This might be the most important message many of us will ever hear.
WILL MY GOOD DEEDS OUTWEIGH THE BAD?
THE BRICKS AND THE SCALE
“Grace (Nothing at all)”
“I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your favor
I have done nothing at all in my life, to earn your love
I have been broken and bruised by my sin and my folly
But you have been broken for me redeeming me with your blood
And how is it that I am accepted?
How is it that I am made clean?
Why should you even care for a wretch like me?
And how is it that I am made righteous?
And how is it that you have saved me?
Why would you choose to die for a wretch like me?
You have been longsuffering, as I have tested your patience
You have been calling to me, as I have wandered from you
But you go to great lengths to prove that you still care
And you went to great lengths to woo my heart back to you
Your blood cries out Father forgive them
Your blood cries out Father I love them”
(Lyrics to “Grace” – a song by Daniel & Catherine Lovett)
(The following was written awhile ago)
A few years ago, I had an epiphany – an insight into something that was ingrained in my thinking patterns. I know that I had learned this same lesson on several occasions before, but a dialogue I had with my wife drilled it home once again. Here is how that went down:
My wife and I were visiting with my sister-in-law Stacy. During our visit, Stacy told us that she had felt ill for the past few months and after many visits to the doctor she was just told that she has cancer. The doctor had given her about a year to live. Of course this news was a blow to my wife and I. We couldn’t imagine how they were handling the fact that she was facing imminent death.
The thing that amazed me the most was that she was more worried about her husband having to raise the kids by himself than the fact that she was going to die. During our visit I did not sympathize as I should have. Instead I said something like, “Well, we all are going to die.” I went on to philosophize about death and how we are all living on borrowed time anyway and how fragile life really is and what a miracle it is that any of us are breathing. It was very eloquent.
On the way home my wife confronted me about my lack of compassion. I became instantly defensive, and then went into a tirade of how I must be condemned because I have no love in my heart and where is the activity of God in my life anyway that I should be such a heartless jerk? I was being slightly facetious because, in fact, I really did love myself and thought very well of me. I must humbly admit in retrospect however, that I was very wrong. Anyway, most of what spewed from my mouth left me feeling terrible and alienated from God.
The next day I started once again in the new mercies of God, but I had to ask myself why did I react in this way? Then this thought hit me:
“Will my good deeds outweigh my bad?”
I realized then that I had been carrying around a “scale”, so to speak, that weighed and measured my good deeds against my bad deeds. My worth depended on how well I performed and how well that scale was balanced.
This mentality was so deep-seated in me that I reacted badly when anyone dared to confront me with a fault. It was as if they were adding one more brick to the ‘bad deeds’ side of the scale. For this reason, I hated taking responsibility. In fact, I hated words such as “responsible” and “accountable”. I didn’t want to face the punishment for my own sins, much less be held responsible for another and have their blood on my head. This was why I, in the past, I didn’t function so well as a worship leader in “church leadership”. I felt that I was responsible for people’s souls and I could not cope with that. Of course this is just one of the many ungodly beliefs that over my lifetime have become embedded in the gray matter.
I began to recognize that many people operate out of this mentality in which they “hope” that their good deeds will outweigh their bad in the end. Whole religious systems of thought are based on this idea. This way of thinking led me to try to seek approval through performing well. I thought that by just adding more good bricks to the good side of the scale that things will all work out in the end, and in the meantime, I will feel better about myself and be accepted.
My good bricks were my good deeds. For instance, if I played spiritual concerts for the elderly at nursing homes and assisted living places, then I would be accepted and approved by God. Each “successful” concert left me feeling much better. In fact I only considered a concert a success if it left me feeling better about me. I had to feel good.
It was so thrilling for me when I preached my first sermon, because this was a good and heavy brick. I would definitely be in God’s favor now! I called my mother and left a message for her, “The most exciting thing had happened to me! I just preached my first sermon!” A few days later she called me up and told me how proud of me she was. As she was telling me that, I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I reflected on my initial reaction to “my first sermon” and how excited I was about it, I realized that yes, I could be excited about it, but not for the reasons that I was. I now see that the Lord is just as offended by the good bricks as he is by the bad ones. Trying to earn God’s favor is an insult to his grace.
