridging the gap between us and our perfect God.
One of the most beautiful and unambiguous verses in the Bible on this is 2 Corinthians 5:21.
For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Pretty clear, right? It is only through Christ that we are made right and acceptable to God. That is why Jesus came to earth and made the extraordinary claims that redemption could only be found in and through him. This answers the enormous question of THE WHAT of faith. It is only WHO Jesus is and WHAT He did on the cross on our behalf that reconciles us to God and offers the opportunity for a personal relationship with him.
So if we are made right in God’s eyes only through Jesus’ merit, then that brings the subsequent conclusion that it couldn’t possibly be based on our merit. And yet, in talking to folks about what it is they think God wants from them and what will get them into heaven, I usually get answers about how hard they try to be a good person and do good things, all the while hoping that in the end, the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff. But this is counter-scriptural and if we try to apply this to 2 of the biggest questions out there, we see how faulty and insufficient this thinking really is. So then:
- What exactly does it take to please God in life?
- What exactly does it take to get into heaven in the afterlife?
If our answer is anything other than JESUS, can you see how we are then immediately fraught with dozens of other questions? How does God grade? Is it on curve? What if I am mostly good, but not always good? What if I am having a bad day? What if I had a bad childhood? What if I sin and then die before I have a chance to say I am sorry? Have I done enough to make up for the sin I have done? Who determines what “enough” even is?
Get off the spiritual hamster wheel and rest in this; salvation is a free gift based on who Jesus is and HIS goodness, not on who you are and your perceived goodness. And that means since you have done NOTHING to earn it, you can do NOTHING to lose it either. Once you have accepted the free gift of grace offered to you and put your trust and faith in Jesus, you can never be taken out of his hands. It is Christ’s righteousness alone that earns us a place in God’s kingdom, not our own.
Another translation of Ephesians 2:8-9 referenced at the beginning of this post reiterates (even more clearly) that it is only by the grace of God that we are saved. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
Yet in our culture, it is so bewildering for us to try to wrap our minds around the concept of a free gift or having something given to us without having earned it in some way. Here in America especially, we are programmed to believe that all good things come to those who work and strive for them. And yet, once again, the Bible goes all counter-cultural on us and tells us N O P E.
Now, to all of you type-A strivers and perfectionists; I see you and I understand you. You are my people. Being told that you cannot earn something simply makes you want to set out to prove that wrong and break that mold and get a 100 and win. You feel strongly that you can do more, work more, be more. Allow me to break your precious and precocious little heart. You can’t get this right. You could never do enough. Isn’t that so very terrifying and defeating to know that God’s grace and forgiveness simply cannot be earned? That even if you run 14 baby-saving non-profits and don’t curse for a whole decade, you. will. never. be. enough. GAW! Hard stuff, right?
Now, to all of you who are imperfect and lacking; I see you and I understand you. You are also my people. Being told that you cannot earn something is an enormous comfort and relief and you are so exhausted from all that ridiculous striving that you want nothing more than to take off that 200 ton backpack of unrealistic expectations and rest. You feel strongly that you can do no more, work no more, be no more. Allow me to heal your weary and worn little heart. You can’t blow this. You don’t have to be enough. Isn’t that so very freeing and comforting to know that God’s grace and forgiveness simply cannot be earned? That you don’t have to run 14 baby-saving non-profits and not curse for a whole decade to. ever. be. enough. GAW! Good stuff, right?
Yup. Glory, glory, halleluiah, this isn’t about you! Or me! Or our accomplishments and achievements!!!!!! It is about Jesus! And his righteousness! And He is MORE than enough!
Let’s break this down, Charlie Brown.
Jesus + nothing = everything
It really is that simple.
My very favoritist chapter in the entire Bible is Romans 8 and starts off by telling us, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” It then goes on to my very favoritist verses in the entire Bible, which speaks to how once we accept Christ, there is no way we can ever be separated from God again.
38And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Is that not the most beautiful thing you have ever heard?
Christ is enough. He paid the price for my sin and yours, and now offers us an open invitation to a life of peace and reconciliation. Christianity is the acceptance of that invitation and the only way to be rightly rooted in relationship with God.
♥ AN APPLICATION AND A PRAYER ♥
How does this affect the way you look at God, yourself, or Christianity? Have you been relying on your own “goodness” to be acceptable to God? Or have you put your trust in Jesus and believe that He is enough?
Father God, help us to see more clearly who you are and what you want from us. Help us to better understand the person and provision of your son and to know what this means for us and for our relationship with you. Help us to trust in your forgiveness and redemption for our right standing, and to quit striving to earn what has already been offered to us freely. In Jesus’ name, Amen.