Earn This

Earn this...

Earn this...

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.

Earn This.

Earn THIS.


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!

9 thoughts on “Earn This

  1. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  2. Hi John. Thanks for the post. I love your desire to live your life in light of Christ and I sympathize with your lament over professing believers who do not. However, I feel you’re asking us to do the impossible. We simply cannot “earn this.”

    Private Ryan understood “earn this” to mean he had to live a life that was worth the death of the soldiers sent to find him. He had to live a life better than the lives they would have lived. But that is impossible for us to do. There is absolutely no work that we can do to earn Christ’s death. No amount of gospel obedience is worth the death of Christ. What was worth the death of Christ is the glory of God and God is most glorified when we realize and acknowledge to the world that we are not worth saving, but that we are saved anyways (Eph 2:7).

    To use the metaphor, Private Ryan was a wicked, lying traitor reporting to Hitler and Capt. Miller saved him anyways. The rest of Private Ryan’s life should be spent testifying to what Miller did, rather than trying to earn what Miller did, because he can’t. Miller may have told Ryan to “earn it”, but Christ didn’t.

    However, you do capture an important truth. Ryan understood the cost of his salvation. The professing believers who do not live a transformed life do not understand the cost of their salvation, but that is because they are professing believers. They do not live with a regenerate heart because they don’t have one (and they certainly can’t do anything to get one). No one who was saved like Private Ryan could fail to understand the cost of their salvation, and no one who is saved by Christ can fail to understand the cost of their salvation. Those who do not are not saved because they do not believe.

    So then the exhortation must be for them to believe, not do.

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece.

  3. Calvinist?

    How do you apply sanctification?

    I do agree with you. There is nothing we can DO. However, is it simply a matter of belief then? Do we just believe, our hearts regenerate, and we start to live a life worthy of Christ’s attention?

    Good thoughts Brandon! You are a smart guy! Thanks for the comment!

  4. Ehh…I didn’t mean exactly that. Sorry. Not the best choice of words.

    My original though is built off the “cheap grace” concept of Bonhoeffer. We can’t do anything to earn Christ’s attention.

    But isn’t there something to be said of the person who does much with little with be blessed with more (not in the Prosperity Gospel sense, but just simply a matter of living a transformed life?)

    Does that make sense? Sorry. I’m trying to sort through a lot of these thoughts.

  5. Sorry, just one more clarification question then I’ll see if I can help answer your questions above.

    But isn’t there something to be said of the person who does much with little with be blessed with more (not in the Prosperity Gospel sense, but just simply a matter of living a transformed life?)
    Can you point me to a passage to elaborate on what you mean? I want to be sure I understand you. Are you saying that if someone does good works, they will be rewarded with further transformation/sanctification?

  6. Matthew 25 (Parable of the Talents).
    Matthew 13:11-19

    Clarify one more time:
    * Prosperity gospel (which I don’t believe in). If I do this/pray this/say this, God will give me X. Health and Wealth gospel.

    * On the other hand, how do you explain “spiritual transformation.” If I spend time with God, praying, seeking justice, etc., etc., won’t that lead to further transformation/sanctification?

  7. How do you apply sanctification?
    I do agree with you. There is nothing we can DO. However, is it simply a matter of belief then? Do we just believe, our hearts regenerate, and we start to live a life worthy of Christ’s attention?

    To clarify, our hearts are regenerated before we believe (Jn 3:3; Ezk 36:26-27). That is what causes us to believe. And if we look at the passages that talk about regeneration, we will see that it is the cause of the new life, the transformed life now lived in obedience. Note Ezk 36:27 mentioned above and compare that with Jeremiah 31:33. Previously we were slaves to sin, unable to do good, but now we have been set free and have been given the freedom to obey (which we could not do before) (Rom 6:16-23).
    This new birth causes us to “delight in the law of God in [our] inner being” (Rom 7:22). That is precisely a change in what we believe. We previously believed that we were autonomous and free from God. We hated God’s law. Now we believe that He is King and we love His law. Because we delight in the law of God, we seek to obey it. We cannot seek to obey it unless we first delight in it (so no amount of exhortation to just obey or just do will change anything – we must be born again, cf. 1 Cor 2:14).

