I had a long conversation recently with a man I had just met, and he had a theory about human nature. He asked me if I knew what the basic requirements of life were, and of course we soon agreed on the traditional list of water, food and shelter. “Ah, but!” says he, with a grin: “I believe I know what is even more important than these for human existence. Top of the list is validation.” His point being that we all long to know that we are worthwhile, that our lives mean something, that we live a worthy life, a valid life.
Now this man wasn’t a Christian, but he pressed on by telling me that’s how my faith works too. He said “You work hard to live a life that makes you worthy to be allowed into heaven.” I quickly hit the brakes on our conversation. “Nope,” I told him, “you have that exactly backwards.” Because that’s not Christianity, that’s Pharisaism. I don’t know where he picked the idea up, but the two things aren’t the same.
As a Pharisee, you put in the effort because you believe it gives you prestige in God’s eyes. You learn the rules, you follow the rules, and when you get it right, you praise yourself as being worthy. It’s all about you, and you don’t owe God a thing, in fact He owes you – your place in paradise is secure because you bought the ticket yourself. They can’t deny you entry because you worked hard for it – you are self-validated. That’s what my new acquaintance thought my faith is about. That’s what a lot of people think our faith is about. It might even be what you think your faith is about.
But it’s not what the Bible says.
The Bible says any good standing I have before God wasn’t the result of my work, it was the result of His. Now I could run off a string of Bible quotes to make my point, such as Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:22; John 6:28-29; or 1 Peter 1:5, there are a lot. But let me phrase this in the same terms that my friend set up his claim about validation being vital to us.
What I told him was, my place in heaven doesn’t depend on my life being worthy. It depends on Jesus Christ’s life being worthy. If it was (even he had to concede that it was), and if I subscribe into His worthy life through faith – if I join my unworthy life with His – then God does the work of validating me. I don’t have to scramble to validate myself, and I don’t have to work at being worthy so that God will love me. He already does. He sent His Son to prove it, long before I was even born.