One day, I was welcoming a new family to our congregation’s Children’s Ministry. After striking up a conversation with one of the children about his Minecraft-based attire, I thought that I would quiz him with a question I was sure he knew the answer to: “How many sticks does it take to make a workbench in Minecraft?” (To be honest, although I have a basic understanding of crafting in Minecraft, I don’t actually know the recipe. I was pretty sure that this child would know the answer about one of the most basic structures in the game.) The boy answered my question more accurately than I knew: He told me, “You don’t use sticks. You need planks.”
I think that we can all see this principle in other areas of our life: We can’t make a cake without flour and eggs. We can’t build a brick wall without bricks. We can’t download a web page or a file without a data connection. Sometimes, you just need the right components in order to get what you need, and not having the right parts will keep you from producing the results that you want. (Just ask anyone working on a project around the house, who finds that a certain repair project can’t be finished without a missing washer, nut, cap, screw, fitting, or other random component.)
In the same way, no matter how we might try to combine our own efforts in different ways, we are unable to create a life worthy of being accepted by God. No amount of rule-following, good deeds, giving money away (whether to the poor or to the church), or giving up vices can bring us back to the perfection that must be present for us to live in harmony with God (based on our own works).
In the passage below, the law being described had hundreds of rules, and these rules still fell short of providing salvation for those who tried to follow them. (Theoretically, I suppose that someone could have earned salvation by following all of the rules, but other than Jesus, people are “only human”, and we don’t do a great job of following rules all the time.)
The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.
Romans 8:3 NLT
The blessing here is that when we did not have the right ingredients to achieve our own salvation, God offered restoration to us as a gift. Jesus voluntarily paid the price, so that – from His self-sacrifice and His victory over sin and death – we can obtain what we couldn’t build, make, or create on our own.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT
So, if you are hoping to find favor with God by being good, or by doing a lot of righteous things to make up for past mistakes, please just stop. The simple truth is that it won’t work. The good news is that God knew that this wouldn’t work, and offered a much easier way through Jesus, as a gift.
I fear that many turn down this gift because it is “too easy”, and it seems like we should have to do more in order to be restored to a good relationship with a perfect, holy God. Salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection isn’t about giving us shortcut, though. We already failed the test, and there is no way that we can make it up. So yes, the gift of salvation is easier than the alternative – because the alternative is impossible. Compared to the latter, anything that God offered us would have been easier, I guess.
The challenge is that we must accept this gift, in order to have salvation in our lives. Trying to use the old “ingredients” of our own abilities will simply not produce that result. May we humbly accept this gift, so that we can celebrate the outcome that it offers us.
Once we’ve learned the “recipe” for that, let’s look further into what else we can cook up as we follow Jesus, in Part 2 of this article.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.