February 16, 2012 by Dwight Bernier
Growing up, I remember hearing people talk about what they want to hear when they die. What they most looked forward to (from how it was presented to me), was hearing God say “well done, good and faithful servant”. It sounded strange to me as a child to hear this (as death is hard to conceptualize), but nonetheless remember myself trying to process it.
Now, the logic I understood was probably not what all of them intended. But regardless of intention, this was how I grasped it. The logic as I understood it was that people were trying really hard to please God so that He would say He was pleased with them. I could relate to this. I, too, wanted my parents to tell me ‘good job’ for the things that I accomplished. So, the way I figured that God worked was that if you did a good job and believed in Jesus, that he would say “well done”. The antithesis to that would be the guy who did a poor job in life but believed in Jesus, so God had to ‘let him in’, but wouldn’t say “well done”.
What this did in me was create this idea that somehow Jesus and His death and resurrection saved me, but that then I had to show God just how good I really was. This was problematic for me, because I wasn’t a good kid. At certain points, I even tried to be a good kid and still did things that were horrible. For example, in fifth grade, I tried to trip my teacher on the very first day of class. Why? I have no idea. I just did it. That was me. And my understanding of living for the “well done, good and faithful servant” welcome was telling me that God would not give me a high-five when I got to be with him at the end of my life.
I saw the gospel as God having to save me because of Jesus, but not having to be pleased with me. I sensed that I had to perform for the acceptance of God. But Jesus was not connected to that equation at all. In fact, my understanding of being told “well done, good and faithful servant” was completely contingent on my works – not the work that Jesus accomplished.
What had happened for me as a child and what has only recently been made much more clear, is that there is a difference between acceptance and faithfulness. What I was expecting was that God would accept dependent upon how faithful I could be. If I did a good job, then God would accept me. So, when I screwed my life up completely, I just wrote God off as never wanting to accept me because of my unfaithfulness.
But when I really grasped the gospel, that Jesus came for the unfaithful, and that in fact, He is the only one who is faithful, then that changed everything. When I connected the reality that Jesus lived a perfect and faithful life in my place because I can’t live a perfect and faithful life, that was so freeing. It told me that no one would hear “well done”, because no one is good (Mark 10.18). Only Jesus is worthy of being told “you are my beloved son and with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1.11).
But Jesus didn’t just come to live a life that was pleasing to God, but to die a sacrificial death that would appease the wrath of God for sinners. What this means is that Jesus, who never sinned, died for sinners, so that we could be forgiven and accepted as children. This shattered my entire view of how God worked. God was not a God waiting to reward me based on what I had done. I had already blown that (and so have you). What God was doing in Jesus, was rewarding people with what Jesus earned for them. Now, we can be fully accepted and approved of before the Father because of what Jesus has done in our place. All who trust in Jesus as Lord & Savior will hear, “you are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased”. Not because of what we’ve done. But because of what Jesus did.
So, what about the faithfulness part. We are called to be faithful. But faithful to what? I was not good at being faithful to rules as a child. I couldn’t stand the kids who were, because they let me know that they were good at it. But growing in my understanding of the gospel has led me to understand ‘faithfulness’ as finding life in Jesus. But what does this look like?
Instead of finding life in rules and how well we can keep them, we find our life in the one who kept them perfectly in our place. Rather than finding security in money, vocation, relationship, we find our security in Jesus. Comfort is found in Jesus in place of seeking all the comforts that we can find in life. And the real blessing of this calling to be faithful is that we can repent. When we see that we aren’t finding our enjoyment and life in Jesus, we can turn back to Him (implying that we turn away from what we thought would give us life).
It is essential for us to grasp and explain the difference between acceptance and faithfulness. It’s not that we are faithful so that we receive our acceptance. Rather, it’s that because of Jesus, we are accepted, so therefore we can, and should grow in being faithfulness.
All the faithful (those in Jesus) will hear “well done, good and faithful servant, for what you did with my Son”.