Link back to index.html
There is nothing I can do to Earn More of God’s love
The following quotations are from Charles Stanley’s book, “The Reason for my Hope,” published in 1997 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
When Tom came to my office, he was the picture of dejection and discouragement. His shoulders were slumped over; his head was down. I stood as straight as I could in hopes that he might stand a little straighter too. It didn’t work. When he sat down, he sat down with a slump.
As Tom told me his story, I found myself thinking again and again, He’s tired. Whipped, beaten down, trampled---all of those might have been good terms to describe the man in my office. Tom was weary to the very core of his being.
And he knew it. He said, “Pastor, I’ve been working hard. I’m putting in long hours on the job. My boss seems to think that anybody who puts in only fifty hours a week isn’t doing enough, so I’m working about sixty hours a week. I’ve volunteered for several things here at the church, and my wife and kids are complaining that they never see me. I missed my little girl’s piano recital last week, and last month I missed an important football game in which my son scored a touchdown. I feel that I’m not doing enough on any front, but I just don’t see how I can do more. I came to you today to ask you what I should do---how I can fit it all in and keep juggling everything I’m doing. You do a lot of different things, but you don’t seem stressed out as I am.”
“I’ve been there,” I said to him. “I know what it means to overextend yourself.”
“You do?” he asked.
“Sure I do,” I said. “I’ve been there in my life.” And then I added, “I can tell you’re working hard, Tom. But let me ask you this:
Why are you working so hard?”
“Well,” he said, “to keep my job, for one thing, and to be in a position at work so I can get promoted and get ahead. I have a wife and two children who are counting on me.”
“Why are you working so hard at church?”
“Because I think it’s important to work for God,” he said.
“Did God ask you to take on these various volunteer positions?” I asked him.
He paused for a moment and then said, “I don’t know what you mean. Doesn’t God want me to be active at church?”
I said, “He wants you to do the things He asks you to do. He wants you to obey Him. But lots of times we don’t ask God first exactly what He wants us to do. We go ahead and volunteer and then ask Him later to help us when we’re so tired, we can hardly move.”
“That’s true,” Tom said. “I never thought to ask God if I should take on these committees and responsibilities. I just jumped right in because I thought it was the right thing to do.”
I suggested to Tom that he spend some time in prayer asking God how God desired for him to spend his time. “Do what God impresses on your heart to do. He may want you to change some of your priorities, and that may mean dropping some things. He may want you to keep doing what you’re doing and ask you to trust Him to give you the strength and energy you need.”
I didn’t feel, however, as if Tom and I had arrived at the real reason he was in my office. I asked him, “Tom, how do you think God feels about you?”
Tom seemed surprised at my question. “I know that God has forgiven me and that I’m a Christian,” he said. “Is that what you mean?”
“That’s part of it,” I said. “But how do you think God feels about you right now? What’s His opinion of you?”
“I don’t think He necessarily likes how tired I am,” he said. “He probably doesn’t approve of how much time I spend away from my wife and kids.”
“But how does He feel about you?” I pressed.
“God loves me?” Tom said with a question mark. “Is that what you’re getting at?”
“Closer,” I said. “Do you think that God approves of you---who you are as a person? Do you think that He likes you, that He likes spending time with you?”
“I never really thought about that,” Tom said. “I think He might approve of some things in my life, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. There’s a lot more God would probably like for me to be doing.”
“Like what?” I said. “It sounds to me as if you already have your schedule filled to the maximum.”
“Well,” he said, “I could spend more time praying and studying my Bible. I could witness more about Christ.”
“And do you think God would like you better if you did those things?”
“Yeah, probably,” Tom said.
“I don’t think it would change His opinion about you at all,” I said.
Tom seemed very surprised. “You don’t?” he asked.
“No, I think God loves you as much as He can possibly love you. And along with His love comes total unconditional acceptance of you. He loves you, Tom, but He also likes you. You are His child. He doesn’t like it when you sin because sin hurts you, and He doesn’t want to see you hurt. Anytime you sin, He stands ready with open arms to forgive you. He likes being with you. He likes talking to you and listening to you. He likes doing things for you.”
I could tell from the expression on his face that nobody had ever told Tom that before.
“You really think so?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” I said. “I really think so. God can’t save you any more than He has already saved you. When Jesus died on the cross to make it possible for you to receive God’s forgiveness, He died. There’s no more dying required. When Jesus rose from the dead, He rose. What Jesus did for you is completed. You were fully justified before God the moment you accepted Jesus as your Savior. You were fully forgiven the moment you asked for God’s forgiveness. There’s no more justifying to do. There’s nothing else you need to do to earn God’s approval or win His approval.”
“I never thought about it like that,” Tom said.
“Most people don’t. The fact is, Tom, that many people I meet are still trying to do something to win God’s approval. They are still trying to earn a little bit of what God has already freely given to them.”
