Scripture Sunday: Ephesians 2:8-9
Image Credits: @jaylynnscraps
If you ask the average American Christian the way to get to heaven, most will respond with some variation of living “good lives” or being “good people.” That is the typical cultural mindset. Since the majority of Americans aren’t murderers or anything of the sort, most feel that they are in the clear, that they are “good enough.” But how is it really determined what is good enough? And if we do not actually know the standard of how “good” we have to be, how can we ever be at peace with our lives – won’t we live in constant fear that we have not attained the necessary “goodness” standard?
There are clearly serious issues with the vague answer of being “good people.” But even more than these logistical errors, the approach of earning God’s favor based upon goodness misses the very core of the gospel message, which we celebrate today on Resurrection Sunday. The gospel of Christ teaches that we can never be good enough on our own. We are told that we all fall devastatingly short of God’s standard because of an incurable malady of the soul called sin. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that the sole source of salvation is the grace of God through Jesus Christ, as it reads: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
As sinful beings who are unable to meet God’s standard of perfection in our lives, we clearly have a problem. God calls us to holiness, yet we have rebelled in our sinfulness. The consequence of our rebellion is death and forever separation from the Creator. God, in His unconditional love for us despite our rebellious ways, sought a solution to the problem. He promised to send a servant, a deliverer to pay the price of our sins. He sent Jesus, who was both fully God and fully man, to the earth over 2,000 years ago to take that death penalty upon Himself. And He did not stay dead; rather, He conquered it and rose from the grave three days later. As fully deity and fully human (as demonstrated by the resurrection), He is the only perfect and permanent sacrifice for our sins. His death is the only bridge that mends the divide between God and man.
It is by God’s unending love and His display of mercy and grace that our sins can be forgiven; this strips us of any need to earn salvation by good deeds. But why do so many people still believe that their works can earn them a favorable standing with God?
I think that part of the issue lies in the culture we have fostered. American culture teaches that that for which we work, we will earn. If we do not work for it, we do not deserve it; therefore, we should not have it. The concept of a freely-given, completely undeserved gift can sometimes feel strange and disingenuous.
Of course, I am not discouraging a hard work ethic; the Bible tells us to enjoy the fruits of our labor. However, if we allow the “you only get what you earn” mindset invade our perspective about God and our salvation, we are viewing Him improperly. Jesus came to the earth to save for exactly the reason that we cannot earn God’s favor or eternal life. We are so hopeless on our own that God had to step in; He had to punish sin, but He sent His Son to take it upon Himself so that we would not have to bear the penalty. Further, He offers to us the salvation He purchased on the cross – we can live free of the punishment of sin and with the hope of eternal life with Him. That is the grace of God on display.
When we turn to Him in recognition of our inability to save ourselves and in awe of His saving work on the cross with repentance and faith, we step into forever friendship with the Father. It is only by grace, through faith, that we are saved; it can never be a result of our works – we are simply not good enough, and God is simply too good.
Further, salvation on the basis of grace eliminates any boasting we can do of ourselves. If we are all saved by the same blood of Christ, we are equal before Him. We can only boast in the Savior who delivered us from death by His own.
The gospel of Jesus Christ that we remember and celebrate today is truly world-shattering and life-altering. It is a message unlike any other religious doctrine that exists in our world, one that offers us with hope beyond any worldly comfort. The gospel presents the concept of the unmerited favor of God, and as foreign as that may sound to us, it is a striking message. It is so contrary to cultural belief, but it is indescribably freeing: we do not have to seek to earn salvation, but merely accept the gift that Jesus purchased at the cross. How loved by God we must be to be at the receiving end of this grace!
A final note: once we accept the gift He offers in repentance and faith, God will seek to change us. Yes, He redeems us from a life of sin through Christ’s cross, but He also calls us to live holy lives. As the saying goes, He loved us enough to die for us as we were, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. So as we celebrate His love and grace today, we are also reminded to pattern our lives after His holiness, to seek to please Him in every thought, word, and action. Let us boast in this gift of God, and in so doing, live in a manner that points the rest of the world to the Savior Jesus.
Liana is a follower of Christ and current communications student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She enjoys writing, reading, and serving others.
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