If you want to get ahead in the world today, there’s this perception that you have to work hard. You have to improve yourself daily, learning new skills so you are more marketable. You have to keep your ‘personal brand’ clear and clean, and spread your contact information far and wide. You have to show why you should get the job instead of the other candidates, no matter how qualified they may be. In short, you have to sell yourself, sell your skills and worth, and it’s your hard work that will help you to succeed.
In many ways, this makes perfect sense. In the modern world, especially in the world of business, even the most humble people need to do this self-promotion if they want to get ahead. It should be no surprise, then, that this mentality creeps into our spiritual lives. When applied to our personal faith-journeys, it can often display itself like this: The person who clothes X number of naked people, feeds X number of hungry people, and shelters X number of homeless people has “unlocked” eternal salvation, like some sort of spiritual video game.
My middle daughter has a beautiful analogy for this. She says that faith is much like a sailboat. We can spend all our time working on the sailboat, so it is in prime condition. We can spend our material wealth to paint and accessorize the sailboat so it is beautiful. We can invest our energy in showing off our boat to everyone around us. We can even, if we’re stubborn enough, get out the oars of our sailboat and start rowing it. But all of that is a waste. None if it will get us where we need to go. None of it will allow us to claim the redemption, the grace that God offers us. It’s a sailboat, for Pete’s sake! All we have to do is unfurl the sails, and the Holy Spirit will supply all the wind we need. Nothing we do to the sailboat will make any difference because it’s all in God’s hands anyway.
G. K. Chesterton wrote that God’s coming into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ “makes dust and nonsense of comparative religion. … Nobody else…has any good news; for the simple reason that no one else has any news at all.”
We cannot earn the grace God offers us. Ever. Helping others is important, and it can fill our lives with a real purpose, but there’s many an altruist who won’t make the cut. We have to accept what is offered to us through Jesus, offered to us because God is God, because He is great and good. Nothing more need be done – or could be done – for the work of redemption to be completed. Jesus has already done it all, because He loves us!