There’s more, son of man. Tell your people, “A good person’s life won’t save him when he decides to rebel, and a bad person’s bad life won’t prevent him from repenting of his rebellion. A good person who sins can’t expect to live when he chooses to sin. It’s true I tell good people, ‘Live! Be alive!’ But if they trust in their good deeds and turn to evil, that good life won’t amount to a hill of beans. They’ll die for the evil life. On the other hand, if I tell a wicked person, ‘You’ll die for your wicked life,’ and he repents of his sin and starts living a righteous and just life – being generous to the down-and-out, restoring what he has stolen, cultivating life-nourishing ways that don’t hurt others – he’ll live. He won’t die. None of his sins will be kept on the books. He’s doing what’s right, living a good life. He’ll live.” [Ezekiel 33:12-16 (MSG)]
My children all got an allowance but had opportunities to supplement it by doing extra work around the house. The harder the task, the more money I deposited in their piggy banks. One afternoon, my son asked if I’d call a neighbor to ask for the return of his baseball. And how did she come to possess his baseball, I queried. Boys will be boys and, during a rousing game of baseball, the ball had accidentally crashed through her window. I told him I’d be happy to call her but that he had to pay for the window before he would get his ball back. He had to work extra hard to earn enough money for a new window but he eventually paid off his debt.
Some people think of good deeds a bit like the coins that got dropped in my children’s piggy banks when they did chores. They picture God with a holy ledger or an Excel spreadsheet. Their good deeds are deposited in the credit column and their sins in the debit. Whenever they do something wrong, they just make a withdrawal from the blessings side to pay for the sin—the bigger the sin, the more good deeds are withdrawn. My son worked off his debt and community service is often done for minor offenses so why can’t we just work off our sins? Sorry, God doesn’t work that way—there are neither brownie points nor demerits in God’s book. We can’t stock up good turns, kindness, benevolence and service to pay for our sins. Someone else has already paid that debt!
As for me, I’m glad God doesn’t keep my sins on a holy spreadsheet. I know there would be way more sins than good deeds on my page and I’d be bankrupt by now. If we’ve sinned and made serious errors in our lives, we don’t have to fear that we’ll never be able to even out the balance sheet with good deeds. When we repent and ask God for his forgiveness, that ledger sheet is erased. Jesus paid our debt on the cross and we start fresh. Our repentance and God’s forgiveness will save us from spiritual bankruptcy. Let’s never forget, however, that although God forgives the sinner who repents and changes his ways, He’s not nearly so generous when a good man rejects God and turns to sin!
The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. [John Stott]