America is a hard working nation. The average workweek is no longer 40 hours a week, but 50, 60, or even 70 hours a week. Why do we work so hard and for so long? We have been told no one is going to do it for us and so we operate under the mentality that we have to go out there and earn it ourselves. While that is partly true in the secular world, it is not true when it comes to salvation found in Christ.
Sadly, many have applied this concept of ‘earning it yourself’ to Christian life. They live by the motto ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ If we do our part, then God will do his part. Even though that may sound right to our ears and in our culture, it is not true.
What Does Living By This Motto Mean?
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
Paul is saying that if we believe we need to do something other than have faith in Christ for salvation, we do not understand the gospel. Instead of understanding Christ we have rejected him and are obligated to keep the whole law, which cannot be done.
So then, by thinking we can add works or merit to the gospel we will earn acceptance with God, we, in fact, do the opposite. We do not gain the acceptance from God for which we were hoping. God doesn’t help those who help themselves. God helps those who can’t help themselves. That may come as a shock, but that is what Scripture tells us.
By thinking we have to do our part, we prove we don’t believe Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient; we believe we have to make up for something that it lacks.
Christ’s sacrifice, however, lacks nothing. His work on the cross sufficiently paid the price for our sins – past, present, and future. We do not need to do anything to earn or pay God back for our salvation. Christ paid it all and earned it all for us.
How Do We Try To Earn God’s Acceptance?
Even though the Bible tells us that we are accepted and made righteous because of Christ’s work–not because of our works–we still have a tendency to try and earn God’s acceptance. Why do we do this knowing it doesn’t work? The temptation of moralism is powerful. It fits within the framework of our society.
Moralism is the idea that we can earn righteousness, or acceptance through our works, and it is inherent in our DNA; it is natural to us.
For example, if you do well in school, you will be rewarded with recognition or accepted into an elite program. If you do well at work, you will be acknowledged and promoted. This is how our society works, but it isn’t how the gospel works.
In order to combat something so natural to us, we must know what things we typically add to the gospel. If we know some of the things we add to the gospel, we can watch out for them and seek to rid them from our lives.
What Are The Things We Add To The Gospel?
Before we get into it, let me first say, we should do all of the following, but for different reasons. The reason we do them is because Christ has made us righteous, not in order to gain acceptance or righteousness.
What are the things we may add to the gospel, thinking we become more righteous by doing them?
A Quiet Time – Some believe that if they miss their quiet time they will loose God’s acceptance and things will go bad for them. It is almost as if they treat their quiet time like Karma. However, the reason we do a quiet time is to commune with God, learn more about him, and how he would have us live in his kingdom, not so that things will go well for us.
Church Attendance – There are those in the Church who think themselves superior to others and more accepted by God because they come to church every time the doors are open. Yes, we should attend church services. The reason we attend should be to fellowship with, encourage, and serve other believers; worship the Lord; and learn more about our Savior, not to make ourselves more righteous or acceptable to God.
Holding to a Certain Political View – In the South, I think we have this false notion that being a Republican is the same as being a Christian. Well, not necessarily. There are some who genuinely follow Christ who politically identify with Democrats or Independents. In order to come to Christ, you don’t have to change your political affiliation; you only have to believe in Jesus as your savior. That doesn’t mean; however, all believers should not hold to their party affiliations without biblical discernment.
Social Justice – It is right and good to fight and provide for the needs of others. Scripture calls us to love our neighbor, take care of widows and orphans, and provide for the poor and needy. All these things, however, are the result of the gospel melting our heart of stone into hearts of flesh. In other words, we do them because we have been made righteous, not to gain righteousness.
Being on Mission – Our God is a God of mission. He both calls us and uses us to accomplish His mission. While it is true a large number of Christians avoid, or half-heartedly accept God’s call to mission, those who actively take it up are not more righteous than those who do not. I need to be careful here because I do not want to discount the necessity to be on God’s mission. I do, however, want to make sure those who label themselves as missional do not create a false sense of superiority, or believe they are more accepted for their labors. We are on God’s mission because He has called us to it, not to puff ourselves up or gain greater acceptance from God.
Community – Since we are made in the image of God, community is in our DNA. The Trinity has existed in community for all eternity, serving, loving, and glorifying one another. We are called to reflect or image that community here on earth as those redeemed by Christ. By God’s grace some reflect that relationship better than others. Where I believe some go wrong is to believe better community equals greater acceptance from God. The only reason, however, we can exist in community with one another is because the gospel has changed our heart. Better community then does not equal greater acceptance from God. Better community is the result of God’s work in the gospel.
Other things we may have a tendency to add to the gospel are:
- Community service
- Home schooling
- Eating organic
Again, all these things are right and good, but none of these things make us more acceptable to God. We are justified by faith alone. You see, in Christ, we are as accepted as we will ever be. We can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable. Nor do we need to do anything. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is sufficient.
Attempting to gain acceptance outside of Christ, will merit us nothing but exhaustion, because our work will never be done. Exhaustion will turn into anxiety because we never know if God accepts us or not. Exhaustion and anxiety will turn into distress, and finally disappointment as we realize we cannot be made righteous through our own work.
In addition, by adding these things to the gospel message we functionally prove we don’t believe Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient. Rather, we prove we actually believe we have to make up for something that it lacks. But what Paul is telling us, and why this message is so important, is that if we think we must add to the gospel in order to be saved, or to maintain our righteousness, even though we say we believe in Christ as our Savior, we may not be saved.
So as Christians, we have to examine our hearts. We have to ask ourselves why we do the things we do. Is it because Christ has saved us and the Holy Spirit is working in us to produce the fruits of righteousness through the means of grace? Or is it because we think we have to do these things in order to either gain or maintain our acceptance with God? Your answer will be telling of your understanding of the gospel.
God Helps Those Who Humble Themselves
God does not help those who help themselves; God helps those who humble themselves. He helps those who completely and utterly depend on Him for salvation. He helps those who see Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient and who do not attempt to earn his acceptance through their work.
God wants us to depend on him completely and to trust that Jesus’ sacrifice is all we need for salvation. If we are trying to help ourselves, then we do not really understand the gospel. We do not really know what it means to accept God’s free grace for our sins. We do not understand that all our works are like filthy rags and they are not able to merit us even one ounce of God’s acceptance.
We are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, which means we must stop laboring for God’s acceptance. We must stop laboring for our salvation. We must trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation! Once we realize our salvation doesn’t come through our labors but Christ’s, we can then labor for the right reason. We can labor because we have been accepted, not for acceptance.
Questions for Reflection
- Have you thought in the past that you need to earn your acceptance with God?
- Do you believe you need to pay God back for your salvation?
- How freeing was it for you when you realized that salvation was by faith alone?
- If we do not earn salvation from God through our works, why do we work?
- What or whom empowers us to work?
This post was also posted at Gospel Centered Discipleship. Click here to view my post there. You can also download a PDF copy if you are interested. While you are at it, check out some of their other work.