Much of the world throughout history has been trying to earn its way into heaven (or nirvana, Shangri-La, Moksha, Elysium, Jannah, Fiddler’s Green, Utopia, Valhalla, Goloka…), but it’s just not possible. We can’t ever be good enough to earn our own way.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags… (Isaiah 64:6)
Nothing we do goes toward eliminating our sin debt. Jesus had to settle the debt for us. He paid the price that we couldn’t pay in our spiritual poverty.
But even Christians who accept that they are going to heaven only by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus still try to earn God’s approval. Many of us do good works so that God will be happy with us, so that He won’t be disappointed. We imagine that God is like Santa Claus, with a long list of the naughty and nice things we do, and we really want our nice things to outweigh the naughty ones.
Here’s a difficult truth to swallow:
God is already happy with us.
More than happy, God is pleased with us!
Read it again.
Do you believe it?
It’s hard to accept, because we know about all the bad things we do. We know we don’t deserve God’s pleasure, because we struggle every day with submitting our will under His authority. But God’s pleasure isn’t dependent on our behaviors. He is pleased with WHO we are even when He’s not pleased with what we DO.
And our sin doesn’t make us less righteous or less justified or less holy in His sight, because it’s really not about us. It’s about Jesus. No matter how far from perfection we are, Jesus makes up the difference. When the Father looks at us, He sees the righteousness of His Son.
Isaiah can help here:
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
Jesus did two things for us:
1) He clothed us with salvation (i.e., we get to go to heaven).
2) He dressed us up in a robe of righteousness (i.e., He covered our unrighteousness with His righteousness).
Just like we can’t earn our salvation, we can’t earn our righteousness. It’s a gift. That’s why Jesus could tell the disciples:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
There’s no way they could have accomplished perfection on their own, but God’s plan is:
You do what you can; Jesus will make up the difference.
We still have our part to play. We are to do what we can. But even if we turn in a miserable performance, we are still righteous in God’s sight, because Jesus makes up the difference. And when we are doing what we can, we aren’t earning; we are returning.
Through obedience and good works, we give back to God what He has given to us. You see, we can only do good through God’s grace. He gives us the heart to do good; He gives us the energy; He gives us the talent or the money or the time…. Anything good we do originates with God. And truth be told, we are only returning a fraction of what He has given us.
For example, when we tithe, we give God ten percent of what we earn. But where did the ability to earn the 100% come from? Where did the job come from? Where did the talent and skill and knowledge come from? It all came from God. It’s like He handed us one hundred dollars and asked for only ten back. We are only returning a portion of what He gave us, and He’s okay with that because He enjoys giving good things to His children.
So we don’t do good to earn His love; we do it to return His love. Out of gratitude. Out of a joyful heart that recognizes that there’s nothing to earn – that we already have all the righteousness that we need and that we have God’s pleasure despite what we DO because of WHO we are (i.e., His children)!