"It's the Bible. You get credit for trying"
Do we get credit for trying? Can we earn God's favor by our good deeds? Many seem to think that if we just try our best, God will surely have favor on us, save us from our sin and give us eternal life. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an age-old lie that has been around for centuries.
In "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" we catch a glimpse of this false idea that we can somehow put forth a good effort and God will be pleased with us. In the scene titled "Divine Providence", the two characters Pintel and Ragetti while serving under Jack Sparrow, are adrift in a row boat on the high seas. As Pintel rows the boat, Ragetti is thumbing through the pages of a Bible acting like he’s actually reading it. The dialog goes something like this:
Ragetti: “Well I say it was divine providence that escaped us from jail”
Pintel: ”Well, I say it was me being clever. Ain’t that right poochie (the dog)”
Ragetti: “Well how’d you know it wasn’t divine providence that inspired you to be clever. Anyways, I ain’t stealing no ship”
Pintel: “It ain’t stealing. Its salvaging. Since when did you care”
Ragetti: “Since we’re not immortal no more. We’ve got to take care of our mortal selves”
Pintel: “You know you can’t read”
Ragetti: “It’s the Bible you get credit for trying”.
Pintel: “Pretending to read the Bible, that’s a lie”
The hard truth is this. The only credit we will get is not what we think. The only thing we can offer God or contribute to our salvation is our sin, resistance, and rebellion towards Him. That’s it! That’s the best we have to offer, and it doesn’t look good for any of us.
All religions with the exception of Christianity are predicated upon a performance- based system of works and attainment. Christianity is the only religion based on faith that produces good works, while all other religions rely upon works to attain to a faith which is really no faith at all.
Some Christians today have bought into this same lie of acquiring God’s favor and grace by their own efforts as actions, and they live out a performance-based salvation. They speak of God’s grace and shout out a hearty amen whenever the word is mentioned, but live out their lives often times plagued with fear, guilt, and an unsettling feeling of where they actually stand with God. For others, they turn up their noses smug with pride actually believing that they are pulling it off, that is living the Holy life. They gladly welcome grace talk, yet they turn and walk away only to work on their new list of “to-do's” they got from last Sunday’s sermon. I myself once lived this unsettling life of uncertainty as I sought to acquire jewels in my crown, add rooms to my mansion in Heaven, earn rewards, and secure multiple blessings for myself.
The songs we listen to, the books we read, the sermons we hear, the Bible studies we attend, not to mention all the media outlets out there, TV, radio, and the internet all play some part in shaping and determining our doctrine and theology, that which we believe to be true. This accumulative effect ultimately dictates how we live out our Christian lives. A constant and steady diet of self-improvement, purposeful living, and moralism among many other popular teachings has developed a performance-based mentality for many Christians. I’ve heard this time and time again. “Justification is God’s part and Sanctification is man’s part.” God is responsible for initiating our salvation, but it’s up us to continue in the faith through discipline and obedience to His word. This is not true! Both Justification and Sanctification together are the work of God alone. He initiates and works out our salvation to its completion in us and through us. What Christ did on the cross in His dying and rising from the grave is the cause of our salvation and what He does daily in His Word and Sacrament strengthens and preserves us steadfast in the true faith. “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”1 Corinthians 6:11
The Bible reveals to us God’s redemptive plan of salvation for mankind through the work His Son Jesus Christ in His death burial and resurrection from the dead on our behalf. This is the Gospel. Everything in the Bible before Christ’s work on the cross points us to this great event, and everything in the Christian life must flow out it. Again, I’m reminded of hearing another phrase often quoted in Evangelical circles “It’s deeds not creeds.” It’s as though the Christian life is all about how we are to conduct ourselves though still sinners, rather than what we believe to be true about Christ our savior who rescues sinners.“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”Romans 4:4-5
To put things in their proper perspective or correct order is to place Christ first and everything in life will flow out of that. Our deeds will help or save us not, but are the natural fruits wrought in those who are connected to Christ. The Bible is exceedingly more than an owner’s manual with rules and principles on how to live out the Christian life. Of course, the Bible teaches Godly living, but that is subordinate to Christ and His work. No doubt, good works will flow naturally out of the believer justified and sanctified by Grace through Faith in Christ. ”As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”James 2:26
The only works God is pleased with are those done by faith. They are the works worked by God and manifested in the Christian. All other works done apart from faith have the dirty fingerprints of the sinful flesh all over them. Works done apart from faith are motivated by self- interest and seek personal gain. They please God not and gain us nothing before Him. Although they can bring about some temporal earthly benefit, nevertheless God can still use them to carry out and accomplish His will here on earth. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”Ephesians 2:8-10
In the magazine "Modern Reformation", Jerry Bridges states in his article “Gospel Driven Sanctification”, “It is the Gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God, but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life and sin-bearing death.” A proper understanding of Salvation and the forgiveness of sins, how it comes to us, and how it is preserved is critical knowledge for the Christian in living out a correct and healthy relationship with God and his neighbor. In light of this, one must have a proper understanding of the Bible that puts Christ at the center of all things and clearly distinguishes between Law and Gospel. This will show us what the Christian life is to be like. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”1Timothy 2:3-6