Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working for Heaven?

Earn ItToday’s post is third in a series from John 6 on why some people believe and others do not. Read Do You Believe the Impossible? to set the stage for today’s topic. The first reason why some do not believe was The Spiritual Nature of Jesus' Mission. This post discusses the second reason:  The Gracious Nature of Jesus' Offer
A church had a yard sale. Well, it was actually a storage room giveaway. The pastor said, “We didn’t really sell anything. We had so much stuff that it took up too much space. Also, we wanted to reach out to the community. As people came up we told them, ‘Everything is free! Take as much home as you can. We want you to have it.’ People responded in curious ways. Many were noticeably uncomfortable. Some didn’t come thinking there was a catch. Others refused to leave without paying. Others, after much convincing, finally took the stuff to their cars, not believing their good fortune. And I thought to myself, ‘That’s pretty much the way people are about God’s grace.’ We insist on paying or working for it.”
The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?).
In John 6 a crowd had followed Jesus. He told them about, “eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27). He offered a gift. They offered to pay for it. They responded with the question, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" And in asking this question they demonstrate their world view. They think that eternal life is all about pleasing God through doing good works.
John Stott writes of man trying to justify himself by works, "It has been the religion of the ordinary man both before and since. It is the religion of the man-in-the-street today. Indeed, it is the fundamental principle of every religious and moral system in the world except New Testament Christianity. It is popular because it is flattering. It tells a man that if he will only pull his socks up a bit higher and try a bit harder, he will succeed in winning his own salvation. But it is a fearful delusion. It is the biggest lie of the biggest liar the world has ever known, the devil, whom Jesus called ‘the father of lies.’ Nobody has ever been justified by the works of the law, for the simple reason that nobody has ever perfectly kept the law."
Instead Jesus says to come by faith. Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." (John 6:29). Believe, it sounds too easy for some. They want to work for it, to earn it. But you cannot earn a gift, that is the nature of a gift. An old Middle Eastern story shows the futility of salvation by works:
A man was traveling on his donkey when he came upon a small fuzzy object lying in the road. He dismounted to look more closely and found a sparrow lying on its back with its scrawny legs thrust skyward. At first he thought the bird was dead, but close investigation proved it to be very much alive. The man asked the sparrow if he was all right. The sparrow replied, “Yes.” The man said, “What are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed toward the sky?” The sparrow responded that he had heard a rumor that the sky was falling. The man replied, “You surely don’t think you’re going to hold the sky up with those two scrawny legs, do you?” The sparrow replied, “One does the best he can.”
The little bird’s futile works were obvious. In the same way man’s condition is so desperate that his works are no more effective than a bird’s legs in the air trying to hold up the sky. No one will ever be saved by works.
Believe. So easy a child can do it. So hard the wisest stumble over it. The humble receive it. The proud refuse it.
Have you seen people who refuse to believe because they are trying to earn God’s favor?
Next post will look at the supernatural nature of Jesus' claims.


  1. I linked this on Twitter and Facebook I liked it so much.

    Especially the part where it said,.....well forget it, I liked the whole thing.

  2. Kevin, Thanks. There is so much more to be said on this subject. Someday I will write about it.

    Your story about your dog named Sue on your blog illustrates well the futility of our own self-efforts.


  3. I think that Christians only stumble over this one because of the whole "works perfects faith" thing. That we act out of faith and belief and not that our acts give us faith and belief....or something like that. I always get this one confused but I love the way you break it down to the story of the bird. We can no more earn salvation than we can hold the weight of the sky.

  4. Sage, We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but the faith that saves will be a fatih that works. We are not saved by works but we work because we have been saved by faith.

  5. I can't add anything to what you have said. I pray that I never do anything that would cheapen God's gift of grace.

  6. Larry, Bonhoeffer said, "Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves ... grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."


  7. This is the story of all man-made religions: works. "What man must do" versus Christianity's "what God has done."


Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts and opinions on this post.