The movie “Saving Private Ryan” ends with Captain Miller (Tom Hanks’ character) sitting near a bridge after an attack by German forces. His life is ebbing away as he pulls Ryan (Matt Damon) down toward him. Struggling for breath he whispers, “Earn this, earn this.” As Ryan stands his face morphs back into the present as a senior adult searching for Miller’s cross in the cemetery. Crying he turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’m a good man.”
Many people may believe that Christ died for them, but they have an attitude that Christ told them, “Earn this.” They spend their lives through religion trying to receive validation so that people will tell them, “You are a good man or a good woman.” Grace is realizing that we can never earn Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. Our lives should reflect thanksgiving for what he has done instead of validation for being a good person. We can never earn salvation. We can only receive it.
So often we cloud the waters. We add our “take”, our opinions, our traditions into the already completed plan of God: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in history’s most epic showcase of love. At the end of it all, however, I believe we will find out just how much time we wasted trying to earn what was already given.
What is the Gospel? Paul encounters that question when writing a response to a letter from the church at Corinth, a city equivalent to modern-day Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a city full of religion and sin, sexuality and piousness—as sort of “cultural melting pot” of the day, but the religious side often corrupted the church more than the sinful side of the city. How? The theologians and the religious elite of Corinth couldn’t grasp the most simple concept—the definition of the Gospel. Through it all, Paul answers the question like this:
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2) By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NIV).
To me, that’s simple. But also to me, it sometimes seems to good to be true. I feel like I have to add something to it. I need to pray more, I need to help more ladies cross the street, I need to feed more homeless people, and I need to feel bad about myself because I’m not measuring up. Truth is, those things are good, but those things do not save us. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that can and does free us from addictions, lies, sin, and death. Nothing else. Simplicity in every sense of the word.
Do you know what the most liberating thought a human being could ever have is? To understand that I cannot save myself. I cannot free myself from sin. I cannot pull myself up by my bootstraps. I cannot ever say enough prayers, or know enough Bible facts, or do enough “good deeds”, or act “Christian” enough to ensure my salvation. Why? Because it has nothing to do with me. It’s all about Jesus Christ dying on the Cross 2,000 years ago.
Simplicity in it’s rawest form. It’s all about Jesus and not about me. It’s all about the most epic showing of love ever—that God loved me so much, that He saw I could never measure up, that I was dying in sin and shackled by guilt, destined for Hell—and that He stepped into the world, and took my place. He died for me. He died for us. And he asks nothing more than we come to Him on His terms, and let Him sit on the throne of our lives. Why? Because He loves us. Simple, isn’t it?