I had an epiphany in the shower. I often get epiphanies there. It probably has something to do with the warm water, the time just to think, the routine of it all. I’ve had some of my greatest life-changing conversations with God there.
I had just had a conversation concerning works and righteousness. The discussion revolved around tradition, how keeping the rules gives one the feeling of accomplishment, that somehow they have earned their righteousness and salvation. It’s easy to get caught up in feeding our egos with our good works, showing others, ourselves, and God how “worthy” we are to be called righteous as we tally up the points in our favor, and “humbly” deduct points in moments of failure. This point system is often based off of our own idea of what is right, what is wrong, and what’s in the middle. It places us in the judge’s seat, creating a feeling of control and, ultimately, security because we know we are following the rules.
There’s a guy in the Bible who felt the same way. He had followed all the rules, done all he felt was expected of him, and had made sacrifices to gain favor from his father. It seemed, by all accounts, that he was most worthy of a celebration thrown in his honor. However, one day he came home from working his father’s field and he did find a celebration, but it was not in his honor. This celebration was for his rebellious brother who had abandoned him and his father to squader his inheritance in a far away land. At the sight of the party in his brother’s honor, he became angry, slighted, wronged. Hadn’t he done everything right? Hadn’t he been faithful? A party had never been thrown in his honor for all the good he had done, but the best of the best was being given to this unworthy brother?
I used to read this story and I would feel pity for this brother. I understood his feelings of injustice. I was like him, believing that one must work to earn this sort of recognition, this extravagant act of love. But, love is not earned. Not real love, that is. Love, if it is true, is unconditional. This means that it cannot be earned. Love cannot be accrued over time and great acts of valor and piety. This is what the Father tells his son in the story. He reminds his son that he is, well, his son. He calls to his son’s attention the fact that all that is the Father’s belongs to him as well. It always was, and he was never working to earn it. It was his regardless. His motivation was out of the wrong place. He was motivated to earn what was already his, rather than working from the realization that what was his Father’s was his.
This is how salvation, righteousness, favor, love, etc., works in the Kingdom of God. We do not work to earn these things. We are in Christ, therefore, all that is His is ours by default. What I do does not earn me these things. And that’s the epiphany I had in the shower. I was pondering all of this when I heard Holy Spirit whisper the word “motivation.” “Why are you doing the works?” He asked. Because, if I am feeding the poor to earn brownie points with God, it is from the wrong motivation and I will feel wronged when I see someone doing “less” than me but is walking in crazy amounts of favor (let’s be honest, we’ve all been there). However, when I know that I am the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) and I live in the favor of God because I am in Christ, I am no longer feeding the poor to earn anything, but out of the overflow of the love in my heart. I am free to do works from righteousness rather than for it. Because I am free, I have chosen to give all of me to Christ in a grand act of surrender and I am no longer my own, I am His, bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The motivation of my heart, therefore, is to live from the favor of God, showing others His goodness by the way I live.
There is great freedom found in Christ. “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” (John 8:36) “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16) Our freedom in Christ is rooted in the reality that we are already righteous and saved in Him and our works come out of that reality. I am free to love others by my works, to obey God with my choices and the way I live, and to live with honor.
So, what are your motivations? Are you still trying to earn God’s love and favor, to earn righteousness and salvation? Are you living as a much-loved child or as an orphan struggling to get the scraps off the table you’ve been given permission to sit at?