Husband and son are at Boy Scout camp for the week, getting dirty, having fun, and working on merit badges. Boy Scouts is big on goal-setting and achievement. Scouts measure achievement and advance rank by earning merit badges. Each merit badge has a list of specifications for achievement requiring learning and performing some particular skill like swimming, cooking, camping, etc. If one wants to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank, there are a number of required merit badges one must earn. All other merit badges are optional, as is rank advancement.
Nick’s goal is to become an Eagle Scout so all year long he works toward achieving merit badges. But Scout camp is where he brings home the haul! Scout camp is the one and only time where he can achieve numerous badges all within a week.
So I’ve been thinking about the merit badges Nick is earning and I think about merits and badges and ranks and advancement. We think such work and achievement is good in life. It is. But what about our eternal lives? How many of us live as if entrance into God’s eternal heaven is based on our merits, our achievements, how many badges of good we rack up? How many of us stand proud comparing ourselves to our neighbors, thinking we’ve done more, that we’ve done more important, that we should be let into heaven for being so darn GOOD?
God isn’t into merit badges or accomplishment based on human effort when it comes to salvation and living eternally with Him. In fact, all our “good” works don’t impress God in the least. Because no number of “merit badges” can earn a rank advancement into the kingdom of God. They’re just—plain—rank to God . . .
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Since we were created to do good works in Christ Jesus, we should just be doing good works for Him, giving God the glory. We’re not made to steal His glory. He’s the one who should be receiving the “merit badges” because we are His workmanship, not our own.
So when I think about all the accomplishments I’ve had over my lifetime in so many areas, I wonder what these accomplishments have actually accomplished. What merit do they hold? What fruit have they produced in terms of Kingdom values? Have I glorified God through my work and achievements or have I glorified self, really? Have I encouraged others to achieve for God or have I encouraged puffed pride in them as well as me?
As much as God shares all He is with us, He will not share the worship due Him. Anything or anyone we worship, or place on a pedestal, or exalt—all will come crumbling down in the end. All that remains will be Kingdom accomplishments with God at the center in His rightful place being worshipped. For we are but dust shaped by His hands and brought to life by His holy breath. Without Him, we can do nothing. Without Him, we have done nothing good, nothing of eternal value.
He has born us once through body. He has born us again through spirit, those who have faith. And what is faith? Nothing more than believing deep down we can never be good enough. We can never earn enough merit badges to get God’s love and approval. We can only accept God’s grace—His free gift of salvation by Christ’s perfect, complete sacrifice for our sins, our imperfections. And when new life in Spirit is born, good works follow from gratitude. Out of thanks and desire for the good of all, we work not to earn badges but to save lives for eternity—to transform the broken into the whole, by the healing hand of God at work, through human hands and hearts, in a world crying out for grace.
Will we let go of our need to achieve based on fear or pride? Will we see the Great Commission of Christ for what it is—the greatest rescue mission, the greatest grace offering on earth?
Oh my soul, lay down your sash of badges! Lay down all need for display, for acclaim. Rest. All that’s good is grace and grace is all you need. God already earned your “lifesaving badge” and pins it upon all who have faith. And you didn’t have to do one. . . single. . . thing. . . to earn it. Saved by grace, through faith. How can I say thanks? By laying my life down for Him, who laid His down, for me.