“So, no one will ever be able to boast, for salvation is never a reward for good works or human striving.” (Ephesians 2:9)
Remember the story of Sleeping Beauty? She was cursed and put into a deep sleep. What did she do to wake herself up? Trick question: She did nothing! Eventually she was awakened by, “true love’s kiss,” given to her by a prince. The curse wasn’t lifted through Sleeping Beauty’s effort, but because of what the prince did for her.
Just like Sleeping Beauty, we were under a curse, spiritually lifeless, with no ability to save ourselves. And, like Sleeping Beauty, we were rescued by the action of someone else. But, unlike Sleeping Beauty, we often fall into the sticky trap of striving—trying to earn God’s favor by good deeds and hard work.
Striving wearies us but gets us nowhere. We can never do enough to earn our salvation, but we can wear ourselves out trying to do more and more, hoping for approval from people or from God.
Why do we keep striving to earn the grace we have been given as a gift? Here are three possible reasons:
- We compare ourselves to others. “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4). Since everyone’s journey is unique, with unique experiences, gifting, and calling, comparison is impossible. The Bible tells us to focus on our own lives and take pride in our journey, instead of comparing ourselves to someone else.
- We won approval in the past by performance. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Many people “earned” love and approval by obeying rules and performing well. We may be tempted to apply that attitude to our relationship with God. But God loves us just as much when we when we mess up big time as he does when we execute flawlessly.
- It’s easier to keep a set of rules than to do what God really wants from us. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Y’all, loving people is hard! Following a set of rules is sometimes easier than loving everybody unconditionally, the way God loves us. But God is more interested in our hearts than our actions. He wants to change us from the inside out.
God has given us permission to cease striving. We can stop trying to earn his favor, and we don’t have to impress one another or try to make ourselves feel more valuable because of our accomplishments.
Jesus promised his yoke would be easy and his burden light. He said we would find refreshment and rest in him. If you’re feeling the weight of earning God’s love, set that burden down. Rest confidently in his love. You don’t have to earn your place at his table. Your seat is already reserved. Take a deep breath…and relax!
Dear God, I know my salvation is a gift from your heart of mercy and grace. When I think I’m not doing enough to please you, remind me of your unconditional love. I don’t have to earn your love. Regardless of how well I think I’m doing or how badly I think I have messed up, you just keep on loving me. Help me rest in your love. In Jesus’s name, amen.