No Brownie Points
God… has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:8b
In his excellent book Holiness By Grace, Bryan Chapell observes how the idea that our good works will not earn salvation runs counter to our natural way of thinking.
He tells a joke about a guy who dies and faces Peter at the gates of heaven. Peter says, “Here’s how this works. You need a hundred points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I’ll tell you how many points they’re worth.”
The guy says, “OK, I was married to the same woman for fifty years and never strayed, not even in my heart.”
“Great!” says Peter. “That’s worth three points.”
“Three points? Well,” the man continues, “I attended church my whole life and tithed and volunteered!”
“Awesome!” says Peter. “One point.”
The guy’s starting to panic now as he blurts out, “Hey, I helped open a shelter for the homeless and I fed hundreds of needy people every Thanksgiving!”
“Right, that’s two more points,” says Peter.
“TWO POINTS!?!” cries the man, “At this rate the only way I’ll ever make it to heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Congratulations,” Peter says with a twinkle in his eye, “Come right on in.”
The Bible says that God is no one’s debtor (Romans 11:35). He is God; He doesn’t owe anybody anything. Therefore, it’s illogical to think that God owes me salvation because of my good works. It can only be by grace.
But this can be hard to take! Even the famous reformer Martin Luther wrote:
The heart is always ready to boast of itself before God and say, “After all, I have preached so long and lived so well and done so much, surely He will take this into account.” …But it cannot be done. With men you may boast, but when you come to God, leave all that boasting at home and appeal from justice to grace. …But let anybody try this and he will see… how exceedingly hard it is.… I myself have been preaching… [the message of grace] for almost twenty years and I still feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that… He will have to give me His grace in exchange for my holiness. And I still cannot get it into my head that I should surrender myself completely to sheer grace; yet this is what I should and must do.
As Bryan Chapell points out, the hymn writer of the old song Rock of Ages got it right:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to Thy cross I cling;
naked, come to Thee for dress;
helpless, look to Thee for grace;
foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
Why do our good works not make God love us more?
If that’s true, then why do good works?
Make the lyrics of Rock of Ages quoted above into your prayer today.