Though many give lip-service to the doctrine taught in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith,” it becomes apparent in conversation that many of those people paying lip-service to the idea either do not believe it, or else they do not understand it. For example, when someone passes away, it is quite common to hear someone say that the deceased will most certainly be in heaven because they were such a good person, or they did so much good for others.
This is not to discount the necessity of doing good for others, according to the command of God, but when we read, salvation is “a gift of God,” and “not of works, lest anyone boast,” (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), we should understand that no one gets into heaven because of all the good they did. They get into heaven because God lets them in. You cannot earn your way into God’s house.
Grace, the favor of God, in matters of salvation is not bestowed universally. Jesus said that many traveled the road to destruction and only a few would find eternal life and salvation. (Matthew 7:13-14) We see this truth played out in the days of Noah (cf. Genesis 6-8), wherein the Bible teaches that the whole world perished, excepting eight souls that were on the ark with Noah. Noah and his family were saved, because “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (cf. Genesis 6:8). It is not a coincidence that we also read about Noah, in the very next verse: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9; ESV)
In recent weeks, we have been exploring the question, what does God expect from His creation? How do men make God happy with them? We have been looking at the answer given by the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8; ESV)
God does have those things He requires of men if we are to gain His approval. We must actively “do justice,” treating others in the right way. We must likewise, “love kindness,” being merciful to others when they fail to behave as they ought. This mutual blending of actively doing good and forgiving others when they falter makes human interactions more pleasant for all involved when followed.
But let us notice there are three things the prophet tells us that God wants from men, and while the first two deal with our relationship to other people, the third requirement deals with our relationship with God. God wants men to have a close, loving relationship with Him, in all humility and reference, to “walk humbly with God.”
This is not unreasonable on God’s part. We have all had human parents, and many of us are parents, and most normal parents appreciate it when their children maintain a good relationship with them, even after leaving home. The child that never calls, never visits, and does all that they can to badmouth and mock their parents to others is perceived to be a poor child.
God is the Father of mankind, and it makes sense that He wants children who maintain a proper relationship with Him. There are plenty of individuals who do plenty of nice things for other people, but when it comes to God, they have no time, no respect, and no desire to improve their relationship. Some even go so far as to mock God, and far too many only use His name as a swear-word by which they express their anger.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbors. But the first and greatest commandment, Jesus taught, was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and strength. (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Without that proper relationship with God, all else becomes futile. You can do all the nice things for other people that you desire, but that doesn’t get you into God’s house. You cannot earn your way into God’s house. He has to open the door for you because He desires to show His child grace and favor. It is the right relationship with God that becomes important in the end.
Have you, in this life, walked with God, in humility worshiping and serving Him? Certainly, this is going to include treating other people in a godly manner, but it is so much more than that. You need to be talking to God, listening to His word, using Him as your role-model. You need to be spending time honoring your heavenly Father, in both word and deed, as a dutiful child. In the end, this is what God wants from you.
If you would like to develop that good relationship with your Creator, God has made it possible through Jesus Christ. To that end, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.