Ask some Christians whether they believe they will go to heaven when they die and you might hear “I sure hope so,” or “I think I’ve done enough good deeds,” or “I’m running the race and hope to win.” They seem to think the way to have eternal life is to earn enough points to win the game, or to make up for enough of their sins to win the war.
But the apostle Paul reminds us that the race is run. The war is won. The work is done. We will reap the benefit of being judged based on the record of Jesus, our Redeemer, if we trust in Him.
Paul twice repeats the phrase “for it is by grace that you have been saved” in chapter two of his letter to the Ephesians. First in verse five, after writing that God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Then in verses eight and nine he expands on the thought when he writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Boasting with Pride
It is part of human nature to want to boast, to toot our own horn about our accomplishments. I personally have reason to boast. I graduated from a top-rated college in the top 11% of my class with nary a C grade on any report card. I graduated cum laude from law school. I’ve won awards in moot court competitions and elite writing contests. I have over 25,000 visitors per year to the blog I started in 2009 and have posted over 1,500 articles.
I’ve also served as elder, spiritual leadership team member, and council member for my church. I have spoken at women’s retreats and helped plan retreats as part of the women’s ministry team. I serve on the altar guild to serve Holy Communion and am a regular lay reader for church services. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And yet not one of those accomplishments or good deeds ensures my entry into heaven. Nothing I can do will ever make up for the sins I have committed.
Even the act of believing in Jesus, the ability to have faith in His saving grace, is a gift from God.
The problem with boasting is that in doing so we attempt to take credit for the work God has done through Jesus.
The Unfairness of Grace
The truly wonderful thing about God’s grace is that it is unfair. We do not get what we deserve. Even though we all at some point push God away and choose our own way, He is merciful and gracious, and He loves us anyway. If God was fair, we would all be left to our own devices, eternally separated from our Holy God.
And yet some people are convinced that they have sinned so much that they are beyond God’s redemption. They believe they have to make atonement for their own sins before God will accept them into His Kingdom.
I know I have committed my share of sins. Especially in my younger years I drank too much, gossiped and cussed, and generally ignored God and my need for Him. But the sin that continues to plague me the most is holding a grudge. I can easily become angry at some small transgression and stew on it, sometimes to the point of bitterness.
And yet not one of my sins is prevents my entrance into heaven. Nothing I can do will ever negate the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for my sins.
The problem with thinking I’ve sinned to greatly to be forgiven is it is based on the lie that Jesus’s sacrifice wasn’t enough.
Jesus, Our Half Shekel
The price of redemption for each of us is the same, no matter how much good or bad we’ve done. In the book of Exodus, God revealed the concept of a single ransom price.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. . . . Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD. All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the LORD. The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives.” (Exodus 30:11-15 NIV).
This side of the cross, the ransom price remains the same for every one of us. The ransom price is the atoning life of Jesus given to take away the sins of the world. He is our half shekel. We cannot pay more with our good deeds. He will not require more because of our sins.
It doesn’t seem fair, but it is what God has commanded.
Looking Ahead with Grace
As you begin 2020, rest in the grace of Jesus, assured of His mercy and your salvation.
Go forth and sing in the choir out of gratitude for what He has done, but do not fret if you miss a practice or are unable to sing for a Sunday service.
Help out with the altar guild to share the blessing of God’s grace with others, but do not allow yourself to grow weary with the work.
Give to the poor out of thankfulness for the bounty God has bestowed on you, but do not give out of mere obligation and with resentment.
Attend church because you desire to fellowship with God and other believers, and to worship the Lord in community, but not because you think you will lose points with God if you do not.
Perform good deeds as the Spirit leads, in the power of Jesus, so that God might be glorified, but don’t be deceived into thinking such deeds are necessary for your salvation.
Leave your past sin at the cross and walk away. Quit beating yourself up for what Jesus has forgiven.
For centuries Satan has tried to strip the children of God of the peace of knowing His love and grace. The Accuser engenders fear and doubt in the minds of believers, trying to deceive us into believing that God hates us and requires us to pay for our own sins and earn our own salvation.
But God’s Word is clear on this point: It is finished. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love and mercy; His grace is sufficient to cover every sin and grant us eternal life with Him. Nothing Satan says or does can change this truth.