Ideas are powerful, something we tend to forget in this postmodern age. They can be the fertile seedbed for love and relationship, or they can be a toxic, suffocating brew. For instance, if you believe that a friendly overture is a ploy to use you sexually or financially, this relationship will not bloom. Instead, if you believe that this overture is sincere and caring, there is a much better chance that something will blossom out of it.
The same is true regarding our beliefs about God. Mega-church pastor, Carlton Pierson, had believed that God was eager to throw people into hell, and the best protection against this was going to church. Pierson had placed his faith in an unbiblical, unloving god. Consequently, he rejected this unappealing god in favor of the other extreme – an utterly non-just god who will bring everyone to heaven, without any consideration of their lifestyle.
What we believe about God determines our relationship with Him. There are certain beliefs that undermine this relationship. Paul mentioned one of them – self trust:
· Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision [to become a Jew and to keep the law, partially trusting in your good deeds to get you into heaven], Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
Paul warned that if Christ is just one of several objects of our trust, we are not trusting in Him at all! Why such harsh words? Why is it so wrong for the one who trusts in Christ to also trust that his good deeds have secured him a place in heaven? Isn’t God overly picky and demanding?
If relationship and love depend upon right ideas/beliefs, then our Lord has every reason in the world to insist that we understand certain realities.
However, so often theology seems worlds away from our relationships and interpersonal problems. In this case, our Lord wants us to know that salvation comes entirely as a free gift (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 3:23-28; Isaiah 55:3). But why? Here are several reasons:
If we believe that we, in some small sense, have merited our salvation, it is inevitable that we will boast (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:26-30). It’s unavoidable. This is what we like doing, even when we don’t realize that we are doing it. I knew enough about the Gospel to know that I couldn’t earn anything from God by my good deeds. However, even though I had been a dysfunctional mess, I had convinced myself that He had saved me because I was more spiritual. This made me feel more valuable and deserving than others, but not in God’s thinking.
Meanwhile, I looked down on others, and this interfered with a genuine love-relationship with them. How can you value, adore and relate to others, if you think you are above them!
My arrogance was also a stench before God (Luke 16:15; 18:9-14). Everything good that I possessed came from Him, but I was claiming them as my achievements (1 Cor. 4:7). If you give me a painting, and then I claim credit for it, you will feel betrayed. We too must give God the credit for our salvation, instead of boasting that we have earned it.
What if you found out that I thought that I deserved the painting you had lovingly given me as a gift? Such a realization would be utterly offensive. It would be the last paining you’d ever give me! Why then should we expect that God wouldn’t be offended if we take credit for his gift of salvation?
Perhaps even worse, if God knew that by giving me His grace, He would simply enable me to continue in my arrogance, His grace would not be grace at all. Instead, through years of painful ordeals, my Savior revealed to me the real ugly truth about myself – that I was no more deserving than anyone else. Beliefs matter!
Knowing the extent of His mercy towards me, I now feel grateful and want to, more than ever, honor my Savior with my life. Paul had counseled his disciple Titus to remind the believers of their abysmal circumstances from which God had rescued them “so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds” (Titus 3:8). Gratefulness empowers the Christian life and the knowledge of who we were empowers gratefulness.
Knowledge impacts love! If we don’t know from where we have come and the extent of the Saviors grace in our lives, we will not be zealous for Him. Jesus taught that those who know how much they have been forgiven, will love much” (John 7:47).
The belief in our own merit is so deeply built into us that Scripture gives us many warnings against this notion. Jesus warned that
· Whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-24)
Even the slightest of sins should have disqualified any hope in receiving anything good from God by virtue of our otherwise righteous record. James revealed the same truth:
· For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2:10)
James didn’t mean that some of us might be just one step away from perfection. However, in our arrogance, we are inclined to believe this way about ourselves. Instead, James emphatically warned us against trusting in our own merit, even if we do occupy the top rung of the moral ladder. Consequently, there is absolutely no way any of us could trust in our own performance. We were all under a curse (Deut. 27:26).
Paul affirmed the same message in a different way, claiming that no one has ever earned salvation from God (Rom. 3:19-20). Even the supreme act of dying for a righteous cause would not qualify us (1 Cor. 13:3). Therefore, it’s not about our goodness but about God’s mercy.
Our beliefs will either nurture love or destroy it. I believe that my wife is ever thinking of my welfare. This endears me to her! I also believe this way about my Lord, and this belief makes a world of difference.