Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today, I begin with the Bible text that concluded yesterday’s letter…
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:6-10
This text is worthy of another look and it has much more to say.
The central phrase is “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” It is extremely good news, but we often misunderstand it. We say the words and try to take them to heart, but we can easily backslide into old ways of thinking.
To put it very simply, your eternal fate does not depend on you. There is nothing you can do to propel your soul into heaven. There is no mountain to climb, no jeweled key to open a secret door, and there is no spiritual equivalent to a report card. It is not a question of how good you are. It is only a question of how good God is.
God, whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, came to live with us in Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible clearly states that Jesus came to us as a sign of God’s love and commitment for us. On the cross, Jesus demonstrated the level of God’s devotion to us. The greatest sign of devotion is giving your life for the sake of a friend. On Easter morning, Jesus is raised to show that God cannot be defeated by any power (including death).
Your salvation doesn’t depend on you. To be with God forever, there is no test to pass, no requirement to meet, no victory to achieve. The path is open. Our only choice is to surrender to the flow of the river that carries us to God, or to fight it and cling to the shore. God desires the whole cosmos (John 3:16) to become fully what it is meant to be. We have free will, but that free will only gives us the choice of rejecting eternal love.
If you look at more than just that phrase, you’ll read, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. “ It does say that we are saved by faith, but faith is “not from yourselves.” Faith is a gift from God and not an achievement.
We were made to do good works, but it is not work that pays for anything. It is not a transaction. You cannot buy a ticket to heaven. Even if you could be perfect for every moment of your life, a perfect report card gets you nowhere. Instead, we are made to do good works that respond to the gift of love we have in Jesus Christ. There is nothing to boast about here. It was never a competition.
In nearly every movie depiction of heaven, it is all about being good enough, but that has nothing to do with reality. The reality is that no one walks into heaven, we are all carried. It is not dignified, but its joyful. We are carried into heaven like a mother brings a baby home for the first time. The children belongs at home because the children are loved and not because they crawled all the way from the hospital or proved themselves to be a worthy baby. Compared to what God can do, we are as helpless as infants, but that’s okay.
Once again, we are not talking about a Hollywood or Art Museum idea of heaven. I doubt that there is much about heaven that resembles walking on clouds or strumming harps while little Botticelli angel babies fly among the trees. There aren’t many description of heaven in the Bible, but, to me, heaven means to be embraced by eternal love with God and all that God loves. I don’t care what it looks like, just as a newborn brought home for the first time cares about the color of the walls or the arrangement of furniture. Heaven is the way we talk about going home… to our eternal home. Home is not about where you are, but that you are with those who love you.
I know better than anybody else that I am a faulted human being. There is no need for me to wallow in the fact that I am wretch (as in the first line of Amazing Grace). My spiritual report card isn’t good enough to get me into heaven. But I am confident that Jesus is good enough to pick me up and take me home. We can have confidence in our own salvation because it is out of our hands.
Since God won’t force anyone against their will into heaven, I could choose to reject God’s love, but there is nothing in me that desires to fight against eternal love.
Each of us can be confident of God’s saving grace, though I realize that people who have been let down by human fathers and mothers would have a harder to trust an eternal parent. But once we are confident we become thankful. That thankfulness is what drives our good works.
We do good in response to God’s love; not to earn it.
So take comfort in the knowledge that you are loved. Take some comfort in the knowledge that whether we live or die, we are loved more than anyone could deserve. If you want to be saved, stop fighting the lifeguard that’s already got a hold of you. If you want to be with those you love, take a nap in the car as your mother takes you home.