Work. What comes to mind when you see that word? Maybe you think of your job, household tasks, or things you do in service to others. Maybe you instantly feel stress, pressure, pride, or a sense of achievement. Maybe you’re reminded of adages you’ve heard all your life like, “Hard work pays off,” or “The price of success is hard work.” There are some great quotes out there about hard work. Here are a few I found that are worth sharing:
“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou
“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison
“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Booker T. Washington
For sure, there is truth to be found in these adages and quotes, and there is great value in a solid work ethic. I like to think of myself as a hard worker, and my guess is, most of you do too. The truth is, there never seems to be a shortage of things that need to be done, and it’s important that people like us are getting them done.
The Bible has much to say about the value of work and also the vice of laziness. A quick tour through Proverbs will prove that to be true. It is also true that there is much work to be done for God and for His Kingdom, and we are definitely called to be doing that work. That being said, there is a danger that can happen in our hearts when we find ourselves working for the wrong reasons. This is something I have to guard against all the time. You see, sometimes I find myself working for God because I’m trying to earn more of His favor. I default to this notion that I can earn my way into His good graces by doing things that I think will please Him. I am constantly in need of reminding myself of some basic truths.
God is perfect and holy.
That seems pretty obvious, right? It doesn’t seem like something I should need to be reminded about, but it is. Sometimes, I forget that His perfection and holiness are so far out of my reach that there is no possible way I can attain them. When I was doing children’s ministry several years ago, I used this analogy that I grew to love because of the vivid imagery it provides. Imagine you have a perfect white shirt that you need to put in the washer. Would you put it in the washer with bright red socks? Of course not! Why? The perfection of the white shirt would be marred as soon as it came into contact with the socks. This is a very simplistic comparison, but it helps my simple mind to see this truth. God is completely perfect and pure. Sin cannot be allowed near His holy presence because it would forever mar His perfection. This presents me with a big problem.
I am not perfect and holy. I am a flawed sinner.
I’m the bright red socks. This means that I cannot have access to God’s presence in my sinful state. Now, some people might look at me and say, “That’s an overstatement. You’re a pretty decent person. Most of the time, you are nice to other people. You’re not an awful person.” Nice red socks, but red socks still the same. In my human nature, I sin all the time. I have wrong thoughts, bad feelings toward other people, and attitudes that are completely selfish. I have lied, cheated, mistreated other people, and a whole host of other things that prove that the socks are red. The red socks don’t belong in the same washer with the perfect white shirt. The problem is real, and it is bad news.
Jesus is the answer.
I’ve heard it said that we have to understand the bad news before we can understand the good news. There is incredibly good news for sinners like me! Jesus came to bring us a solution. He lived a perfect, sinless life so that He could pay the penalty for my sins. Because of His sacrifice on the cross, these red socks have been made perfectly white. Don’t believe me? Check out what this verse says –
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)
Because of my sinful heart, I deserve eternal punishment. (Bad news) Because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, He traded His righteousness for my sins, took my punishment, and totally transformed my heart. (GOOD NEWS) Now, because of what He did, His perfection covers me, and I have access to God’s presence.
Salvation is a free gift.
So, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with working?” Good question. I have a tendency to forget that what Jesus did for me is a free gift. When that happens, I start thinking that if I’m good enough and do enough good things, I can earn my own way. There are so many things wrong with that way of thinking. Let’s see what the Bible says –
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:9 (ESV)
“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:9 (NLT)
So, here’s the truth. When I believed that Jesus is the Son of God and paid the penalty for my sins, God saved me by HIS GRACE. It was never about what I could do to help myself. It was always about His great love for me and His amazing grace. When I start to think that I can be good enough or do enough good things to earn my salvation, that dishonors God and devalues what Jesus did at the cross. It is an inappropriate response that makes it all about me. If my salvation depends on my ability to be good enough, I am eternally doomed. I can’t make the red socks what they aren’t. They will still be red. Only Jesus can bring the necessary transformation.
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)
That’s pretty strong wording, isn’t it? Our ‘good enough’ will never even begin to be good enough. Perfection is something that we cannot attain this side of eternity. Oh, how we need Jesus and His righteousness!
God’s love for me isn’t based on my performance.
Here’s the best part. God loves me on my worst days (when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, yell at my husband for no reason, have fits of road rage on the way to work, completely ignore my Bible and feel no need for prayer, mistreat my co-workers, complain all day, display an ungrateful attitude, etc.) AS MUCH as He does on my best days (when I wake up singing a song, make my husband breakfast in bed, let all the other drivers pull in front of me, read 10 chapters in the Bible, spend 2 hours in prayer, share the Gospel with my co-workers, maintain an attitude of gratitude, etc.). Why? Because God’s love for me is unconditional and perfect. It does not fluctuate based on how I measure up. No amount of work will gain me any more favor than I already have. Amazing to ponder that, isn’t it?
These are the truths that I have to be constantly reminded of when I fall into my default of working for the wrong reasons. Yes, I must work hard to do the things I know God wants for me to do, but I have to remember that the only way I can do those things is through His grace and power at work in me. I work for Him because I love Him; I don’t work for Him so that He will love me more. He already loves me perfectly. He loves you perfectly. If this is something you also need reminded of, my prayer is that the truth of God’s perfect love will set you free.
Heavenly Father, your love for us is indescribable and so very hard for us to comprehend. Thank you for making a way for red socks to be made perfectly white. Thank you for sending Jesus to live the perfect life that we couldn’t live. Thank you for the price He paid to take the penalty for our sins and to wrap us forever in His righteousness. It is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence, and our hearts are eternally grateful. Help us to remember that we can never earn our own way, and let our work for You be motivated only by our love for You. Amen.