'Oh son…God is so merciful. I know you’ve been trying really hard...keep up the good work!'
Those were my words to my son recently after he emailed to say that his teacher had adjusted the grading scale (to his benefit) in a class where he was struggling. But even as I finished typing the words I realized that I was communicating the wrong message. While trying to applaud his good efforts in the class (which we as parents need to do), I mistakenly left the impression that God had mercy on him because he was trying really hard.
No! This is not how our God is. He does not have mercy on us because we're trying really hard, he has mercy because he loves his dear children and delights to show them mercy. He does not have mercy on us because we deserve it, he has mercy because it's his character. Psalm 86:15 says "But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness."
Instead of reinforcing a performance-based christianity (God accepts you because you're trying hard), I needed to be reminding him of the gospel (God's already accepted you...now in response to that acceptance, give him your best work).
What my son needs to hear over and over again is the same thing we all need to hear over and over again: God accepts us because of Christ's death for us. Period.
- He doesn't accept us because of what we do (or don't do)
- He doesn't accept us because we've been good that day (or reject us because we've been bad that day)
- He doesn't accept us because we're better than our neighbor
He accepts us because he accepts his son's work for us.
It's hard to grasp, isn't it? That's why we must say it over and over again: I'm accepted by God because of what Christ did, not because of anything I do (or don't do). If you can't grasp it right this moment, keep praying that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the truth of it to you through things you read, sermons you hear and prayers you pray.
(Incidentally, here's the complete script of the email I sent to my son: 'Oh son…God is so merciful. I know you’ve been trying really hard...keep up the good work! What’s even better though, is that he shows mercy whether we deserve it or not. He loves us when we’re good and he loves us when we’re bad. Our effort (or lack of effort) doesn't change his opinion of us. He just just plain loves his children… That’s why we worship him, huh?)