Earning It – Or Not
I still find it within me. I’ve taught against the idea for decades. I’ve preached that it is false more times than I can count. But it is still there — the idea that we must be good enough to earn God’s love and grace.
Perhaps it goes back to the American promise that we get what we earn. Come to America, work hard, and you will be rewarded. My favorite expression is the old 1979 John Houseman commercial for Smith Barney (an investment firm) where he tells us in his most serious voice, “They make money the old fashioned way — they earn it.”
I suspect it is even more basic than that, and I see that in the Scripture, the apostle Paul spent a good deal of time dealing with this. Apparently, even then the assumption was that we must earn the love of God. Indeed, this was axiomatic in the other religions of the day.
So Paul tells the Romans (and us!): “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, click here for the full reading) Not “after we dealt with our sin…” Not “after we seriously and fully repented..” The promise is that “While we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
The pressure is off. You don’t have to get there. You don’t have to earn Jesus’ sacrifice. You are worthy because God made you worthy. You are worthy because God loves you that much. God loves you because He made you, not because you earned it!
When we are told not to sin, encouraged to repent deeply and meaningfully, it is not because this is how we earn the love of God. It is because God knows that to live otherwise is to live a self-destructive and futile life!
In a secular society, there is benefit to the principle that we get what we earn. In fact, I think it is essential to a functioning society. But even there, it is not the final principle. To believe so would place us with the like of Hitler who believed that handicapped (or otherwise inferior) people should be euthanized as an unnecessary burden on society. Even in a secular society, our ultimate value must be simply in our humanity, not in what we are able to do or accomplish.
When you find yourself trying to earn the love of God, or wondering if God could really love one such as you, pray that He would show you His love. I believe that is a prayer that will be answered!
This article originally appeared in St. John’s weekly eNews for June 18, 2017. Click here for the complete issue. Click here to get the eNews in your inbox every Thursday afternoon!