In the centuries leading up to the Reformation, people were taught that you had to earn your salvation. It might be through purchasing indulgences, performing good deeds, partaking of the Eucharist, etc. and even then, you had to spend time in purgatory before you had a chance of getting into heaven. Through vessels of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others, the Lord reminded His Church of the simple gospel truth: we are saved by Jesus’ blood alone.
While we may not think we have to earn our salvation, we can easily slip into the trap of thinking we maintain our salvation by what we do. Oh, we may not put it just like that, but we derive a sense of pride from our good works. We become satisfied that we are attending church so regularly. We feel accomplished with the Scripture we memorize. Then something happens, and we become discouraged with our struggle with sin. We wonder what changed, what happened. We began to realize our unworthiness before God.
The simple truth is that we have always been unworthy of His love…yet He loves us anyway. The Lord has been impressing this truth upon me a lot recently. The only reason we are saved is because of God’s character. Yes, absolutely—we do have to choose to receive the Lord Jesus. Salvation is a gift, and we can refuse it. But there is nothing about us that causes it to be offered.
In our Western culture that exalts the “self-made” individual, we so easily forget this truth. But Scripture is plain. Jesus told His followers that even if they did everything they were “commanded,” they were to reply, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10). There was nothing impressive about that. Yet how often do we think our own Christian lives are impressive? And if we are honest, how often do we think we impress God by what we do?
Salvation is a gift, and it is given all because of God’s grace and mercy. Paul makes this very clear in several letters. After describing the blessed gift of God’s grace, Paul asks, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded” (Romans 3:27). He says that even “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2). In 1 Corinthians, Paul shares about the privileges we have because of salvation and asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:8). And in Ephesians, Paul says, “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). Get the picture?
So what’s the point? No matter how much we pursue Christ, no matter how faithful we are to Him, we will never be worthy of His love. Yet rather than be discouraging, this should move us to praise the Lord all the more. We are so undeserving of His love, yet He has “lavished” and “freely bestowed on us” His wonderful “grace” (Ephesians 1:6-8). And He has promised that nothing will ever take us out of His “hand” (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39). What more could we ask for?
Then add to this the fact that He gives us the freedom to reject this gift. Jesus’ death was enough to pay for the “sins…of the whole world,” and “whoever” will may believe and receive this gift (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). God loves us so much, He gives us the choice to choose Him in return. He does not force us. What an amazing type of love this is.
We may not often think through the gospel in this way, but these truths are undeniable. We must consider them, for when we do, we have no room left for pride. So rather than seeing what we doo—attending church, memorizing Scripture, holding our tongue, etc—as a cause for self-righteousness, we must see them as ways to honor the Lord and give Him glory. That is our purpose, to glorify Him. Everything we do must be devoted to His service. And what we do doesn’t have to be grandiose or amazing by human standards. Just the simple, day-to-day routine faithfully carried out in a way focused on pleasing the Father brings Him glory.
So wherever you find yourself, will you commit to giving God all the glory? He is so worthy of our devotion, and we cannot hold any of the praise back for ourselves. I know, this is an ongoing struggle, but He will give us the strength for this fight. He has shown such love to us, and all we can do is live to love Him in return.
For a short word of encouragement and song about how God has shown such love, check out the following video: