God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it. — Romans 4:16 MSG
A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift. — C. S . Lewis
Faith’s only function is to receive what grace offers. — John Stott
Our merits merit nothing. God’s work merits everything.
You’re tired. Fatigue is not a foreign word. You know all too well its fruit: burning eyes, slumped shoulders, gloomy spirit, and robotic thoughts. You are tired.
We are tired. A tired people. A tired generation. A tired society. We race. We run. Workweeks drag like Arctic winters. Monday mornings show up on Sunday night. We slug our way through the long lines and long hours with faces made long by the long lists of things we need to do, gadgets we want to buy, or people we try to please. Grass to cut. Weeds to pull. Teeth to clean. Diapers to change. Carpets, kids, canaries — everything needs our attention.
The government wants more taxes. The kids want more toys. The boss, more hours. The school, more volunteers. The spouse, more attention. The parents, more visits. And the church, oh, the church. Have I mentioned the church? Serve more. Pray more. Attend more. Host more. Read more. And what can you say? The church speaks for God.
Every time we catch our breath, someone else needs something else. A taskmaster demands another brick for the newest pyramid.
“Stir that mud, you Hebrew!”
Yes, there he is. Your ancient counterpart. The loin-clothed, bare-backed, stoop-shouldered, brick-stacking Hebrew slave of Egypt. Talk about tired! Slave drivers popped whips and shouted commands. Why? So Pharaoh with his Nile-sized ego could brag about another pyramid even though his fingers never developed a callus or lifted a piece of straw.
But then God intervened.
I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. — Exodus 6:6
Did He ever! He opened the Red Sea like a curtain and closed it like a shark’s jaws. He turned Pharaoh’s army into fish bait and the Hebrews into charter members of the Land of No More. No more bricks, mud, mortar, and straw. No more meaningless, mind-numbing forced labor. It was as if all of heaven shouted,
“You can rest now!”
And so they did. A million sets of lungs sighed. They rested.
For about one-half of an inch. That’s the amount of space between Exodus 15 and 16. The amount of time between those two chapters is about one month. Somewhere in that half-inch, one-month gap, the Israelites decided they wanted to go back into slavery.
They remembered the delicacies of the Egyptians. Couldn’t have been more than bone stew, but nostalgia is no stickler for details.
So they told Moses they wanted to go back to the land of labor, sweat, and blistered backs.
The response of Moses?
Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? — Galatians 3:1 MSG
Oops, my mistake. Those are the words of Paul, not Moses. Words for Christians, not Hebrews. New Testament, not Old. First century AD, not thirteenth century BC. Understandable error, however, since the Christians of Paul’s day were behaving like the Hebrews of Moses’. Both had been redeemed, yet both turned their backs on their freedom.
The second redemption upstaged the first. God sent not Moses but Jesus. He smote not Pharaoh but Satan. Not with ten plagues but a single cross. The Red Sea didn’t open, but the grave did, and Jesus led anyone who wanted to follow Him to the Land of No More. No more law keeping. No more striving after God’s approval. “You can rest now,” He told them.
And they did. For about fourteen pages, which in my Bible is the distance between the sermon of Peter in Acts 2 and the meeting of the church in Acts 15. In the first, grace was preached. In the second, grace was questioned. It wasn’t that the people didn’t believe in grace at all. They did. They believed in grace a lot. They just didn’t believe in grace alone. They wanted to add to the work of Christ.
Grace-a-lots believe in grace, a lot. Jesus almost finished the work of salvation, they argue. In the rowboat named Heaven Bound, Jesus paddles most of the time. But every so often He needs our help. So we give it. We accumulate good works the way Boy Scouts accumulate merit badges on a sash. I kept mine on a hook in my closet, not to hide it, but so I could see it. No morning was complete without a satisfying gander at this cummerbund of accomplishment. If you’ve ever owned a Boy Scout merit-badge sash, you understand the affection I felt. Each oval emblem rewarded my hard work. I paddled across a lake to earn the canoe badge, swam laps to earn the swimming badge, and carved a totem pole to earn the woodworking badge.
