Summary: Aren't you glad God didn't say that to us? Let's look at some things God does say about earnings and some things he does not say.
I never saw the movie, and frankly, I don’t intend to, but I read an article about it. There is a punch line in the movie: “Saving Private Ryan” that really brings home today’s point.
(This illustration taken from Wikipedia's article on Saving Private Ryan)
The sole survivor policy was introduced in 1942 which forms the background for this fictional movie by Steven Spielberg. This policy, designed to prevent an entire family being wiped out, was bought into force after the tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers who were all killed in war leaving that family without an heir. In the days of WW1 and WW2, families were usually larger than 2-3 and often had several sons.
In the movie: In Washington, D.C, at the U.S. War Department, General George Marshall is informed that three of the four brothers of the Ryan family were killed in action and that their mother is to receive all three telegrams in the same day. He learns that the fourth son, Private First Class James Francis Ryan, is a paratrooper and is missing in action somewhere in Normandy. So the General orders that Ryan be found and sent home immediately. A special forces group is assembled led by Tom Hanks as their captain. They go searching for private Ryan through Normandy facing one tragedy after another.
When they finally find him, Ryan is told of his brothers' deaths, the mission to bring him home, and that two men had been lost in the quest to find him. He is distressed at the loss of his brothers, but does not feel it is fair to go home, asking the Captain to tell his mother that he intends to stay "with the only brothers [he has] left." The captain decides to take command and defend a certain bridge Ryan has been assigned to defend with what little manpower and resources are available. The Germans come. In the ensuing battle, while inflicting heavy German casualties, most of the Americans—and all the paratroopers—are killed. While attempting to blow the bridge, the captain is shot and mortally wounded. Just before a Tiger tank reaches the bridge, an American P-51 Mustang flies over and destroys it, followed by American reinforcements who rout the remaining Germans.
Ryan is with the captain who, as he dies says to Ryan these last words, "James ... earn this. Earn it."
The scene shifts to the present day, the elderly Ryan and his family visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Ryan stands at the captain’s grave and asks his wife to confirm that he has led a good life, that he is a "good man" and thus worthy of the sacrifice of this captain and the others. His wife replies, "You are." At this point, Ryan stands at attention and delivers a military salute towards the captain’s grave.
When it comes to Christian faith and commitment, we have a strong and interesting twist on things, don’t we? We see in scripture that there is no way for us to earn God’s grace, don’t we? Is it not true that the sacrifice of Christ is so high and so full and God’s grace so beyond us that we could never, ever, deserve it, much less repay it? How true! How glorious! How great is our God and Father’s love for us – how vast beyond all measure! That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure!
These words could only make Jesus’ sacrifice seem of lessor significance. We have rightly come to realize that all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. You and I can never earn our way into this grace. We can never work enough or sacrifice enough or praise God enough to earn Jesus’ death on the cross. Can a murderer do enough good deeds to earn his way out of his guilt? Neither can you or I be Christian enough to earn our way out of the sins we did that put Jesus on that cross. Were it not for mercy and compassion from God, we would all be doomed to hell.
The apostle Paul speaks of giving his life for the cause of Christ. Question: Is he trying to earn this? Did Jesus give His live for you so that you would earn this?
Those haunting words stay with Ryan all of his life. They motivate him toward honor and living a good life. But in the end they leave him wondering, did I do it? Did I earn what these men did for me?
Jesus didn’t tell us to “earn this” as He died for us, did he? No, Jesus knew we could never earn what He was giving us there. So, what is our response to God’s gift of His Son? What message does ring from the cross? What are we called to do and become in light of such an amazing love?