I have come to see that God doesn’t want us burdened with any bricks (good or bad) that weigh us down and keep us from following him. Besides, the constant balancing act is no way to live. Jesus wants to liberate us and he invites us to drop all of our “bricks” at his feet and learn to walk with him and live for him as we are meant to.
At one point after about nine months of playing hymns for the old folks several times a week the Lord asked me, “So when are you going to start doing these concerts for me?” Wow. His question cut me to the heart.
I was playing these concerts for me. It is true that I became free from a long seven year stretch of chronic depression when I first began to bless the elderly with music. How could I not be changed by a constant interaction with, not only the liberating truth that is in so many classic hymns, but also the love and support of so many of my elders? How could I not be blessed when I have a hundred year old lady shake my hand and say, “God bless you”?
In spite of all the good things that came from all my good deeds, my performance mentality still stood in the way of the relationship that the Lord desired to have with me.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul comments about his Jewish brothers. He says, “I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)
I could identify with this Scripture but I didn’t know how to change. Ever since I became a “Christian” I was always trying to establish my own righteousness. It’s not even that I was raised to think this way, but perhaps this is just a universal human default mentality to want to (or feel like you have to) earn God’s favor. I even once caught myself praying, “Lord, make me worthy of your grace.” I was missing the point of grace altogether.
My own grandfather was once presented with the good news of Jesus by my parents. At the time he told them, “If I can’t have a part in my own salvation, I am not interested.” He has since passed away, and it burdens me now more than ever to think where he might be.
Why is it so ingrained in human nature to want to earn our own way? Why is it so difficult for us to receive God’s saving grace – his unmerited favor and blessing? Our own pride is the enemy of our own salvation.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 NIV)
We must humbly admit that we cannot do a thing to save ourselves (be “poor in spirit”). We must humbly admit that we cannot even add an ounce of our own righteousness to the scales that will somehow make us acceptable to God. On our own, the scales will always be out of balance and never in our favor. Thank God that he does not leave us on our own.
Of course the Lord knows our desperate situation and has given Jesus as his answer. I believe he is telling us to abandon our scales and bricks once and for all and then simply come and follow him. Jesus will teach us how to truly live. He will teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace”. See Matthew 11:28.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
The apostle Paul had a pile of good bricks. He was a pure blooded Israelite. He was able to say that he kept the law faultlessly. He was a Pharisee, the most zealous and strictest sect of the Jewish spiritual leaders. By all appearances he was a model example of spirituality. Yet he says, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9 NIV emphasis mine).
Paul abandoned his bricks for a new approach to spirituality. A spirituality based on and flowing out of an affirming love of God that is entirely separate from any good deeds.
Think about it. Before Jesus had even begun his ministry, his Father spoke from heaven affirming him with his love saying, “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life.” (Matthew 3:17)
As you trust in Jesus, the Father will speak those same words over you. You become the delight of his life. As you trust in Jesus, you become his beloved. As you trust in Jesus, you become a member of Christ’s body – part of Christ himself! As you trust in Jesus, the Father says that he loves you as much as he loves Jesus! Because you are one with Christ and in Him!
This is the ‘mystery’ that Paul keeps referring to throughout his letters. This is what Paul was so excited about that even imprisonment, beatings, persecutions, and all the other sufferings and hardships that Paul experienced did nothing to dampen this flame of Christ within him! This was Paul’s cause to live and to die for – Christ, the one new man – “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NIV).
O God, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that we no longer need to sweat about our own efforts and our lack of “measuring up”. Thank you for Jesus, your gift to us, who did all the measuring up for us on our behalf. Thank that as we simply trust Jesus, we are included in all that you have planned – all of the wondrous and beautiful and glorious blessings that you delighted so much in planning for us to experience.
We trust you. We trust in you our kind Creator and our good shepherd. We trust your good intentions for us and in your salvation which runs far deeper than we can even or ever imagine. We thank you that our salvation is not depended on our own efforts, but that you have freely given salvation to us all who least deserve such a gift. Help us to receive your grace well and learn to, once and for all, lay down the scale and the bricks at your feet… at the cross.