"There are two kinds of religion in this world," declared a random pastor I happened to meet in the park one day. "Those who believe a person has to do anything at all in order to gain salvation, and those who don't. Grace is everything and we don't need to do anything to gain salvation!"
I nodded politely, biting my tongue and keeping the cheeky comments in my head to myself. I wasn't about to tell this obviously learned disciple of Christ that he might not be aware that he had described what only pertained to the Christian faith and that there were continents full of religions that had nothing to do with Jesus, so his statement proved from the very beginning incomplete. I also declined mentioning that a person may take any passage from the Bible and contend that such stood as the pivotal hallmark of a true religion (method of baptism, priesthood authority, et cetera). He had done me good service and I hoped I proved too kind a person to intellectually mop the floor with him. But I digress.
The argument regarding faith versus work has raged almost since the beginning of Christianity, with human beings snubbing their neighbors, creating laws against heretics and even burning each other at the stake over such debates. But when I hear friends begin the old argument about whether salvation comes through works or faith I quietly smile, listen politely and take in only one piece of information about the whole situation.
They don't get it.
So allow me to explain.
I love the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. I love Him with every portion and part of my being, nothing withheld. There is nothing I would not give Him, nothing I would argue is too high a price to illustrate my love for Him, and nothing He would ask that I would not attempt to do. Salvation, my friends, isn't the point. I know that must inspire shocked gasps, but truly, salvation of self proves only a speck in the totality of our relationship with our Maker. Allow me to spend all my days in the service of my Father and my God, allow me to lay my spirit down in complete surrender to my Lord, allow me to die the painful death of a martyr in His service and after all this, let my Father condemn my soul to hell. I would still love Him as far as my capacity would let me feel anything. Salvation is not why I do what I do. I do not follow Him in order to escape hell. I do it because I love Him and want to do as He asks to the best of my ability. I do not do this for reward in this life or the next. I do not necessarily seek to avoid the anguish of hellfire; I seek to keep with me the Spirit of God, for when one has the Spirit, one can walk through the agony of hell with his head held high and his eyes focused on the next step ahead. A disciple of God fears not pain. Were I able, I would that I might have the roles reversed, that I might take the bitterness of Calvary upon my own shoulders that I might protect the Lord Jesus Christ, and save Him from such horrors. I cannot, but I wish I could because I love Him so much.
No. It's not about gaining salvation. It's not about stretching the extra inch to barely reach heaven or about performing the bare minimum in avoiding hell. It's about cultivating a living, vibrant, breathing relationship with God. It is about learning who He is and thus better understand who we are. And when we do this, our faith will solidify. Our acts will be in strict accordance to His will, not to gain salvation for ourselves but because His work becomes ours, His will becomes ours, and His wisdom guides our paths. And what He chooses to do with us after we find ourselves in the embrace of death will prove just another step in our eternal relationship with Him and will be for our good.