If grace is free, why do we try to earn it?

I sat at one of my favorite coffee shops this morning with one of my favorite people studying one of my favorite books of the Bible: Romans. She and I have been doing this for years now, and our appetites for God’s Word have kept us coming back for more and more.

Not sure if you’ve read through Romans lately, but the book is deep. We have spent months on it, and I feel as if we’re just barely scratching the surface. It’s so good, and it’s so hard. It’s thought provoking, and it’s challenging. It’s difficult to spend time in it and not walk away changed.

This morning led us to conversations of grace. As we were seeking to unpack Romans 4:1-5, we were both hit with a fresh reminder of one of the most beautiful words in Scripture:


What’s amazing is that you won’t even find the word “grace” within those five verses, but the theme of it is written all over this short portion of Scripture. I love verse four:

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.” Romans 4:4 NIV

When we go to our places of employment, we perform our duties for that job, and in turn, we expect a paycheck. Compensation is due to the one who works. We have earned it, and so we receive it. It’s pretty simple. Where it gets really messed up is when we apply this logic to our faith, and more specifically, to our relationship with Jesus. Salvation was, is, and always will be a free gift, meaning, it simply cannot be earned or deserved no matter how good of a life you live. It’s free. That’s the whole point of it. Still, you will find countless people walking the face of this earth striving to earn their way, working tirelessly to be worthy enough of a free gift offered to all, endlessly seeking to please God by what they do instead of just receiving what He has already done.

Happy Good Friday, friends. That is what the message of today is all about. Jesus, sinless and perfect in every way, chose to die a death that we deserved to die because of our sin, and in return, He offers us the free gift of new life in Him, not obtained by righteous works or good deeds, but simply received as the free gift of grace that it is.

I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would say to all of us religious people if He were to walk the dusty roads of this earth today.

“Just love me more than you love doing stuff for me.”

“Stop striving for me, and start resting in me.”

“I came for the sick and the sinner. Let my free gift of grace rescue you, too.”

“If you could earn your way to heaven, then my brutal death on that cross was in vain.”

I imagine He would say much more, and I know that His words would be far more eloquent than my own, but still, I think these would be somewhere tucked into the heart of His message.

Why was Good Friday good? Because God made grace free to all who would receive it through Jesus Christ. As you and I reflect on the cross today, let’s choose to remember what we were rescued from and whom we were rescued to. This is no small day on the Christian calendar. Death was defeated on that cross 2000 years ago, and we stand and live in hope on this side of heaven because of it. Jesus died so we could live. Jesus suffered so we could be free. Let’s stop trying to earn what we can’t, and let’s embrace grace and give it out freely, just as we have been freely given this grace.

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