Recently, at our church, we have been moving through the book of Galatians, studying the beautiful reality of the Gospel— namely, that we are saved by grace, through faith, in Christ. How wonderful it is, to know that we don’t have to earn or keep God’s approval by what we do or don’t do; we can truly rest and relish in the finished work of Jesus.
In our day—just as in Paul’s— the Gospel is often distorted, making it a faith plus works gospel, which is actually no gospel at all. To be sure, good works are necessary, but they serve as evidence of our salvation, not as the means by which we are saved. When you cling to the Real Gospel and walk out its implications, your motive for good works becomes quite different from the “earn and keep God’s approval” message, to which many subscribe.
With the aim of illustrating the massive difference between the implications of these two Gospels, I have written a parable about two different women, who experience contrasting lives within their marriages.
The Tale of Two Wives
Faith + Works
Her husband is way out of her league and she knows it. Often, she thinks, “today may be the day that he wakes up and sees he could do so much better than me.” She tries so hard to earn his approval, yet she always seems to fall short.
She works diligently to be a great wife, hoping her husband might stay with her just one more day; so, day by day, she cleans, cooks, smiles, does her part to earn money, dresses nicely, and meets his needs in any way possible— hoping that she doesn’t mess up too badly— lest he throw her by the wayside.
She has good days and bad days, but there are often times when she falls short. Though she hides it well, she feels the weight of never feeling quite good enough. Every once in awhile she says the wrong thing, or doesn’t perfectly iron her husband’s shirt, or doesn’t get the kids’ mess cleaned up before he gets home from work.
Just last night she overcooked dinner; she tried to fix it before her husband returned home but failed to get anything else cooked in time. He walked in the door and immediately smelled the burnt food. She knew she had messed up. After a hard day of work, all he wanted was a warm, well-cooked meal. He gave her the silent treatment. No kiss, no hello. He just sat there all evening. She begged him for mercy.
They went to bed. Her husband went to sleep without as much as a “goodnight.” Tears streamed down her face as she laid next to him. She beat herself up all night and was again reminded that she doesn’t deserve a man like her husband. She wondered if he would still be there in the morning. She resolved to work extra hard the next day, to make up for her mishap; hopefully, she dreams, they will be married yet another day.
Years ago, she was swept off her feet by the man who is now her husband. She can’t believe that he even looked her way, much less that he would take her as his bride. She is far from perfect, coming from a very rough background and falling into the street life herself. Before him, she had been around, man to man, and felt used, yet he never makes her feel bad about these things; he accepts her just as she is. She has a list of failures that she is certainly not proud of, but her husband never so much as brings these things up.
She didn’t grow up in a strong, normal household; she doesn’t even know what a normal house would look like. She never learned to cook or to clean, and has no idea how to be a mother, for she practically raised herself.
She loves her husband and wants to please him. Oh, how she longs to see him happy. She treasures him.
Just yesterday, she attempted to make his favorite meal, but she overcooked the meat… and the vegetables… and the rolls… When her husband arrived home, he was so gracious, in spite of her mishap. He kissed her on the head, thanked her for trying to make this special meal, and then he went to a local restaurant only to bring back her favorite— Chinese food. They had a good laugh as they looked at the “attempted meal” still on the counter, across the room. He helped her clean up and they went off to bed for the night.
As she laid next to her husband, she felt secure, knowing, even through all her failures, he would be there tomorrow. And she thinks, “I am going to be the best wife I can possibly be because he loves so much.”
Do You Know, Believe, and Savor the Real Gospel?
Both women in these stories want to do good to and for their husbands, yet for profoundly different reasons. People who subscribe to the false, merit-based Gospel, work desperately day-by-day, attempting to earn and keep God’s approval. For the true believer, good works are birthed, instead, out of lives that have been changed by God’s grace and our now bent towards His glory. Those of us changed by the Gospel, want to do good, not for God’s approval or even payback, but out of sheer love, because He first loved us.
If you feel the weight of trying to earn or keep your right standing with God, I encourage you to experience and enjoy the freedom and joy found only in the Real Gospel that comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.