It Can't Be Earned!
Read: Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 3:3-9
This week, I was talking with an old friend I'll call Jay, since I don't have permission to use his real name. We were laughing and we were bantering back and forth. I don't know how the conversation moved the way it did, but I was teasing him about cheating at solitaire. It turns out that not only has he never done that; he has never cheated on any test that he ever took in school.
I must break into my story right here to say that I can't make that same claim because when I was in early elementary school, I tried to cheat on a spelling test. I got caught. I was so humiliated at having been found out that I never did it again. That one fruitless and embarrassing incident put an end to any desire to cheat.
Jay on the other hand had a more noble reason for his good behavior. He told me that receiving something he hadn't earned would really bother him. That is truly a good way of viewing grades and the wages we receive. They should be based on effort and the excellence of our work. Yet, as that conversation rolled around in my mind today, an additional thought came to mind, and it concerns Jay.
My husband and I have been praying for Jay for many years. We have talked with him about the Lord, but we have not yet seen any interest on his part to know about Jesus' personal love for him. I remember talking with Jay about salvation and how each of us cannot be good enough to stand before the Lord. I shared the picture of several people being in the middle of the vast ocean. Some were poor swimmers. Some had fairly good skills. There was even one who was a champion swimmer. Each one was asked to swim to the shore. Some went only a short distance. Others were able to swim much farther. The expert swimmer went for a much greater distance. Yet, in the end, each one drowned. None could accomplish the task. I told Jay that we are all like that. What God requires is a life lived without sin. Like the swimmers, some individuals live in a way that is in an earthly sense superior to others. Yet, no one can by his own effort, please God. I wonder now, if Jay is like so many others, who believe that God will "grade us" as a result of our own efforts. If so, how much effort would He require? What could we do that was noble enough to earn His love, and could our misdeeds cause Him to withdraw that love? There would have to be a scale that God consults if we have to earn His favor, and could we know if we have done enough to meet His standard?
Praise God! There are answers to those questions, and I readily admit that at first, the picture looks bleak. Yet how we long for Jay to know this most precious truth.
First, the bad news:
Isaiah 64:6 paints a horrible picture of any good deeds we would try to bring to God to illustrate our own righteousness. That verse pictures those deeds as if they were filthy clothing brought to a King. Unacceptable in His eyes. Romans 3:9 and Romans 3:23 remind us that if we were to search the whole world looking for someone who is by his own effort righteous before Holy God, we wouldn't find even one. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus illustrated this truth with a simple story. There were two very different men who came to pray before God. One, a religious leader, appeared to have everything going for himself. There were many good things that he did, and many wicked deeds he avoided. Then there was the tax collector. This man undoubtedly had done far worse things, according to the judgment of man, than the religious leader. The first man approached God on his own terms, wearing his own righteousness. The second man, knowing that he was unworthy to approach God, called out for mercy. Jesus tied the story up with a bow when He plainly indicated that the unworthy sinner who knew his need for mercy, was the one who went away justified, declared not guilty. Time for the Good News.
Second, the Good News:
Even though we can't possibly earn God's favor, Titus 3:4-5 and Ephesians 2:8-9 let us know that, when we empty our hands of our own effort, we are free to be filled with Jesus' Gift. It is a right standing with God that Paul the apostle knew was not based on anything he had to offer God, Philippians 3:3-9. It is what has often been called the great exchange. We give God all of our sin, and He gives us all of Jesus' righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21. No matter how much sin we have committed, Jesus bore it all, and His righteousness will cover it all. The only things we can offer the Savior along with our sin, are our guilt and shame, Psalm 32:1-2. What a Savior. He bore those too!
I know Jay will not read this, but perhaps by God's providence, someone like Jay might. Oh, how we who belong to Jesus want you to know how much God loves you and desires that you turn your life over to Him.
Father, please open the eyes of Jay and all whom we love to both their need of a Savior and Your personal love for them.