It’s been a while….a long while….too long….since I wrote a ‘Words of Grace’. To be honest, I just haven’t been inspired. The last thing I want to do is write something weekly just for the sake of writing something, because it’ll probably end up being some sappy drivel that doesn’t encourage anybody, and it’ll end up me just wasting our time and using up electrons with every cyberspace keystroke.
Now, of course, since I wasn’t inspired before, but NOW I’m feeling ‘inspired’ to write something, this means I’m setting myself up for possible defeat by somehow implying that THIS Words of Grace is a home run, when it just might be a scratch hit off the glove of the pitcher (Maybe you can tell that I’m missing baseball….). Whether it’s humanly inspired or not, I’m going to go ahead and write it anyway, because I know that my nephew Marshall in Jersey will read it!
Okay, enough drivel. Maybe getting back to basics might be a good way to start 2016. So here’s what happened yesterday that stirred my heart to write…..
Most of you probably know that yesterday morning I had ‘that procedure’ that folks over fifty get to enjoy every now and then. Well, everything is fine and I don’t go back for five years. But because of my ordeal, Becky encouraged me to go with her to her nail shop, so she could get her fingernails done, and I could have a much needed and deeply appreciated pedicure.
Well, on the television in front of both of us was the well known and much loved game show – The Family Feud. These particular episodes we were viewing were repeats because black comedian Steve Harvey (And hasn’t he been in the news lately with the Miss Universe fiasco!!) is the current host, and the shows we were watching (we saw a couple in a row) were hosted by the suave silver-haired John O’Hurley, who played Elaine’s boss – J. Peterman – on Seinfeld. He was the host of Family Feud from 2006 to 2010.
On this particular ‘Family Feud’ they began the game between the two families a bit different than I was accustomed to. I’m not sure if this is something they do a lot or not, but it began with a one question/answer Bull’s-eye round between a member from each family for $1000, then $2000, and up to $4000. You had one chance – no help from the rest of your family – to get the number one answer. There was only one answer – the top answer – not the top five, six or eight as they usually have during each round. If the person who buzzed in first didn’t get the right answer, their opponent got a chance, but they had to answer immediately, and if they didn’t get the answer correct either, then the next two people tried for the next question, which increased in money value.
It was now time for the $4000 question, and here is what Mr. O’Hurley asked:
“One hundred people in our studio audience were asked to answer this question: ‘What must one do to get into Heaven?’” Becky and I both perked up from our respected stations. The eldest son in a black family – maybe in his thirties – quickly hit the buzzer, and hurriedly, excitedly, and confidently blurted out, “Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!” Oh, he was sure he gave the right answer, thank you Jesus!
O’Hurely replied, “Show me ‘have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’, ‘Buzzzzzz’….wrong answer!”
The host quickly turned to the woman across from the man with the wrong answer, and she blurted out “Pray”. O’Hurley looked up at the board and declared, “Show me ‘pray’, ‘Buzzzzz’….wrong answer!”
Neither of them got the number one answer. So, Mr. Peterman (He’ll always be Mr. Peterman to me!) said, “What must one do to get into Heaven? Survey says, ‘Good deeds/works’”.
Good deeds and/or good works?!! Well, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, and I really wasn’t. They weren’t asking one hundred people at Grace Christian Fellowship, but one hundred people who were vacationing or who lived in the Los Angeles area. They didn’t ask for the Top Five answers, but I wish they did. I’m pretty confident that “Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” would’ve made at least the Top Five.
The mistake the young black fellow made was in assuming that out of one hundred people, surely the most popular answer would have been the one the Bible teaches – the one that he trusts his life in – and that’s why he was so confident with his answer, and was so disappointed – $4000 disappointed – that his answer was wrong. I’m hoping that his disappointment wasn’t just about the $4000, but rather deep down his disappointment would have been with the realization that once again, the world as a whole doesn’t understand saving grace, but rather is trusting in their good deeds and/or their good works as the means of warranting their eternal presence with the Triune God.
Yes, I was also disappointed in the preferred answer, but again, I really wasn’t surprised. This is what the world believes – if they believe in an afterlife at all. But here’s the really sad bit of reality: If you walked into one hundred Christian churches (Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant) and asked all those present this very same question: “What must one do to get into Heaven?” I could almost guarantee (he said sadly with tears in his eyes) that well over fifty percent – maybe even seven-five percent or more – would give an answer that involved something other than the true biblical answer: ‘trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, accomplished on my behalf and granted to me by God’s grace and His grace alone’. Or in a briefer form as our Christian brother on the Feud stated it: ‘Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’.
It is only natural for fallen man – all humans – to rely on their/our good works since we are all legalists at heart, born in sin. Performance is the way of the world. We perform a good deed, we ‘should’ be thanked, rewarded, acknowledged, and/or given a reward. We work our forty hours and we deserve to get paid for forty hours of work. That is fair and just, and in the world, that’s perfectly legitimate. What you work for you have earned, deserved or merited – and humanly, there is nothing wrong with that. The scriptures confirm this when it says in Romans 4:4,
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.
BUT God’s world – God’s Kingdom – the world of the Spirit – is far different – the complete opposite of the world’s way. You see, because of God’s perfect holiness (Remember, He’s not just holy, He’s Holy, Holy, Holy) and because of man’s natural, normal, inbred, inherited, deep-seated propensity to be selfish, rebellious, carnal, and anti-God in their very nature, added to the dreadful reality that we are born spiritually dead and separated from the transcendent Triune God, we can never do enough good deeds or good works to earn, deserve, or merit God’s forgiveness. And when you really get down to it, the biblical and spiritual fact is that not only can’t we be good enough to pay the debt of sin we owe to the perfect and holy Lord God, but also, no one of their own volition wants or desires to be on good terms with the Lord God. Enough of my babbling – what does God’s Word say about these things:
Romans 3:10-12 – As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’
Romans 3:23 – …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
Romans 8:7-8 – The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Mark 7:21-23 – For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.
And of course, there are many, many more. So, as we move into the New Year, let’s remember these two simple yet painful truths (painful to admit before we come to faith; and still subtly painful if you have come to faith, but still find yourself falling back into the performance trap):
1. Romans 3:20 – Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
2. Romans 3:22-26 – This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
So, although the Christian fellow on the Family Feud gave the ‘wrong’ answer according to the opinions of the one hundred studio audience voters, he actually gave the right answer. What must we do to get into Heaven? We actually do nothing, because we are saved by God’s grace, and that is not from ourselves – not by our works – so that no one can boast – it is the gift of and from God. And that gift of saving grace allows us to honestly say as the ‘loser’ said: Have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Quit performing in order to please the Lord God. Trust in His amazing grace, and any good work or deed that follows will be done out of a heart that loves serving the Lord, and is a consequence of a repurposed and transformed life in Christ. Works are good….they just can’t save us. Yes, George Whitefield, the great Reformed evangelist of America and England’s First Great Awakening said it the best,
Works? Works? A man gets to Heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand!
Have a grace-filled and Christ-trusting Happy New Year!