In a previous post, I shared that we shouldn’t do good works to earn God’s love (we already have it!); we should do good works to return His love (out of gratitude).
This is key, because so many of us are trying to earn something that we already have. God takes pleasure in us because of WHO we are even when what we DO is disobedient, sinful and evil. When we try to earn His love, our heart is in the wrong place. We are starting with the wrong motive.
Take a look at this model. When our heart starts from the wrong motive (i.e., trying to EARN God’s love), there is never a good outcome. If we succeed in our good works, we tend to get prideful and self-righteous. If we fail to accomplish our good works, we are filled with guilt and self-condemnation. (This is the “bad guilt” that keeps condemning us even after we have repented of our sins, and it is often the motivation for our works when we are doing them for the wrong reasons.)
However, if we start from the right motive in our hearts (i.e., trying to RETURN God’s love), both our successes and our failures are pleasing in God’s sight. If we succeed, we are grateful to God for allowing us to do the good works. We rightly understand that we could not have accomplished them without God’s provision and grace, and we commit to serving the Lord in even greater ways.
If we fail in our best intentions, though, it leads us to humility and repentance. These are pleasing to God, and He uses them as a tool to shape us more in His likeness. No Christian should expect to succeed in his good intentions all the time. Failure is an important part of the shaping process. There is an aspect of guilt here, but it is “good guilt” – the kind that leads us to recognize our sin and repent of it. “Good guilt” never continues after repentance.
When our good works are motivated by love, the outcome will always be that we draw closer to God. When they are motivated by guilt and a desire to earn His favor, they will always draw us away from Him – even when we think we must be getting closer. (Consider how far from God the Pharisees were despite their meticulous tithing and obedience to the letter of the Law.)
There is nothing left to earn. Christ paid that debt fully on the cross. We have His holiness and His righteousness. It’s 100% done! All we can do with our own efforts is show our appreciation.