Could anything be more gratifying than earning merit badges? Yes. Showing them off. Which I did every Thursday when Boy Scouts wore uniforms to middle school. I strode through the campus as if I were the king of England.
The merit-badge system tidies life. Achievements result in compensation. Accomplishments receive applause. Guys envied me. Girls swooned. My female classmates managed to keep their hands to themselves only by virtue of extreme self-control. I knew they secretly longed to run a finger over my signaling badge and to ask me to spell their names in Morse code.
I became a Christian about the same time I became a Boy Scout and made the assumption that God grades on a merit system. Good Scouts move up. Good people go to heaven. So I resolved to amass a multitude of spiritual badges. An embroidered Bible for Bible reading. Folded hands for prayer. A kid sleeping on the pew for church attendance. In my imagination angels feverishly stitched emblems on my behalf. They scarcely kept pace with my performance and wondered if one sash would suffice. “That Lucado kid is exhausting my fingers!” I worked toward the day, the great day, when God, amid falling confetti and dancing cherubim, would drape my badge-laden sash across my chest and welcome me into his eternal kingdom, where I could humbly display my badges for eternity. But some thorny questions surfaced.
If God saves good people, how good is “good”? God expects integrity of speech but how much?
What is the permitted percentage of exaggeration? Suppose the required score is 80 and I score a 79? How do you know your score? I sought the advice of a minister. Surely he would help me answer the “How good is good?” question. He did, with one word: do. Do better. Do more. Do now. “Do good, and you’ll be okay.” “Do more, and you’ll be saved.” “Do right, and you’ll be all right.”
Do. Be. Do.
Familiar with the tune? You might be. Most people embrace the assumption that God saves good people. So be good! Be moral. Be honest. Be decent. Pray the rosary. Keep the Sabbath. Keep your promises. Pray five times a day facing east. Stay sober. Pay taxes. Earn merit badges.
Yet for all the talk about being good, still no one can answer the fundamental question: What level of good is good enough? Bizarre. At stake is our eternal destination, yet we are more confident about lasagna recipes than the entrance requirements for heaven.
God has a better idea:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. — Ephesians 2:8
We contribute nothing. Zilch. As opposed to the merit badge of the Scout, salvation of the soul is unearned. A gift. Our merits merit nothing. God’s work merits everything.
This was Paul’s message to the grace-a-lots. I picture his face red, fists clenched, and blood vessels bulging a river on his neck.
Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into Himself. — Galatians 3:13 MSG
Translation: “Say no to the pyramids and bricks. Say no to the rules and lists. Say no to slavery and performance. Say no to Egypt. Jesus redeemed you. Do you know what this means?”
Apparently they didn’t.
Do you? If you don’t, I know the cause of your fatigue. You need to trust God’s grace.
We find it easier to trust the miracle of resurrection than the miracle of grace. We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection, lest heaven be even more disappointed in us than we are. The result? The weariest people on earth.
Attempts at self-salvation guarantee nothing but exhaustion. We scamper and scurry, trying to please God, collecting merit badges and brownie points, and scowling at anyone who questions our accomplishments. Call us the church of hound-dog faces and slumped shoulders.
Stop it! Once and for all, enough of this frenzy.
Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules. — Hebrews 13:9 NCV
Jesus does not say, “Come to me, all you who are perfect and sinless.” Just the opposite.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. — Matthew 11:28 NASB
There is no fine print. A second shoe is not going to drop. God’s promise has no hidden language. Let grace happen, for heaven’s sake. No more performing for God, no more clamoring after God. Of all the things you must earn in life, God’s unending affection is not one of them. You have it. Stretch yourself out in the hammock of grace.
You can rest now.
Watch the Video for Grace
Excerpted with permission from Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine by Max Lucado. Copyright Max Lucado.
* * *
Are you tired of working so hard for God’s favor? Of trying to earn Christian merit badges and Christian brownie points? What if you believed in grace — really believed in in — enough to stop and rest? Come join the conversation on our blog! We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily