It is no secret that I have always been the teacher’s pet. I went to class prepared, sat up front, answered questions, showed respect and never missed because I like “gold stars” by my name. My quest to be the favorite later extended to bosses and managers, basically anyone in authority. Naturally, it excluded my parents, which is normal for a teenager, right?
My husband and I argue plenty about where to sit in church; front row for me, back row for him. The way I see it, if a person is not front and center, literally, the opportunity to be the most favored is practically nonexistent. This is a big deal to me; I not only want to be liked, but I want to be viewed as the model student, worker, church member, if you will, for others around me to emulate. My laid back husband, on the other hand, genuinely couldn’t care less what others think about him in this regard and is quite indifferent to my opinion on the subject. Unlike me, HIS actions don’t derive from the need to impress.
One evening, after stating that I perceived many Christians around me as lazy, we began to argue rather heatedly as I continued down this path. “Why did they not feel the need to do more — to spread the Gospel beyond our community, to attend church regularly, to give time and money to God’s work,” I railed. “Don’t they know that God commanded us to do these things,” and “Are they not afraid that God is going to punish them for disobedience, that they will lose favor in His eyes,” I lamented. “Don’t they understand these are His rules, and we need to follow rules to be approved by God?” My husband just stared at me as these words poured out of my mouth and then simply stated, “You must stop seeing Christianity as a goal to crush; it is not a competition, Laura.” OH, Right. . .
When I was little, I asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me every time I did something wrong because I feared losing my salvation for displeasing God. Once I told a friend that I wished God would put a “certificate of completion” beside my pillow so that I would know I was saved or at least feel like it. Needless to say, I did not wholeheartedly give my life over to Christ until later, but once I did, like a good Baptist, I knew, that I knew, that I knew, and knowing that I AM God’s child has made all the difference. However, as my love for Christ and my desire to please Him grew, the shame and guilt for past sins began to trouble me. A lot. The more people told me what a Godly example I was or what a Christ filled life I lived, the more Satan tried to convince me that I would never be good enough for God’s approval, that my Christian example would never win His favor.
Sure, I knew that God saved me and that he died for my sins, but I had wasted twenty-seven years in rebellion to Him. I had wasted the time, money, and gifts He gave me to serve Him and show God’s love, grace and mercy to people around me. My light not only failed to shine in darkness, I walked in darkness because my deeds were evil, just like God’s Word says. Shame and guilt caused me to go into overdrive mode to “make up” for past transgressions. What’s more, not only did I raise the “spiritual bar” for myself, I raised and held it out for others to meet as well. Doing so only led to a resentful and hardened heart.
During a recent sermon, my pastor reminded me that once we ask Christ to forgive our sins and accept Jesus as our Savior, “He removes our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12 Do you know what that means? It means my sins are gone, G-O-N-E, gone. Everything. No matter what I’ve done, Jesus’ death paid for all my sin, freeing me from shame and guilt, breaking the chains of past mistakes that keep me from living the life sovereign God planned for me. Now, more than ever, Satan, the deceiver, wants me to believe that I could never be good enough for God, so I volunteer for one more “good work,” hoping to erase a past sin. This is not only futile, it is a flat lie. My sins were nailed to the cross and washed away by the precious, sinless blood of Christ. God has not only forgiven me for all of the sins I ever have and ever will commit, He doesn’t even remember them! I am JUSTIFIED in His eyes. God looks upon me as if I’d never sinned. Let me tell ya somethin’, that’s MERCY!
The Bible tells us that faith without good deeds is dead or in vain to God. So yes, it is important for Believers do good in the name of the Lord, BUT our salvation is NOT dependent upon our doing enough good or being good enough but about our being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. God sent His only son to die for you like He did for me, and nothing that I do, no act of service, would ever put me in a better standing with God than you or visa versa. Too often I treat my faith like a job, wanting a good review, maybe even a bonus of sorts for exceptional performance. Setting lofty goals to read through the Bible or to volunteer at new charities or to pray on the hour are not bad, in theory, for they should bring me closer to God; even so, if I do them to be “best in class,” my actions are worthless. God looks at our heart, our motives. He wants us to draw close to Him, to WANT to read our Bible and pray to Him throughout the day because we love Him, not because we fear failing to live up to His holiness and perfection. TRUTH: It is impossible for any of us to ever live up to or do enough good to meet God’s righteous standards this side of eternity. But praise the Lord for CALVARY — Mercy there was great, and grace was free, pardoned there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.
Paul — you’ve read about him, right? The one who literally killed Christians one day and then preached the Gospel the next — talk about how God can use our sinful past for his future Glory! In his letter to the Corinthians he told them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” This really hit home, for Paul did not let his past hinder him from spreading the Good News that Christ came to save sinners of whom he says that he, himself, was “chief.” He did not tell people to imitate him out of self promotion or pride at having achieved some high level form of holiness. No, he simply wanted to encourage us to try to be more like Christ in thought, word and deed. We will never be perfect, but that should not hinder us from striving toward godly righteousness (sanctification), which comes by surrender and obedience to God. During this holy week of Easter when we reflect upon the crucifixion of the Lamb and its atoning, cleansing power to save us from the wrath of God, I can say with assurance that I know that my resurrected Redeemer lives and am ever so thankful for His amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. HE IS RISEN!