I recently had a conversation with someone close to me who claimed that the Hope of Salvation was simply a “carrot on a stick” used to entice us to live a righteous life. The rest of that argument was that doing good and making right choices with the promise of eternity in mind was feeble and somehow negated the good that was done. Part of this person’s point was that instead of living a good life because of the reward at the end, a person should choose to be a good person just for the sake of being a good person. The argument continued to a belief that ‘organized religion’ was the root cause of many horrendous atrocities in history and present day (which I agree is a serious and shameful fact), and that ‘organized religion’ should, and the God who is the center should, therefore be left behind.
Now, as a believer, I recognize several parts of that argument as ill-informed and blatantly false. First, salvation is through grace, not works. Eternity is offered to us at no cost at all to us because God’s love for us is complete and pure. I did nothing and can do nothing to earn or deserve salvation other than welcome, accept and praise the Savior. The second issue in this line of thought is why we do ‘good works’ and what we accomplish as a result of them. Yesterday, the sermon at church was given by our youth pastor, Marthious. He really touched me and spoke to my friend’s claim with this succinct explanation: For unbelievers, the battle with Satan is for their eternal soul. For believers, already saved by Grace, the battle with Satan is over the impact that believer will have on others.
That’s the part my friend has missed in the story. Good works are useless effort for gaining salvation. A fallen human can never do enough well enough to earn heaven. Even the act of deciding what is good and what is not is tainted if you don’t have a plumb line to indicate it. But. Once a person’s salvation is secure – grace is recognized and accepted and God’s definition of good adopted– then the use of good works, of living as a good person, is how God is praised and others are influenced positively. Back to Marthious’ sermon — one last beautiful thought. He used a mango tree as an illustration. Some mangoes are yucky. Growing on their own, their fruit can be bitter or stringy. They are doing their best, and on the outside the fruit might look great, but inside: not appealing, not yummy. No one wants to taste their fruit. But. When a skilled gardener comes along and grafts goodness on to that yucky mango tree, from then on the tree produces wonderful fruit – juicy and enticing. From then on, that same tree feeds many with deliciousness. Accepting the graft God provides us through the sacrifice of Jesus changes us. The fruit we bear as a result influences those around us.
So now, I hope I get the opportunity to revisit the discussion I’ve recently had. My strength is at the keyboard and with written words, so face-to-face discussions often overwhelm me and my responses aren’t adequate. But now that I’ve had time to process, I want to share with this person, who I love dearly, that believers aren’t chasing a carrot on a stick in some futile attempt at finding eternity – or even meaning in this life. No, believers more resemble mangoes grafted by the Master Gardener, nurtured and saved, pruned and watered in the hope that their fruit nourishes another.