As a Christian pastor, I have conversations with folks all the time about sin, and heaven, and hell. Many of these people have been going to church all their lives, been good citizens, and seem to be in good shape spiritually. They claim to be Christians, followers of Jesus. And yet, so many talk about heaven as if they're still not sure whether or not they'll "get there."
They're still worried about the sins of their youth. In fact, they're just generally feeling guilty and ashamed, and wondering if they're "good enough."
It just makes me get a little crazy! These folks seriously doubt their salvation! Have people been going to church all their lives, calling themselves Christian, yet not really hearing the gospel?
Romans 10:13: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
I honestly believe that. I hope you do, too. How can we find so many ways to complicate it? Why do we keep insisting on earning salvation, when God offers us GRACE and freedom? And where on earth would we EVER get the idea that we can somehow make ourselves good enough? That's never happened ... and it never will.
I remember hearing a young man say, "Oh, yeah, I'll go forward the next time Billy Graham comes to town. By that time, I should have my act cleaned up."
We come to God in NEED of cleaning up, trusting his Spirit to cleanse us in ways we ourselves never could. And I can't tell you the number of times people have told me, "There's no way the Lord could forgive me for what I've done. It's too awful." And because they're still intent on earning their salvation -- cleaning up their act, following the rules -- they don't allow themselves to simply call on the name of the Lord.
When we call on the name of the Lord, we're making a beginning; we're opening the door to him. We're saying that we believe he's God's true and only Son, AND our much-needed Savior. We're saying that we're in the grip of something much bigger than we are, and we need God's salvation and continuing help to live and die with Jesus. We're NOT saying we're finally worthy; we're saying we're not worthy at all. We've realized we don't need a facilitator; we need a Savior. That kind of honesty, that humility, that openness ... they are the basis of our response to God's call on our lives.
When we call on the name of the Lord, we can't do it with the idea that we'll try really hard, or clean up our act, or be a better person through our own efforts. Calling on the name of the Lord says we know we can't do that; we need a Savior. We need help, and we need it desperately.
We're filled with good intentions, but a little slow on the delivery. Even Paul said that the good he most wanted to do, he didn't do; and what he most wanted NOT to do is what he did do. If we could be "good" all on our own, why the cross? Why the atoning death of God's Son? Why the power of his resurrection, and his assurances that he's with us always?
When we insist on trying to earn our salvation, it's as if we're handing all that back to God and saying, "Oh, never mind, I'm going to be good enough on my own and EARN my way into heaven." If we COULD manage all this on our own, why would God send us a Savior?
We have a hard time asking for help. We were raised to be self-sufficient, independent, to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. To call on the name of the Lord is to put all that pride away and admit our great need, our complete reliance on God's forgiveness and grace. And we resist that. We'd RATHER earn it. But there's no way to do that. The Israelites spent hundreds of years trying to perfectly obey the Law of Moses, and never made it! Why do we keep trying? If we want God, we have to call on the name of the Lord.
We're called to good works, yes. But we do our good works, not to earn God's favor, but because we already have it, through Jesus. Any goodness, any worthiness, any virtue that shines out of us is not because we're just trying really hard and managing some self-improvement; it's because we've called on the name of the Lord, been forgiven and set free, and we're now so filled with gratitude that we do our good works out of joy and love - not a fear that we'll be rejected if we're not good enough.
Our Christian faith should not be uncertain, nervous, a little ashamed. Jesus is our Savior, not our taskmaster. We love only because he first loved us. We need to call on the name of the Lord with honesty, humility, and deep gratitude for God's powerful and eternal grace.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.