Growing up Catholic, I was taught at a young age that my actions, my good deeds, were very important to God. God had given us very clear instructions of Dos and Don’ts (aka The Ten Commandments) and had instructed us to love one another as He has loved us.
I grew up believing that good deeds were everything, that if I wanted to make it to heaven one day, I needed to follow the rules, be a good person, and confess my sins, making an act of attrition to have them forgiven.
Honestly, it’s not a bad mindset at all. If everyone lived that way, it would be utopia. I will always credit the Catholic church for teaching me how to say my faults out loud, admit my wrongdoings, and apologize for them. Believe what you will about the merits of confession; I can tell you – at least from a child’s perspective – I learned how good it feels to own my mistakes, seek forgiveness, and to get it.
After I married my Baptist husband, we agreed to find a church that was right for both of us, and that meant a virtual cornucopia of church visits of every denomination you can name. In the process, I discovered that the majority of Christian churches do not espouse good works as a way of earning your place in heaven. For the first time, I was introduced to the idea that I could seek a relationship with God…and that was enough. That was all He wanted.
It seemed hard to believe. Sometimes I still struggle with it, to be honest. But my wise husband helped me to understand it a little better. As he says, if you have a relationship with God, and you love Him, your actions and deeds will reflect that. It’s not that you have to check boxes to enjoy eternity with God, but more accurately, that you’ll WANT to check all the boxes because doing so is a reflection of your love for Him.
This should be a simple concept to grasp, but it isn’t, especially for someone who grew up thinking differently. In our Catholic home, you never, ever missed church. Even when we traveled, we found a church nearby to attend. It wasn’t Christmas Eve until we attended Midnight Mass. I went to Catholic school, was taught by nuns, wore a uniform every day, and sometimes, because I enjoyed it, I attended a 6:30 am mass before going to school. That’s how Catholic I was. All of it formed who I am today, and I’m grateful for it. But looking back, it was a lot of box-checking versus seeking a meaningful relationship based in love.
This past Sunday, I sat in church thinking about how different it is and how different I am now that I believe in eternal salvation – the kind that can’t be rescinded because I’ve made a mistake. The sermon topic was performance-based religion, and just that term made me stop and think. Does God expect us to perform for Him? And if our performance is lacking, are we kicked off the heavenly stage, never to return?
The Bible makes it clear. Ephesians 1:13 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.” It should bring us all great comfort to hear that phrase “sealed with the promise.” It means that once we ask Jesus into our hearts, it’s a done deal. Our human flaws and missteps are understood, and God loves us in spite of them.
Many struggle with that – as I have – and question, “What if I change? What if I turn my back on Him? What if I say horrible things about Him and turn others against Him?” There is an answer.
God is never disappointed in you because that would suggest that he expected something from you that didn’t happen. But God knows everything. He knows exactly who you are, even if you don’t know yourself. And He knows exactly what you’re going to do. Yet he welcomes you, loves you, and accepts that you won’t always do what pleases Him. It was never about our perfection. It’s always been about the relationship.
It’s a little arrogant to believe that you have the power to destroy your relationship with The Almighty. He already knows that you are a work in progress. He knows what he’s gotten Himself into. And he loves you so much, despite all of it.
John 10:28 says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” That includes you. That’s the definition of unconditional love. And it’s one of the most beautiful lessons of Christianity.