Emily and I recently watched “Saving Private Ryan.” The primary plot centers around Tom Hanks and a group of 7 or 8 soldiers on a mission into enemy territory to locate and bring back Private Ryan (Matt Damon). As the group gets deeper into trouble and loses a few lives, they question their mission and ask: “Is this worth the sacrifice?”
At the end of the movie, Tom Hanks and what is left of his men find Private Ryan and decide to fight alongside him as they defend a bridge against the enemy. During the battle, only few survive, including Private Ryan. Tom Hanks is one of the men who loses his life.
As the battle has ended and Tom Hanks is dying, he pulls Private Ryan close to him and whispers, “Earn this. Earn this.”
The story then jumps ahead 60 years or so and shows Private Ryan, an 80 year old man, at the gravesite of Tom Hanks’ character. With tears in his eyes, he asks his life: “Have I lived a good life? Tell me I’m a good man. Am I a good man?”
As I fought to hold back tears, this scene powerfully illustrates a truth about being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. His death and crucifixion was God’s payment for our sins. As God’s son, he was the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life so that we could live. “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith — this not on your own doing — but it is a gift from God — not by works, so that no one can boast.
Truth #1: We didn’t earn or deserve that gift.
However, I’m going to be real honest — A lot of Christians stop there. They receive the gift and do nothing with it. They fail to live a transformed life with a regenerated heart. They say: “Oh, but God’s grace is enough and there isn’t anything I can do, so I’m not going to do anything about it.” They receive the gift, and like a ungrateful child, fail to show true appreciation by living a life that “earns this.”
We love to talk about Grace. I love it too. The gift is the best gift anyone could give or receive in this world or the next.
However, I want the cross and what Jesus accomplished on it to matter in the here and now. And it should — with more than just an acknowledgment.
Every week, I face criticism — people questioning my heart, my motives, my actions — and at the end of each day, I’ve usually attempted to accomplish one thing — to set the captives free, to release the oppressed, to make the blind see, and to give good news to the poor — all through the blood and healing redemption of Jesus Christ. In summary, I want nothing more than for people to experience the liberation and freedom that Christ can bring.
But, in order to get there, people need to understand the sacrifice involved in “earning this.” If people want to swipe their salvation card and not let Christ affect the here and now, forget it…I’m not interested in talking with you because ultimately, you don’t understand the complexity and awesomeness of this gift.
A life lived in Christ has potential to unleash us from the vicious cycles of apathy, greed, selfishness, and sin management. But you have to understand the meaning behind these words: “Earn This.”
Earn This means we fully comprehend the depth and breadth of the gift. Earn This means we live a life where at the end, God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Earn This means we wake up and commit to not continuing the vicious cycles of greed, selfishness, violence, criticism, and apathy. Earn This means we engage in the practices God has laid out for us and commit to making a difference now. Earn This means we understand what it means to be transformed in HIS likeness and to not be conformed to the patterns of this world. Earn This means we live a disciplined life that fully engages in worship, service, and love for one another. Earn This means the ideals set forth in the Sermon on the Mount aren’t “idealistic” but transformative initiatives intended to release us from the chains of despair and meaninglessness.
Truth #2: In order to become more LIKE HIM and live a transformed life, we must engage in the practices and rhythm of life that Jesus outlines for us. Therefore, we must not JUST accept the gift — we must do something withit.
I want to weep at the end of my days knowing that I’ve given my all to my God and Savior. I want to know that I’ve attempted to live a life worthy of the sacrifice paid for me. I want to know that I’ve attempted with all that I am to shed light on and uncover the Kingdom here and now.
May God give you the courage to EARN THIS. May we understand that the gift isn’t meant to just be accepted. May we EARN THIS!