“Do you think I’ve been trying to earn God’s approval?” Tom asked sincerely.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I think it’s a possibility. The assurance I want to give you today is that God approves of you, Tom, whether you work sixty hours a week or forty hours a week. God approves of you whether you volunteer for six committees or no committees. God loves you and He approves of you on the basis of what Jesus did for you, not on the basis of what you are trying to do for Jesus.”
“But doesn’t God want us to work for the church?” Tom asked.
“God desires that we respond to Him out of love and devotion. Our motivation in serving others is to be solely because we love God, not because we think we have to do certain good works to please God. When you love a person, you are quick to see what you can do to show that person how much you love her or him. That’s far different from doing things for a person so that the other person might approve of you, like you, or love you. The same is true for your relationship with God. He already loves you, likes you, and approves of you. Nothing you can do will change that. Knowing that God already approves of you fully should free you to do what you want to do or what you feel led by the Holy Spirit to do. There shouldn’t be anything that you feel you have to do to win God’s approval.”
“I can see the difference,” Tom said. “I think I have some praying to do.. . and then some decisions to make.”
I saw Tom again a few weeks later after a church function he had helped to organize. “How are things going?” I asked.
“Great!” he said. He had a smile on his face and a bounce to his step. He was standing tall and straight. “I had that talk with God,” he said, “and I felt I should drop one of the things I was doing.”
I nodded. “That sounds right,” I said.
“But the amazing thing, Pastor, is that I really didn’t want to stop doing any of the other things. I just changed my attitude toward them. I decided I would volunteer only if I felt that the task was a way I could express my love to God---not for any other reason. And suddenly, things began to go more smoothly. I got a lot more done in the same amount of time. I felt more fulfillment in what I was doing. I found a way to involve my wife and kids in a couple of the things I had volunteered to do, and we’re having a great time as a family doing these activities. God and I are having a great time together.”
“I can see that!” I said. “Remember, Tom. God likes you.”
“I know that,” Tom said with a big smile on his face. “I really know that.”
God Approves of You
I never thought much about whether God liked me or approved of me when I was a teenager or young man. I knew based upon Scripture that God loved me, but I never thought about whether He liked me. If I had been pressed on that point, I probably would have concluded that God somewhat liked me. I don’t think I would have said that He liked me through and through.
It was only after I truly experienced God’s love---His total, unconditional, overwhelming abundant love---that I came to the place in my life where I could say with all honesty, “Yes, God likes me. He approves of me. He likes spending time with me. He likes being with me. He likes hearing me when I talk to Him, and He likes talking back to me through His Word. God thinks I’m OK.”
I didn’t come to that position on the basis of things I had accomplished or actions I had taken. Rather, I came to that position solely because I had a new appreciation for God’s grace at work in my life. The fact is, there was nothing I had done, or could ever do, that would win God’s approval. God likes me just the way I am because He created me to be just the way I am. He likes my personality because He created my personality.
God’s approval of me isn’t based on anything I have done or might do. He approves of me because I stand forgiven before Him. I’m forgiven because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and have received God’s forgiveness. That makes me totally acceptable to Him.
The first four chapters of Romans make it very clear that we can’t save ourselves. We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. (See Romans 3:23) But because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, we are “justified freely by His grace” (Romans 3:24 NKJV).
Jesus has done for you what you cannot do. He won for you God’s full approval. You cannot have grace without the Cross. But because of the Cross, you have full access to God’s grace.
Grace is God’s kindness and graciousness toward you without regard to worth or merit. You can’t earn grace, you can’t buy grace, and you can’t barter with God to receive grace. It is a free gift of God to you. There is only one thing you can do related to grace, and that is to receive grace.
Trying to Win God’s Approval
Are you trying to win God’s approval? Many people have that tendency, especially if they grew up with an inferiority complex.
I grew up not experiencing much in the way of approval. I remember only two people in my life, other than my mom, who registered any signs of approval of me during my growing-up years. One was a schoolteacher named Mrs. Ferrell, whom I overheard saying to another teacher, “I like Charles.” Those three simple words meant something to me!
The other person who showed me that he approved of me was a Sunday school teacher named Craig Stowe. He came down to the street corner to buy newspapers from me even though he had the newspaper delivered to his home---just to encourage me. Mrs. Ferrell and Mr. Stowe were like beacons in a wilderness of disapproval that I experienced at school and at home.
My stepfather repeatedly gave me the message that I wasn’t good for anything, wasn’t worth anything, and would never amount to anything. Numerous teachers and other adults sent me the message that I was a failure and had little hope for a bright future.
A child who grows up in that kind of environment tends to do one of two things: give up on life, or try extra hard to prove to somebody that he is worthy of something. I took the second path.
I studied hard in college and then in seminary to prove that I was worthy. When I became a pastor, I poured myself into my pastoral duties, always seeking to do far more than what was required to win the approval of others, including God. I drove myself and those who worked alongside me. I ended up physically exhausted and emotionally feeling empty.
If you are trying to do something to win God’s approval, the question you must ask yourself is this: How much is enough?
