Tag Archives: Good Works

Faith and Acting: They’re Both About Our Motives

Ah Wilderness Rehearsal[Believers] should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. Titus 3:1b

[God] saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. Titus 3:5 (NLT) [emphasis added]

In acting you learn to study a character’s motivation:

  • “Why does my character say this?”
  • “What is driving my character to do this?”
  • “What is it that my character wants when he walks over here?”

Motivation is also critical in understanding our real life and relationships. It is essential, I believe and have discovered, in understanding my relationship with God.

I believe one of the most important lessons we can know about God’s Message to us is this: Entering a relationship with God, attaining eternal life, and receiving forgiveness for our tragic choices and mistakes cannot be earned through “doing good” or “living a good life.” It comes as a gift through what Jesus did when he suffered, died, and rose from the dead. All we do is humbly acknowledge it, receive the gift, and ask Him to come into our life.

For me, it was a simple conversation with God I quietly had in my head and heart in which I said, “God, I know I’ve blown it a million different ways. I need you. I believe that you died for me, and I want you to in my heart and life. I give my life over to you.” Once I took this step and received the Gift, I was inspired and motivated to do good works in response to this extravagant gift of Life I had been given.

The critical differentiation is in the motivation of the good that we do. We do good, not out of a motivation to earn God’s favor or stack the spiritual ledger in our favor with the hope that it might be enough to get us into heaven. Our motive for doing good is overflowing gratitude for the Gift we have been freely given through God’s kindness and mercy.

As with acting, if you don’t get the motivation right then our faith is only a poor attempt at going through the motions.

A Very Different Economy

paycheck (Photo credit: owaief89)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 15

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6 (NLT)

We live in a world where credit is earned. We work. We put in our time. We show up. We do the job. We are then credited for what we’ve earned. There is usually a direct line connecting our effort to our paycheck. If we do this job we earn this much money. Most of us are even given credit to receive an advance of money we haven’t earned if we want to purchase something for which we don’t have the money right now. If we handle that advance correctly, we earn a higher credit score and the ability to borrow even more money. It is a simple concept. You work to earn an income. You are merited for what you do.

No wonder it is so hard for us to grasp the very different economic system of God’s Kingdom. The verse above is one of the cornerstones of Kingdom Economics. Righteousness in God’s economy is not earned by what we do, but credited for our faith and trust in the Provider [read the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans for more explanation]. It’s called grace. It is being given favor that is unearned or unmerited in any way. Our lives and good works are not to be motivated in an effort to earn God’s favor. In Kingdom Economics, our motivation to do good things is out of a sense of gratitude for God’s favor which we have already received and didn’t do anything to earn.

Today, I’m thinking about my life. I don’t want to just understand the concept of grace, but embrace it and live it out in my daily thoughts, words, and actions.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 5

from anonymousthomas via Flickr

Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”
Acts 5:3-4 (NLT)

I have found that most of the world views their own eternal standing in terms of balance:

“I do some good things, and I also do some bad things. I therefore look at life like a set of Justice’s scales. I weigh my good against my bad and try to maintain a good to bad ratio that favors the good. If, at the end of my life, the scale tips to the good then I’m golden. God’s going to let me in to heaven.”

The premise of this thinking, is that our salvation is ultimately determined by what we do and that God will ultimately judge us based on how the scale reads at the end of our life. God’s Message, however, reveals a completely different picture.

Jesus said that the little bit of bad we do is like yeast in bread dough. It’s the smallest of ingredients, yet it taints the entire loaf. Once the yeast is in the dough you can’t reverse its effect. In the same way, even the “little white lies” that we tell, like Ananias and Sapphira in today’s chapter, taint our entire soul. There is no amount of good that we can do to negate and purify us from the effects of the bad that we have done. Salvation is not determined by what we do because no amount of effort can eradicate it from our hearts and lives. Sin is a lethal, spiritual super virus. Once it’s in our system (and it’s in all of us) there is no regimen, no matter how rigorous, that can flush it out.

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 8

Magnetic compass.

And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:12 (NLT)

When I embrace a subtle misunderstanding of a core spiritual truth, my compass moves a degree or two off True North. It may not matter as I’m standing in place or for short distances, but over life’s journey it can result in me being completely off course.

I have observed in myself and in others a subtle misunderstanding of God’s teaching on forgiveness that makes a huge difference in the course of our spiritual trajectory. Without noticing it, we reject, misunderstand and ignore God’s truth about forgiveness.

