Ask most non-Christians whether they will go to heaven when they die, and they usually will reply with something like, “I think so, I’m a pretty good guy.” Those of us who follow Jesus know that the only way to heaven is by trusting Him for our salvation, and that being a “good guy” won’t cut it.
Or do we?
If we really understand that truth, then why do so many in the church seem so caught up in works? We feel guilty because we don’t do what we should. We feel guilty because we keep doing what we shouldn’t. Sound familiar? It sounds to me like the conflict Paul found himself fighting in Romans 7. While we accept the grace of God in theory, it seems in practice it’s another story. We judge ourselves and others by such strict standards.
It all started in the garden.
If you recall, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden. There was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mankind was meant to eat only of the tree of life, living in perfect communion with God forever. But we made a choice to instead eat of the other tree, and when we did, our eyes were opened. And notice it was not just evil, but GOOD and EVIL. They are two sides of the same coin. It was a knowledge we were never supposed to have. A knowledge of good, a knowledge of evil, and a knowledge of our own nakedness before God.
Mankind has lived in the bondage of that decision ever since. For most, life is a constant battle between their own capacity for both good and evil. And when the good outweighs the evil, we feel pretty good about ourselves, like somehow our nakedness before God is covered up. But that is a battle we are not capable of winning.
The truth is, if we are still living lives of pursuing good and avoiding bad actions, we are still living a life of bondage to that decision so long ago to eat of the wrong tree. Paul calls it “the law of sin and death” in Romans 8. And as long as we are obsessed with what we are doing and not doing, we are living under the law of sin and death, and sin still rules over us.
Jesus came to give us life, not just forgiveness. He came to restore us to the garden, where we may freely eat of the tree of life and live in communion once again with our Father. He came to restore us back to the place we lived before the knowledge of good and evil corrupted our hearts. No longer must we live as slaves to our actions. No longer must we constantly worry about what we have done or what we have left undone. No longer must we hide our nakedness from God, afraid of what He’ll do to us if He sees us as we really are.
It’s a free gift.
No action required on our part other than to repent and accept the gift. But when we repent before God, we are not really repenting of our sins. We are repenting of our thought that we could ever do anything but sin. We are repenting of thinking we could cover our nakedness by our own goodness. We are repenting of choosing to live under the law of sin and death, trying desperately to win a battle He has already won.
So we have a choice: We can continue to live in bondage to the law of sin and death, constantly afraid of what we have done, hiding in our shame before God. We can continue thinking life is about doing good and avoiding evil, burdened by guilt over our failures.
Or we can accept the sacrifice of Jesus, living in the “law of liberty in Christ”, freely eating of the tree of life. That’s it, it’s over. Sin can no longer rule over us because we are free from it’s power. The power of sin is wrapped up in it’s consequences. Take away the punishment and you take away it’s power. And that’s what Jesus did. We no longer have to fear, strive, work, or hide.
Breathe deep and feel the release. Your salvation no longer depends on you living up to a standard. Let it go and live in the freedom you were meant to have all along.
Maybe that’s why it’s called the “good news.”