Not by Works
By Lydia Kaiser
There are a hundred wonderful things about being God’s child, but perhaps the most wonderful is this truth: God loves me and gives me His salvation even though I don’t deserve it. What a wonderful thing to be loved in spite of unworthiness. How sad that people all over the world are deceived by false religions that require good works in order to please God and to make it to Heaven. It’s not surprising though, because our natural mind usually assumes that acceptance from a holy God comes through personal works and worthiness.
Children can have this misconception also, even if it’s never been intentionally taught to them. Life itself can overtly teach them that good behavior wins favor and bad behavior wins punishment, so why wouldn’t God be that way too?
To help counter this misconception, speak often about why we do good things. Our motives might be clear to us but not to children. For example, “We go to church so we can worship God and learn about Him.” Or here’s another example, “I know, it’s not easy to be kind to little brother when he’s acting like that. But we’re kind to him because we love him, just like how God is kind to us and loves us even when we’re not lovable.” Here’s another, “We give money to God’s work because we want other people to hear about Him and how wonderful He is.”
It’s difficult for a child to understand unconditional love if there hasn’t been at least one adult in his life that has demonstrated it to him. Perhaps you can be that one adult. The child in your Sunday School class or the child down the street may be receiving conditional love from parents and school teacher. You may be the one to help him understand that we don’t reach God by good works. It’s actually the opposite– He reaches to us with a gift we can accept by faith. Ephesians 2:8,9 tells us that by grace we have been saved through faith, and even that faith is not our own doing, it’s a gift from God, and salvation is not by works, so no one can brag that they were good enough. All glory goes to God for being generous with his love which we need to receive and then share with others.
So here comes some REALLY good news. If we aren’t saved by good works, then we aren’t kept in God’s grace by good works either. But we can see how He works in our hearts so that good works overflow.
A CEF worker in Maryland told the story of a 6th grader who was known for stealing and violence. She was often banned from public buildings because of her theft and violence. But she was never banned from Good News Club. One time she saw her GNC leaders visit a house in her neighborhood and waited for hours out in cold rain just to see them for a few minutes as they left the house. That shows how hungry every child’s heart is for unconditional love. The CEF worker reported this: “The next semester when I asked her, ‘What has brought this change in you—from stealing and violence to now wanting to know about God?’ Her response brought tears to my eyes, ‘Mrs. Hannah, I began to feel bad about stealing even before I got caught on camera. And then I began to hear about Jesus…then He changed my insides and I don’t want to steal anymore.’ ”
This, my friends, is the Gospel. Verse ten of Ephesians chapter two comes after the verses about receiving God’s gift of salvation. Verse ten says we are God’s beautiful handiwork, created to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. It’s an outpouring of the grace He worked in our hearts. So, when we’re teaching kids that salvation doesn’t come from good works, we also need to teach that eventual good works are the result of His work and also not to our credit. He still rewards us for them though, He’s that generous!
The founder of Child Evangelism Fellowship, Jesse Overholtzer, went through a difficult time as a child because he wanted to give his life to Jesus, but was under the impression from his church that he wasn’t old enough. So, he decided to live for himself since he wasn’t allowed to live for God. When as a young adult he finally was shown salvation by grace, he gratefully received it, knowing that he was unworthy. However, due to the emphasis of his church on rules, he fell into a pattern of life where he believed his salvation was kept by good works. Doubting his salvation and living in fear and turmoil did not produce the fruit the Spirit. It was only after he fully received salvation by grace did he experience the fullness of joy and a life that overflowed with good works that were Spirit-led.
It’s natural to feel that salvation is the result of good works, so the truth must be shared over and over. Share with a child today the most wonderful thing about being God’s child, that salvation is a free gift, not by good works.
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