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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Spike at Your Service”

Both Spike and Applejack find themselves in an interesting dilemma in this episode. On Spike’s end, after getting saved by Applejack from Timberwolves, he believes he must show his appreciation to her through a life debt; pledging himself to be Applejack’s servant (practically slave) forever. On Applejack’s end, she’s soon put in the uncomfortable position of Spike wanting to do literally everything for her and struggling to get him to just consider it a favor that “friend’s do”.

Of course, Applejack can’t break it off because of the sense of duty and obligation that Spike feels. It’s important for him to do this because otherwise he’ll feel dishonorable or even ungrateful. In other words, he feels if he really wants to show gratitude, he has to do something external to display that gratitude and “prove it”, in essence. And that leads into today’s devotional.

Ever since the letters of Paul, it’s been clear to Christianity that Jesus’ free gift of salvation is a result of faith in His sacrifice and mercy, and not external works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)  “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16) Yet the major divisions that caused the initial breaks in the Church and remain to this day as the point on which Catholics and Protestants argue revolve around the idea of faith and works, or good deeds. Are good works merely the byproduct of having true and pure faith in Jesus Christ? Or do good works demonstrate the true and pure faith an individual has in Jesus Christ?

Some people believe strictly in “faith alone” as being what brings salvation, with absolutely no provision for what is done on the part of the individual. Yet most people believe if an individual continues to commit sins or even intentionally and willfully does evil after accepting Lord Jesus’ offer of salvation that they have either never truly believed in God or they esteemed the gift so poorly that their salvation is effectively “null and void”. On the other hand, some people take James 2:17 so literally that they feel the only way they can prove the validity of their faith is by constantly doing good and being Christ-like in all of their actions. At that point, that kind of faith degenerates once again into “keeping the law” and earning salvation, which was also staunchly warned against by the apostles and what caused the great split in the Church to begin with.

From a personal standpoint, I feel there has to be somewhere in between the two that’s the right answer, but that’s something rather hard for some people to accept; especially myself. As I’ve pointed out before, the world is very black and white to me. Something has to be all one way or all the other, and with messages in the Bible like these that seem to be at odds with each other, I had times where I felt driven to do good works to “prove my faith”, and that if I didn’t that professing my own faith was worthless. Of course, that also easily led to situations in which I was stricken with despair and anxiety due to feeling the need to constantly do good. That I had to somehow “earn” the salvation I had been given as well as the benefits I was blessed with in life. Basically, I had to be shown worthy of God’s Love.

My problem is the only way I saw God was as a disinterested, impartial judge who was simply watching over all my good deeds and evil deeds and getting ready to slam a sentence down on me as soon as one went one way or the other. First off, that was an incorrect analogy all together because the decision had already been made when I accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation, ending the “judgment” part of my fate. But more importantly, I had divorced any image of love to that viewpoint.

The best way to think about it is if I was a father and I had a son who slipped and fell through ice on a frozen lake and I yanked him back out. It wouldn’t be because my son had done anything good for me lately, made me exceptionally proud, or hadn’t talked back or been naughty; I’d go in because he was my son and I loved him. Now if after that point my son obeyed me or did good in respect or gratitude for what happened, I’d definitely be happy and even proud of him. But if he didn’t I wouldn’t one day start saying: “Man, I wish I had let you drown that day!” Nor would I enjoy it if my son was constantly doing what I said simply because they thought I’d love them less or throw them in the frozen lake again if they didn’t.

True love, whether it be divine in origin or human in origin, isn’t something that can be bought or earned. If it is, it’s no longer love; it’s recompense at best or control at worst. It’s either freely given or it doesn’t exist. What gives Christians the freedom to love God is the fact that he freely loved us first. Otherwise, it’d be nothing more than a partnership or agreement. It’d be a set of rules we’d have to keep in order to get something back. But the gift of salvation is totally free and presented to any and all who want it.

With that in mind, I believe good works are indeed the sign of a true Christian, but out of an attitude of gratitude, so to speak. If I ever reach the point in doing good in which I feel I’m somehow currying favor with God or making up for my shortcomings, then I know I’ve gone too far. I believe the true good works that God wishes to see are what comes from fully understanding and appreciating his own love and gift of salvation for us, and desiring to share that love and gift with others. Not wanting something back for it, but imitating the same kindness done for us.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you so much for your free gift of salvation through faith and belief in Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than try to change myself to conform to being ‘worthy’ of such a great gift, please grant that I might internalize it and feel it deep within me at all times; letting it (and you) do the work of changing me so that I might bring good things out of a store of good in my heart. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”