Works and Ritual
"Pastor, would you like to read the letter I wrote to the Lord Jesus?" The young man was about 20 years old so I was not expecting that kind of offer from him. The previous week he had made his first visit to the little church we were starting in Santiago, Chile and stayed after the service to pray to trust Christ as his personal and sufficient Savior after years of trying to merit salvation through good works and ritual. I unfolded the letter and read the following:
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank you for dying for me on the cross and forgiving me of all my sins. I have such peace in my heart now and real joy in knowing I will be with you in heaven. I thank you that now all the good things I used to do to try to earn salvation I can now do just because I love you and appreciate the salvation you have given me.
I was thrilled with the spiritual insight expressed by this new believer. Good works and religious ritual are a result of gaining forgiveness, not a means for gaining it. They are expressions of gratitude to God for giving to us what we could never hope to gain or merit by any efforts of our own. I could relate to his experience because I had gone through the same struggle for many years. Going to a church did not bring peace, nor was the message preached in that church very comforting to me – “Do good, be good, and hope for the best.” Since I was not always successful at doing and being good, the result was that I had very little hope and not much peace. But while in the Navy I heard the gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus’ death in my place on the cross. I asked Him to forgive my sins and come in and take over my life, and the peace of God filled my heart. From that moment on I have been delighting in loving Him and serving Him out of gratitude for what he has done for me, and am looking forward to the day when I will be with Him in glory forever.
When do good works and religious ritual have value?
Ritual and works are meant to be a way of saying “thank you” to God for his free gift of salvation, and when offered as an expression of gratitude are pleasing to God. But when they are presented as a bargaining effort, it becomes an abomination in the sight of God because it ignores the complete salvation purchased by Jesus on the cross and granted to us simply by repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus.
Listen to the Value of Religious Ritual.