God’s Message makes it clear that Jesus died once for all in sacrificial payment for our sins. In doing so He freely offers forgiveness for our sins past, present and future. As stated in today’s chapter, God remembers our sins no more. However, rather than embrace this forgiveness which was dearly bought and freely offered, we often choose to cling to the deep feelings of shame and guilt which have woven themselves into our thoughts, words and actions. We shackle ourselves to the shame of our wrongs past and present. We live under the dark cloud it spreads over our souls.

Having quietly rejected the gift of forgiveness Jesus paid for and offers, still living under the cloud of guilt and shame,  we set about to do something about it ourselves. We do good deeds, we clean ourselves up, we do nice things for others, and we give a little money to a good cause. We even go to church. The motivation for all of these altruistic actions, however, are not gratitude at what Jesus did in forgiving us (past tense) but in the subtle hope that they might eventually earn His forgiveness (it’s therefore not what Jesus did, but we are doing that makes forgiveness possible). I’m not motivated out of gratitude of what has been done for me but by hope that what I’m doing might pay off in the end. Any actor worth his salt knows that the motivation behind the action makes all the difference in the world.

We are now quietly going about to try to be good and earn our forgiveness on a set of internal scales we’ve created for ourselves. On these scales we weigh our sins and wrong doing against all of the good things we’ve been trying to do. This, in turn, affects how we deal with forgiving others who’ve wronged us. If my sins are freely and completely forgiven by Jesus and He is not holding any of my wrongs against me, how can I in good conscience turn and refuse to forgive another person for perpetrating an injury of some kind on me? I can’t. If, however, I am daily operating under the notion that I am working hard to be good and earn God’s forgiveness then the rules for how I treat others completely change. Now I can look at the perpetrator and weigh them out on the same scale I’m using for myself. I know that I’m working hard at being good and making God happy, but the only thing I see in them is that they have done bad and injured me. The scale is clearly tipped in my favor. I’m doing good and they have done bad. My resolute anger, my seething hatred, and my deep-set grudge are all perfectly justified when weighed out on my own internal scale of justice.

I refused to embrace the truth that I am truly and completely forgiven by God, not because of what I’ve done but because of what Jesus did for me. I’ve continued to try to overcome my feelings of guilt and shame with an endless stream of good deeds in the mistaken notion that I can somehow earn some kind of spiritual Eagle Scout badge and receive the accompanying reward of forgiveness. I’ve leveraged this false spiritual economy into justifying my own anger, hatred and grudges toward others.

How quickly being a degree or two off in my understanding of forgiveness can lead me far afield from where I should be in my relationship with God, myself and others.

Today, I’m embracing God’s forgiveness and giving up my mistaken notion that it has anything to do with what I have done, am doing, or will do. I’m re-evaluating my relationships with others and choosing to give up my self-righteous internal scales of justice… and forgive.


Chapter-a-Day Romans 3

 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. Romans 3:20a (NLT)

It’s been a tough year for my teams. Last January my favorite team, the Vikings tragically missed going to the Super Bowl (once again). Then the boys of summer let me down as the Cubbies fells far short of expectation and finished the season in disappointing fashion. Even the local boys, the I-Cubs, missed the post season when they lost the last game of their season. [sigh]

As a kid, I used to think that my behavior influenced whether my team won or lost. If I was a good kid and made God happy, then maybe God would let the Vikings win on Sunday. One little trip up on my part and a victory was in jeopardy. I was pretty sure three of the Vikings four Super Bowl losses were my fault.

Along the journey, I’ve come to recognize two great lies that trip people up:

  1. God could never forgive me for all the bad things I’ve done.
  2. If I do enough “good” to balance out all the “bad” I’ve done, perhaps I can tip the scales in my favor and God will accept me.

These lies burrow and root themselves deep within the soil of our hearts, but I realize now that the focus of both of these lies is me. I’m the center. My sin is so great. I am so awful. But if I can do better, then I can be “good enough.” My sin is so great that it affects the outcome of the football game for my favorite team, or whether I get that job, or whether that girl will go out with me, or if I win the lottery (notice the I, I, my, me).

The more entrenched in these self-centered lies, the harder it is to hear God’s good news:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Romans 3:23-26

Silly me. The Vikings winning or losing has nothing to do with me. Getting into heaven has nothing to do with me, either. Being right with God is not about me and what I’ve done. Being right with God has everything to do with Jesus and what He did for me. By placing my faith in what Jesus did for me, I’m made right with God.

As for being a fan of the Vikings and the Cubs, that takes a lot of faith, too.