I can still remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. My dad and I were sitting on our back deck talking during what would turn out to be he and Mom’s last visit to our house before he passed from cancer in February 2020. “You know,” he said, “when you kids were growing up, we were all legalists.”
Needless to say, I was startled by this admission. He went on: “Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but back then we were a lot like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.” When I thought about it, I realized he was right. Although we were raised in a Biblically-based church, there was much emphasis on “rules.” We tended to judge ourselves and other Christians by how well they adhered to these rules. It was as if we were trying curry favor with God by how well we performed even as we affirmed that salvation was by grace alone!
In the corporate world, there is a lot of emphasis on “performance-based compensation” – that is, an employee is paid based on how well he or she performs. Too often, this kind of thinking is carried over to our daily Christian walk. We somehow think that salvation is “performance-based,” that in some way we can gain more approval or love from God by toeing the line. And if we don’t, we fear that God will “kick us to the curb” and move on to someone more worthy.
Make no mistake, God IS pleased when we follow His principles (1 John 5:2) and grieved when we choose our own selfish path (Ephesians 4:30). And, we have to live with the consequences of those bad choices. But, if you have been saved by God’s grace, there is nothing you or I can do to make Him love you more (or love you less, for that matter). There is nothing you or I can do to gain more of His approval. He views you and me through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness. God sees you and me as righteous, because Jesus is righteous, not because of any righteousness of our own (Titus 3:5-7).
If we are true children of God, then our good works should flow out of us as a result of Jesus living inside of us and through the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). True righteousness is not a result of our performance against a list of externally imposed rules, it is the result of our faith (James 2:21-23) and should be an outgrowth of the Holy Spirit in us, working to make us more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28,29).
Perhaps we all need to examine our motives for the “good things” we do for God. Are we doing these things as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work within us? Or are we merely trying to win God’s approval or earn His love? Let me say it again: if we are saved by God’s grace alone, there is NOTHING we can do to make Him love us any more or less than He already does! It was that love which motivated God to send His Son to die as a sacrifice on our behalf. And it’s that love that should motivate us to “be rich in good works” (1 Timothy 6:18) and not merely follow a set of rules!
About the Author
Tim Carman is a semi-retired aerospace engineer and native Iowan who has been married to Sandra for 37+ years. He and his wife have two grown children and one grandchild and live in rural Clark County, Missouri.