Likely you have already met many people who are trying to rely on their good works to reach heaven. “I’m sure a lot better than Hitler or Stalin,” they boldly declare, assured that they must be doing something right in life after all.
Whenever one of these “righteous” people crosses my path, I can’t help but recall the encounter between a certain rich young ruler and Jesus. He, too, believed that his good works would provide him eternal life: “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ The man inquired. Jesus replied, ‘”Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”‘ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?'” (Matt 19:16 – 20)
Notice the emphasis in the dialogue of that young man:
1. “What … must I do”. To him, working for his salvation was a chore!
2. “Which ones?” It seems he was interested in doing minimal work to obtain what he was after.
3. “All these I have kept”. There seems to be a lot of pride in this young man’s heart, especially since God’s Word emphases: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3:23 NIV)
But then again, are we any better?
This young man was so sure of himself that he made the mistake of asking: “What do I still lack?” The answer put him at a crossroad where he would have to either choose a life of sacrifice or a life of self-indulgence.
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matt 19:21-22)
What is very troubling about this true story is the reaction of Jesus’ own disciples!
“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?'” (Matt.19:25)
One thing is for certain, anyone who relies on the “I’ and on his own works will fall far short!
“But I sacrificed so much of my money to help the poor! That should count for something!”
But not enough for a ticket to heaven!
“But I tried to obey everything that my church tells me I need to do. I spend so much of my time in numerous committees!”
This, too, is not enough for a ticket to heaven!
Remember: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3 NIV)
Jesus confirms this in His reply to His disciples: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”” (Matt 19: 26 NIV)
We cannot be saved by our own merit! How presumptuous our “I” can become! Salvation by works is but an insignificant vapour in God’s eyes! We cannot save ourselves, just as a drowning man cannot save himself! It is impossible!
It’s not all about us, but about Him! Jesus is the One who does the impossible!
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9 NIV)
In my frivolous young days, I, too, believed in relying on my own efforts. Not only for my salvation, but also at school. During high school, for some reason I had trouble passing English. My big question to my teacher was: “What can I do to improve my grade?”
I expected one of the following answers: “Practice more translating from one language to another.” (English to Dutch and vice-versa, as I was attending a public high school in Belgium.) Or “Read more English books and watch the BBC.” Or “Try to practice speaking English with those who can.”
Instead I received the following dreadful message from my English teacher: “You will never be able to speak English!”
I felt completely deflated, just like that rich young ruler in Jesus’ days!
I persisted, however, and I went for English tutoring during the summer. I then retook my exams, and this time I passed. Just barely, however. My English mark was always my lowest grade on my report card, and it seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I was doomed for mediocrity. I started to believe that, indeed, I was destined to never, ever be able to speak this language.
Then one day, while attending seminary in France, I met a group of Americans on an exchange program. Although they were supposedly there to learn French, they spoke English all the time. I started hanging out with them, and before I knew it, I was able to speak English. A local high school even asked me if I could tutor students having difficulties learning English!
That year I experienced grace. I didn’t learn to speak English through my own merit, I learned it through God’s providence! That eventually led me to discover that salvation is quite similar to my own experiences. It is impossible to save ourselves! We have fallen too deeply into depravity to ever get out of it by ourselves! Only through the Miracle Worker, Jesus, the Christ, is it possible for us to obtain not only hope, but salvation as well!
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23 NIV)
Are you tired of your ineffective and wearisome endeavours to obtain grace? Why not drop all pretences and accept God’s offer! Let Him turn the impossible into the possible! He loves you so much that He willingly died for you so that you could be saved. But not through your own efforts! Through His grace alone!
Wow! Thank you, Jesus! You are the best!
(To view the entire “The “I” devotional series, please click here.)