    And so, yes, it is simply a matter of belief. Our sanctification consists in the renewal of our mind (Rom 12:2). It consists in our continual growth in understanding and belief in God’s Word. It consists in conforming our minds to the mind of Christ. Scripture, the Word of God, reveals the mind of Christ to us. In the upper room, Jesus prayed to the Father “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).

    But isn’t there something to be said of the person who does much with little with be blessed with more (not in the Prosperity Gospel sense, but just simply a matter of living a transformed life?)

    I don’t believe sanctification is presented that way. I don’t think that we earn a transformed life by doing good things. Christ earned our transformed life – all of it (Heb 12:23). Our life is a continual growth, so we do grow somehow, but I do not believe it is by means of earning rewards.

    To use a metaphor, when we water the lawn, God does not judge our watering and then determine if it should be rewarded with grass that grows. Instead, the very act of watering the lawn is what causes it to grow. In the same way, God does not look down and judge our prayers and our actions to determine if we will be rewarded with more transformation. Instead it is our attending to the means of grace (the watering the lawn) that cause us to grow. The primary means of grace is God’s Word. It transforms our mind. And I do not mean a simple 15 minute mindless read through so we can check it off our list. I mean that when we meditate upon God’s Word in order to understand it, that is the very means of our growth because it changes/renews our mind and a transformed life is driven by a renewed mind.

    I would not say that seeking justice is a means of growth. Instead it is a result of growth. If we are seeking justice in order to grow then we have it all backwards and it will not produce the desired result. Matthew 25 refers to the last day, to Christ’s return (v13). I do believe it is speaking of a reward for work well done in this life, but it does not say that reward is a further transformed life. It is speaking of a heavenly reward. I also don’t think Matt 13 is talking about a transformed life or of rewards for good works. It does say “for to the one who has, more will be given,” but it is referring to spiritual understanding (v11). To the one who has understanding, more understanding will be given through the parables. But to the one who does not have spiritual understanding, even what they think they have will be taken away and they will be left confused and without understanding when they hear the parables.
    If it helps, here is how the London Baptist Confession explains sanctification:

       1. THOSE who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, have a new heart and a new spirit created in them; and by His Word and Spirit dwelling within them, this personal work of sanctification is indeed carried further.All these blessings accrue to them by reason of the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection.Sin’s mastery over them is completely broken; the evil desires to which it gives birth are increasingly weakened and dealt their death-blow; and saving graces in them are increasingly enlivened and strengthened. The practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, is thus promoted.

John 17:17; Acts 20:32; Rom. 6:5,6,14; 2 Cor. 7:1; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 3:16-19; Col. 1:11; 1 Thess. 5:21-23; Heb. 12:14.

    2. Sanctification, as defined in this way, extends to every part of man, yet remains incomplete in this life.Sin’s corrupt remnants continue to defile all parts of man, causing within him a continual warfare that does not admit of reconciliation; the flesh rises up against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh.

Rom. 7:18,23; Gal. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet. 2:11.

    3. In the war of flesh versus Spirit, sin’s corrupt remnants may for a time gain the upper hand, yet the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ enables man as a new creature to gain the victory.And so the saints grow in grace, moving on towards a fullness of holiness in the fear of God. They earnestly endeavor to live according to heaven’s laws, and to render gospel obedience to all the commands which Christ, as their head and king, has laid down for them in His Word.

Rom. 6:14; 7:23; 2 Cor. 3:18; 7:1; Eph. 4:15,16.


    Additionally, here are two of the most helpful articles I have read on sanctification. I very highly recommend studying them:

    The Means of Sanctification

    The Relationship Between Justification and Sanctification

    Does that help at all? What are your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s