A couple of weeks ago, our family brought home a puppy. He’s a wrinkly little hound dog who wants to spend all day licking your ears and biting your clothes and generally making a very cute nuisance of himself. We adore him. But we have also picked up on the reason that hounds don’t usually make the list of smartest dog breeds. When it comes to training, he just takes a little while to get things. “Crate,” we say, and he bounds to his dog bed. “Sit,” we say, and he rushes into his crate. “Place,” we say, and he sits. The whole time he’s wagging his tiny tail and looking up at us for a treat, and he’s just getting everything so very wrong.

I wonder if it isn’t that way with us sometimes, spiritually speaking. We bound from this to that, looking for a rush of pleasure, or else we rush down our religious checklists, trying to earn approval with good works and completely missing the point. God looks down upon us, adoring us, and patiently observing all the ways we get everything so very wrong. “Who is like the Lord our God,” asks the psalmist, “who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalms 113:5-6). Not us, that’s for sure.

As we work through Matthew 5 together as a church body, it behooves us to reflect on God’s rightful and sovereign place in our lives. Isaiah reminds us that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (53:6). As though we knew what was best for us! As though our plans could be more perfect than God’s plans, or our wills greater than his! We are like little puppies chewing on the couch legs with all our chew toys strewn about the floor. God reminds us, “Yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god” (Ez. 28:2). Paul tells us in Romans that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good; not even one” (3:10-12).

Okay, Paul, ouch. Geez. We get it.

But do we? Do we really? Because if we really got it, I think we wouldn’t have such an inflated sense of our 1.) righteousness, 2.) self-importance, 3.) ability to control every aspect of our lives, or 4.) capacity to earn God’s favor through good works. Pick one, or choose the sampler platter, because we all fall victim to one false belief or another. The fact is we’re all like my puppy who will keep on trying to eat leaves and dirt he finds on the floor because he thinks it’s food. He just can’t do it on his own, he’s not capable, and neither are you and neither am I.

Thank God, then, for the two most glorious words in the Bible: but God. Paul pronounces these words in several places in scripture, but my favorite is found in Ephesians: 

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:1-10, emphasis mine).

Read that again, friends, and if that doesn’t give you goosebumps, keep reading it until it does. Because that is the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, through whom we are saved and not through any merit on our part. We are never going to be good enough to earn God’s grace, and we are never going to be wicked enough to lose it. We are just going to keep muddling our way through life, hopefully beginning to understand things a little better here and there, hopefully learning to obey our master’s voice a little more as we go, but always loved and always reliant upon him and the riches of his grace in kindness toward us. Praise him.

Written By: Jess Glass