«For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast!» (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
One of the most frequent tasks in sixth grade was that of doing research on some topic. Every time we turned in a job that was well done, the teacher put a “thumbs up” stamp on it that said, “Very good.” For some reason, I got addicted to those stamps. I wanted to get all I could and tried to earn extra points. I remember that I once did very extensive work on the Olympics and got eighteen stamps. It was a moment of great victory and reward for the effort.
However, how dangerous this is! We live in a world of reward based on effort, of assessment only for achievements, of «happiness» associated with personal success, and salvation is so different.
Perhaps you got used to receiving love or approval during your childhood from adults only when you did things right. You may be used to think that God loves you only when there are positive advances or results, or that you get His blessings in some way for having passed certain levels or by showing you are better than others. However, it is not like that.
Luther struggled to show this biblical truth that had been so hidden, inaccessible, and forgotten. We do not gain salvation through works. God is love. His love is His character and essence, not a reward. We respond to that love. We are saved by faith, and the natural result is the works.
It is true that we will be judged by them, but they are only the reaction to the action of faith.
«Eternal life is an infinite gift. This places it outside the possibility of our earning it, because it is infinite…. As a gift it must be received by faith, and gratitude and praise be offered to God…If we do God’s will, we may accept large blessings as God’s free gift, but not because of any merit in us…Do the work of Christ, and you will honor God and come off more than conquerors through Him that has loved us and given His life for us, that we should have life and salvation in Jesus Christ (Faith and Works, ch. 1, p. 27).
What «stamps» are you struggling with today? Pray in faith and allow Him to act. The rest will come.