I want to give credit to our family in Naperville, outside Chicago, for the illustration and theme I use today.
Every Saturday late afternoon, we visit them for about 2 hours via Skype. Today we tried Zoom, where our grandchildren, Nathan and Luke, and then our daughter and son-in-law, Angela and Roy, logged in separately so there were three registered participants on the Zoom (the third being Jenny and myself). This was great because we could see everyone properly and hear everyone properly, plus it was more stable than Skype.
Angela told us they started building a new puzzle as a family. The puzzles they build are quite large, and apart from the big picture, each puzzle piece has an additional mosaic dimension to make building more difficult. I asked whether the puzzle they had completed was broken down to make space for the new one. Roy said no, they had to keep it together because they were missing three puzzle pieces which might be in the other one’s box or misplaced somewhere else.
Think this through … if you play draughts, dominos, snakes and ladders and most other games, should you lose a piece you can make another one. Lose a puzzle piece and that puzzle is rendered useless!
Think of a thousand-piece puzzle with one piece missing. You battle and struggle and sweat building the puzzle. It takes a long time and as you near the end you realise one little piece is missing. What a letdown.
Now think of working towards salvation. When asked what they would say if God posed the question, “Why should I allow you into my heaven?” most people reply, “I kept the Ten Commandments; I was a good person; I fulfilled my duty towards my parents, my spouse, my children, my employee, my church, etc. I worked hard to get right with God!”
Although James is speaking into the context of “favouritism”, we can learn something about losing one spiritual puzzle piece from his writing:
Jas 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Attempting to gain God’s favour through what we call good works– trying to keep the Commandments, trying to be moral and ethical, tying to be good, trying to care for the poor and needy, trying to tithe 10% or more, trying to be as busy as we can in the church, etc.–results in failure. And failure is losing puzzle pieces and falling short of God’s standard–perfection!
As you read through Ephesians 2 from verse 1 to 10, you quickly see who the non-believer follows: the devil! How can anyone who follows the devil ever get to a point where they can do what God wants of them? They cannot! I just love that little connecting word “but” in verse 4:
Eph 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
See that? Love leads to mercy leads to spiritual life, and it’s all of grace. The acrostic for “Grace” is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
And then the most well-known verses in reformed and evangelical circles:
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
The lost might lose heaven just because they lose one spiritual puzzle piece. The saved know there is only one spiritual puzzle piece needed, and that piece is to receive Jesus by grace by faith without works. No grace, no salvation; know grace, know salvation.
Dear God, thank you that your rescue plan, so simple yet so profound, saves me for your heaven. Thank you that I did not and do not need to work my way to heaven, because I can’t. Thank you that the puzzle piece is given by grace. Amen.