Our reward system for good and bad behavior begins when we’re children. We’re rewarded with stickers for coloring in the lines and sent to time-out for disobeying in school. As a kid, I did everything I could to get that gold star and avoid getting into trouble. Deep down, I believed that gold star meant something about me. It made me look good in front of my friends and resulted in praise from my parents, so I did more to earn it.
We still use this reward system as adults. We may not pass out gold stars anymore but we keep track of successes and failures in our lives to see if we measure up. We compare our level of productivity, appearance, success at work, the amount of money we make, and how perfect our lives appear. We use this outcome to determine our level of worthiness: If we do or have these things, then we’re OK. Our striving for perfection leads us on an exhausting chase that will never fulfill, and it was never meant to.
Many of us relate to God this way. We flaunt a list to God of all the reasons we’ve earned his love while using religious achievements to try to curry favor with Him. On the contrary, some of us lay our sin in front of God to prove why we’re not worthy enough to receive His love, while sulking in our shame. Neither of these are the gospel. The gospel proclaims that our worthiness isn’t based on what we do. Our true identity is rooted in this foundational truth: God is our Father. We are his children, fully known and still fully loved. Salvation has nothing to do with the works of our hands, nor is it based on external circumstances. Salvation is a gift of God, given to us through faith.
"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." Ephesians 2:8-9
Today, I take great comfort in the reality that God’s love knows no bounds. As I sit here with a weary heart, I rest in the fact that God accepts me despite my fears and failures--He loves me in the midst of my striving and performing. I’m accepted. When Jesus took my place on the cross, He gave me freedom from striving and trying to earn my way to Him. Accepting this free gift of grace allows me to walk in true freedom and joy, as a beloved child of God. This is the good news.