How much prayer is enough prayer? How much Bible reading is enough Bible reading? On how many committees at church do you need to work to be on enough committees? How much good work do you need to do to qualify for enough good work?
The reality is, you can never do enough. Just when you think that you’ve done enough, guilt and feelings of inferiority and a need for approval will rear up and say, “You’ve got to do more.” There is no end.
You can never do enough to thank God for sending Jesus to the cross. You can never do enough good works to equal what Jesus Christ did in dying for your sins. You can never do enough to compensate Jesus for His sacrifice on your behalf.
Now, all those years when I was working hard to prove myself worthy, if you had asked me, “Is God’s grace free?” I would have answered with a resounding, “Yes, God’s grace is free.”
If you had asked, “Is God’s forgiveness free?” I would have said, “Yes, it’s free to me.” God’s forgiveness cost the life of Jesus, but to me, His forgiveness is given freely.
If you had questioned why I was working so hard, I probably would have told you that I was working hard because it was my nature to work hard or perhaps because I always tried to do my best. Both facts are truthful, but they don’t tell the whole truth. Part of me was trying to thank God for saving me; I was trying to do something for Him because He had done so much for me. It was a tendency, although an unconscious one, to try to pay God back for my salvation.
When I fully experienced God’s love in my life, I had a new perspective on grace. I was able to relax in the fact that God was extending to me the fullness of His grace. I could obtain no more grace. Christ Jesus purchased it all for me. My role was one of receiving, of thanksgiving, of loving God with my whole heart. There was nothing I needed to do. There was nothing else I could do. It had all been done for me.
Why does someone continue to strive to win more of God’s approval through good works?
First, old habits. Anytime you do something for God because you think you should do it in order for God to like you better, love you more, or approve of you more highly, think again. That’s an old habit. That’s part of old-creature thinking. That’s not a part of what Jesus obtained for you on the cross.
If you are trying to pay God back for saving you, then you haven’t accepted or received His grace.
If you are doing good works in order to put yourself into a position to deserve eternal life, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. The only means to obtain eternal life is to believe in Jesus Christ as God’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf.
If you are trying to suffer for your sins in order to be worthy of salvation, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. Suffering for sins is a form of purgatory; Jesus came to deliver you from that form of suffering.
If you are confessing your sins again and again and again in hopes that God might hear you and forgive you, then you haven’t accepted God’s grace. You don’t win forgiveness because of confession. The Cross made forgiveness possible.
There is nothing, nothing, nothing you can do to win or deserve or prove yourself worthy of God’s love and grace toward you. There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more than He already loves you.
Created for Good Works, Not Saved by Good Works
One of the great verses in the Bible about God’s love and grace is Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV): “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Perhaps no other verse in the Bible so succinctly and clearly tells you that God sees you as a precious person.
Note, however, that you are God’s workmanship. The word in the Greek language in which the verse was written means “a person of notable excellence.” God calls you a person of notable excellence because He made you. There is no other reason. It has nothing to do with whether you look excellent, act excellent, or do excellent things. You are a prized example of His creation.
As a Christian, your creation is fulfilled in Christ Jesus. This is actually a rebirth or a re-creation of you. Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). When you become a new creation in Christ Jesus, God expects you to get rid of the old creation---the old messages about your sins and inabilities, incapacities, and inferiority. He expects you to think and act like a new person because His Holy Spirit is now residing within you to help you think and act like a new person.
This isn’t a matter of awakening one morning and looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I’m going to do things differently. I’m going to succeed.” Rather, it’s a matter of saying to God every morning, “I’m Yours. I accept by faith that Your Holy Spirit now resides in me. I am trusting You to lead me to act and think as Jesus would act and think. Help me to live Your life today.”
Christ does the re-creating in you. You don’t do it. It is His work. And because it is His work, and His alone, you cannot boast about your good works. The fact is, they are His works.
Every other religion operates on the basis of works---follow a certain ritual, complete a certain list of required things, and you have “arrived.” Christianity says that nothing you do can earn you favor with God.
Consider these verses:
He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7 NLT)
So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Christ. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the proclamation of the Good News.
It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began---to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:8-9 NLT)
Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.’
When people work their wages are not a gift. Workers earn what they receive. But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work. (Romans 4:2-5 NLT)
Works do not add up to salvation. Rather, Christ Jesus saved you in order to do good. He is the One who enables you to do good works. He is their author and their motivation.
The most challenging person to lead to Christ, in my experience, is the “good person.” Such a person believes, I haven’t done anything wrong so I don’t need forgiveness. I do good things, and God will reward me.
Such a person believes in the heart of hearts that God is motivated by our good works to save us. The exact opposite is true. God saves us so that we might be motivated to do good works. When it comes to having a desire to do good works, God pours it out. We don’t pump it up.
Holy living doesn’t put us into a position to receive God’s love and forgiveness. Rather, God’s love and forgiveness become our motivation for holy living. We no longer have a desire to do anything that might hurt the heart of the Lord who has loved us so completely and so lavishly. (45-56)
Link back to index.html