I listened to a great sermon by Paul Rasmussen recently, and I wanted to share what I learned with you.
Paul talked about the tension Christians sometimes feel in their lives between grace and good works. The tension looks something like this: We are taught that we are made right with God through grace—it isn’t linked to anything we do. However, we are also taught that faith without works is dead—so there is a sense of responsibility we have as Christians to do good works. How do those two things fit together?
Here is what Paul said: First, it is important to understand that we are okay in our relationship with God because of grace. That should be our starting place and foundation as Christians. We don’t need to worry about whether we are ‘doing enough’ to be okay with God, because our standing with God doesn’t have anything to do with our behavior or being ‘good enough.’
A lot of times, we don’t trust in God’s grace. We still operate our lives in such a way that we try to do a bunch of things to ‘convince’ God that we are good enough, that we are okay. If you are a religious person, think about why you do all the religious stuff you do. Do you do it so that you can convince God (and yourself) that you are okay? You don’t have to do that! God’s already okay with you. If your motivation for doing religious stuff is to be okay in your relationship with God, it’s not worth it. You would be better off spending your time doing something else.
But if we are already okay in the eyes of God, where do good works fit into the equation? Why should we do any good at all? Paul’s answer was that we do good works, because the point of religion is to love and serve others. Good works aren’t about me and me feeling like I have earned a right standing with God. Good works are about loving and serving others.
Jesus said that all the religious laws and rules could be boiled down to one statement: love God and love others. Think about all the religious rules you try to follow. For example, we are told that we shouldn’t steal. We aren’t supposed to avoid stealing just because it’s a rule, as if following the rule will somehow make us okay in the eyes of God. We aren’t supposed to steal because it hurts the person we steal from.
There’s this great passage in the book of Matthew that talks about the point of religion being for others and not me. Jesus is talking about what separates the righteous from the unrighteous.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:34-40).
Religion isn’t about you, and getting yourself right with God. That’s already taken care of. Religion is about loving and serving others. How do we love God? Love and serve the least of these.
Discussion: Why do you do religious stuff? Is it more about you, and trying to convince yourself (and God) that you are okay? Or is it more about loving and serving others?