I grew up in a very demanding family. I know now that my parents had good motivations; but their insistence that I do my best and only my best at whatever I attempted actually became damaging to me. I internalized the idea that I could only be accepted on the basis of my achievements — that they would only love me when I met their standards.
It was only natural then to believe that God was like my earthly parents. I thought I could only achieve favor in His sight through my accomplishments. And I’m not alone in that. There are many people who think that they can earn God’s love by what they do and that He will only accept them if their good deeds somehow outweigh their sins.
The great Apostle Paul knew what it was like to try to impress God by what he did. Before he gave his life to Christ, he had been a very religious man. As a Pharisee, he had loved the Law of Moses and had done his best to keep it; but even his obedience was marred by sin and failure. He later admitted in his letter to the church in Rome that though he had known the good he should do, he had rarely been able to do it!
In fact, the Bible teaches us that “no one is righteous” by their own effort. James warns in James 1:10 that even if we keep the whole law and yet stumble at just one point we are guilty of breaking all of it! How awful it is to realize that no matter how hard we try, we will never fully meet God’s righteous standard. It was that realization that made Paul cry out to Jesus to forgive him! He asked God for His help; and in his letter to the Romans Paul reveals what God taught him: that righteousness is a gift from God and that it “is by faith from first to last”!
This amazing gift of righteousness comes from God’s love for us, not His demands. Paul declared that: “God demonstrate(d) his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. In His great mercy, God sent His very own Son to pay our debt for sin. Jesus was without sin; and yet He bore the punishment that we deserved. He took our sin upon Himself and died on the cross as our substitute so that we might be set free. By faith in His sacrifice on the cross we are saved and reconciled to God. Faith enables us to receive“the gift of … eternal life”. It was when I understood the love God has for me — a sinner incapable of pleasing Him on my own — that I, like Paul, cried out to Him for forgiveness and He forgave me. Then I knew what the Psalmist said to be true:
“Blessed are those whose transgressions (or lawless acts) are forgiven, whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7-8)
Those who ask for the forgiveness that only Christ can give receive new life in Him and become part of God’s family. And as His beloved children, they willingly and joyfully obey their Heavenly Father’s commands — not to win His favor, but because they have His favor. What a difference His love makes!
© December 2021