Written Word

Not By Our Deeds

Forgiveness is not based on our good deeds no matter how many or how honourable they are. Forgiveness is a free, unmerited gift from God and we accept it by faith. Yet many try to earn their way to heaven. They entertain the idea that God will inspect their lives and, based on how they did while on earth, either let them into heaven or banish them for eternity.

An inescapable conclusion comes from this line of thinking: If we are contributors to our own salvation, if our works can save us, then the death of Jesus was not only inadequate but unnecessary. The apostle Paul put it this way:

“If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)

Jesus came to set us free, to give us new life, and not to supply us with a new set of rules and regulations to be obeyed in order to get to heaven. The last thing we need is a religion based upon our performance; what we need is someone to give a perfect performance for us, and we find that performance accomplished in Jesus Christ. The Word of God speaks clearly on this subject:

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is a gift from God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Top of page

The Religion of the Pharisee

Jesus pointed out the folly of trying to earn one’s way to heaven when he told the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. (Luke 18:9-14) The lesson was directed to “some who were confident of their own righteousness.”

Two men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee began his prayer by parading all his good deeds before God. Pride filled his heart as he thanked God that he was not like those around him: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even the tax collector, whose profession was notorious for dishonesty. He continued his prayer with a reminder to God that he fasted twice each week and gave 10 percent of his income to the Lord.

The publican also prayed, but in a different tone. Jesus said that he stood at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but in true repentance said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Which of these two people was forgiven? It was the publican, Jesus said, and not the Pharisee that found favour with God. Why didn’t the Pharisee find favour with God? After all, he believed in God, said his prayers and lived a good life. Where did he go wrong? The problem with the Pharisee was that he was trusting in the performance of his religious duties to save him. The Pharisee didn’t believe he was sinless, but felt that his good deeds, which were many, would tip the scales of God’s justice in his favour. The good deeds of his life would more than compensate for his failings, and he would surely get a favourable verdict. But he was wrong.

The Religious Treadmill

The religious practice of the Pharisee reminds me of the time I saw two children playing on an escalator. They were trying to go up the stairs that were coming down. No matter how hard they tried, they failed; the stairs kept bringing them back to where they started. Finally they got off and went over to the stairs that were moving upwards, stepped on and let the stairs take them to the top.