I read a very wise thing in John MacArthur’s Parables. Consider it well:
“The underlying error… the belief that people can gain God’s favor by being good enough–is the central lie that dominates all false religion.”
In pagan religions, worshipers are always trying to buy the gods’ favor, or, as it were, hire the gods as their employees, by promising to do this or that good work, or sacrificing this or that prize animal. And where does it get them?
In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus, the king of the gods, is upset by the sight of Hector fleeing from Achilles. Zeus exclaims, “Confound it, I love that man whom I see hunted round those walls! I am grieved for Hector, who has sacrificed many an ox on the heights of Ida or the citadel of Troy. And now there is Prince Achilles, chasing him round the city of Priam. What do you think, gods? Just consider, shall we save him from death or shall we let Achilles beat him?” (W.H.D. Rouse translation)
And of course, in spite of Hector’s piety, in spite of all the sacrifices he gave the gods throughout his life, it turned out Zeus couldn’t save him, after all.
In contrast to every religion ever invented by man, Christianity teaches that we cannot hire God, we cannot buy His favor, there is no magic word or special kind of prayer that will compel Him to do our bidding.
Instead, His favor, His grace, our salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins–these are all free gifts, given by a sovereign God and paid for, paid for on the cross, by Jesus Christ the Son of God. God saves us; but when we reach for our wallets, we discover the bill has already been paid. By Jesus Christ.
At the root of it, Christianity is very simple. How simple? In Acts 16:30, during a crisis in which he was within an inch of taking his own life, the jailer in Philippi asks of Paul and Silas, temporarily his prisoners, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (v.31)
And that’s the whole theology.
You couldn’t possibly do enough good works, sacrifice enough bulls or rams, donate enough money to the church, to earn, to deserve, eternal life. But God can give it to you. It’s as simple as that.