It is common thought today, and has been ever since biblical times, that a man can earn or purchase heaven and its benefits. The most common expression of this idea is found in the notion that God grants access to heaven to those who earn it with good living. Behind this thinking is the belief that man is good enough to “deserve” or able to “earn” heaven.
This morning I read a vivid example of this in Acts 8 this morning. A man named Simon observed the gift of God being freely given to people who repented of sin and trusted in Christ. Simon saw the visible benefits these new believers in Jesus were given in God’s Holy Spirit. Seeing that Christians became beneficiaries of God’s presence and power through His Spirit when they believed, Simon offered the Apostles money in exchange for these benefits of God:
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.” Acts 8:21-23
Today, as even then, people want to believe they can earn God’s gift (which ultimately is hope for eternal life in heaven). This gift comes with many benefits: forgiveness, wisdom for life, love for God and people, joy no matter life’s circumstance, peace, God’s presence in you. These benefits are the result of being made right with God. But most people who believe as Simon did, that this gift from God is earned, fail to see: God as perfect, themselves as sinners, Sin as worthy of everlasting punishment, and Jesus as the only sufficient remedy for a sinful person’s current standing before God (i.e. sin has ruined any good standing we had with God, so that without God’s gift, we are deserving of everlasting punishment.)
Consider the climax of the biblical story. Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, is given by God in order to be killed in front of the entire on-looking world. The Bible says Jesus is by nature God (conceived in the womb by the Holy Spirit) and by nature Man (virgin born). He lived 30+ years without sinning even once. For these reasons, Christ is the only suitable payment to purchase the freedom of sinful people. This centerpiece of the Christian story, that God would sacrifice His Son to satisfy the debt caused by our sin, says everything about the seriousness of our sin debt and the price required.
That anyone would think they can earn back a right-standing with God says two things. 1. They do not understand or believe they are as bad as God says they are. But when evaluated by the Ten Commandments, and we will be, one can see themselves in God’s mirror. 2. They do not understand or believe the price God paid in sending Jesus to stand in sinful people’s place. Christ took the sentence or penalty for sin on behalf of those who believe. He purchased a people by being penalized in their place, so that those same people are rewarded in His place. His place is heaven, and a restored right-standing with God.
Anything we do believing we, even good religious things, believing we are earning God’s gift of grace is futile outside of trusting in Christ alone, that is the Gospel message.
So fill in the blank. May your _______ perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with _______! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.
Unless we are found by God trusting in Christ and repenting of Sin, anything we put in the blank is useless. EVERYTHING! This includes good deeds, church attendance, Bible reading, even a life lived from this day forward without sinning. Because of our sin, we cannot earn God’s gift. Fortunately there is hope even for those who once thought they could earn God’s gift, otherwise there would be no hope for me either. If this is you, do as the Apostle instructs, repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.