Like many young boys, my son was part of the Cub Scouts. Compared to the other boys in his “pack,” he joined the Scouts late – while he was in third grade. I soon discovered that it was one of the best things I ever let my son do. Dear friends of mine were his Scout leader and Den Mother. He had adventures, he learned things, he grew, he camped, he experienced so much through the Scouts. He even won a Pinewood Derby race for his Den. As a Webelo – that’s the step between a Cub Scout and Boy Scout – boys begin earning activity badges. And when they reach a Boy Scout they begin to work on earning merit badges. These merit badges involve learning about and doing a particular subject – often subjects that are not taught in the traditional school setting. Practical skills such as orienteering, community involvement, safety, land conservation, swimming, and the like are learned. And with the completion of each subject the Scout is awarded a round embroidered patch, which is sewn to, and proudly displayed, on a sash as part of their uniform. He had quite a collection of merit badges to attest to his achievements.
Merit: something that deserves or justifies a reward or commendation; a commendable quality, act, etc. (Dictionary.com). We like to be awarded for achieving things – a great job after acquiring a college degree, a raise in salary, a certificate of appreciation, etc. We like the recognition and the accolades that accompanies these commendations. It makes us feel good, and often spurs us on towards other achievements. Society encourages us to achieve more, do better than our parents, claim the spotlight, and the like. Yet despite all of our merits, we still fall short when compared to others – it seems like there’s always someone who is better than we are.
We think that our accomplishments will carry us through life and beyond. We look to make sure that our good actions outnumber our bad actions, and that our completed checklist will earn us a spot in Heaven when this earthly life is done. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard someone say “(Insert name) is a good person, that should be enough to go to Heaven.” Or, “My good deeds exceed my bad deeds, so I think I will go to Heaven.”
While that collection of merit badges that you have may get you somewhere on this earth, it’s not a sure-fire ticket for entrance into Heaven. God is pure and holy, He has no tolerance for sins – not for big sins, not for little sins. To God, sin is sin. And we all sin. On that basis, we all deserve eternal separation from God. But, thankfully God had a plan, a way that humankind could be redeemed. When God, in the form of Jesus, stepped upon the earth His plan of redemption began and was achieved by Jesus’ death upon the cross. With each stroke of the hammer on the nails that pinned our perfect Savior, with each labored breath He struggled to take, with each drop of blood and sweat, Jesus purchased that which we can never purchase for ourselves – salvation. It’s through grace – the unmerited favor of God – that we can approach the throne of God and be called righteous. Our sins are many but through the blood of Christ they are forgiven, we are washed as pure as new fallen snow. All we have to do is believe and confess Jesus as our Savior.
Unmerited Grace trumps any amount merit badges you have affixed to your sash.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25a, ESV)