When I graduated college and started looking for gainful employment, I quickly realized that old adage was true: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” My achievement-loving heart had a very hard time coming to terms with this realization. I was convinced that we lived in a meritocracy and the things I’d done and studied were my ticket through life, but there I was: in a city where I knew no one with a resume no one cared about.
In this struggle, the Lord began to show me the trust I put in my achievements—that which I perceived to be the works of my own hands—not just to earn a living but to earn my salvation, as well. Though I gave lip service to the sufficient grace of God, I lived as a functional legalist. I knew in my head that God alone saves, but in my day-to-day life, in my anxieties and concerns, in the way I ordered my priorities and approached the Lord, I acted as if my actions made my heart clean.
Praise the Lord for not allowing me to continue in that mindset. He was sweet to wash me with the knowledge that when I stand before Him on Judgment Day, my only defense will be to whisper: “I am justified by faith alone in Christ alone.”
Somehow, though, I find myself again fighting to keep my composure under the weight of anxiety: “But if I can’t get that done, then this… and then that… and then…” “And if this happens, well then surely… and then…!” And then what? I know that I stand on the blood of Christ, so why do I fear failure so much?
I like to think that I can affect the way God feels about me. I like to think that I can worm my way into being well-liked by Him, like some kind of teacher’s pet. Yet that kind of thinking balances upon a knife’s edge: I take too much credit when I think I’m doing well, and the minute I start to slip, I worry that He doesn’t like me anymore.
I know that I am forgiven. But am I liked and loved?
My record was not just cleared, given a “passing” score in front of a disapproving judge. I am adopted. Welcomed in, held close and cherished. To help me understand how much He loves me, He tells me stories of a long-awaited child, a wayward wife pursued. I am a guilty sinner whose punishment is poured out on someone else—but I am also the beloved child of a tender Father. He even has a plan to bring me to perfection and holiness on that day when He restores the world once for all.
When I come face to face with His deep and abiding love for me, present before I was formed, stronger than the fiercest storm, more enduring than the grave, I realize how silly it is to think that I could possibly make Him like me more or less by the things that I do or don’t do. I realize I have forgotten that He is a good father. He is not looking for ways to punish or disapprove of me but, rather, to make me more like Him. He is not looking for ways to make this life hurt but, rather, to redeem the hurt the world and my own sin will inflict upon me. He is not distant but intensely personal, equally concerned with my least significant and hidden sins as He is delighted in my least significant and hidden beauty. Even in my failure, He still loves me. The Israelites failed again and again, and the Lord responded with grace after grace, culminating in the sending of His very Son. What, then, will separate me from His love?
I thought I could earn it all if I could just hide my inabilities and present my best self to God. Perhaps if my resume were just right, then He would love me—really love me! But I don’t need to earn anything; indeed, I cannot earn any forgiveness, honor or love on my own. Christ’s life, death and resurrection earned it all. So it’s not about what you know or who you know but, rather, who knows you. My deepest fear and, simultaneously, my dearest desire is not just to know God, but to be fully known by Him. I may rest easily, though, for the very Creator of the universe, the One who knit me together and knows me thoroughly happens to be my Father.