At the end of Saving Private Ryan, after all but one of the men in his team died saving him, Captain Miller’s dying last words to Private Ryan are merely: “Earn this.”
The emotion-filled ending of the moving has the elderly Ryan saying that he remembered those words echoing through time; every day he tried his best to live a good life. He had mournfully spent his life wondering if he did in fact “earn it”–and even went as far to ask his wife if he was a good man.
As I reflect on the idea of a life full of the emotions one must have after such an experience, I think two feelings would dominate. First, would be gratitude for what the others did for you. But I imagine looming over that emotion would honestly be feelings of guilt and inadequacy, always questioning, “Why me? Why did I deserve such heroic sacrifice? What makes my life more valuable than the others?”
This is what Private Ryan did in the movie, when Captain Miller first told him they came to take him home. Living every day wondering if your best will ever be good enough–I think that is what would always eat away at you on the inside. I imagine this is the same way people feel who are attempting to get to heaven by their “works.”
I love the spectrum of emotions a good movie can bring into our present experience; the glimpses of others’ lives can add such valuable perspective, at times, to our own. The last time I saw this movie I was not a follower of Christ, and after watching it again, all I can do is have the movie be a unique lens that helps me to see my Creator even more clearly than before.
You see, what I think is so amazing is that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has more right than anyone to say “earn this” to all of us throughout history. He has every right to, in a sense, say to us all: “Earn what I did for you. Earn me getting beaten and bruised and scoured and humiliated and crucified on a cross to die for YOU to be free.”
However the incredible God that we serve is so full of grace and mercy that He has given us salvation as a gift. It is completely free. He doesn’t ask us to earn it, or leave a haunting task before us to earn His ultimate sacrifice for us; He just simply asks us accept Him into our hearts and acknowledge Him and to love Him and love each other as ourselves.
Could we all live better lives if we had such emotionally charged instructions given to us in the dying words of someone who had laid down their life for us? Sure, I suppose we could. However, in this life there is only one person we should be seeking to gain the approval of, and that is our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
We should live our lives with the same emotionally driven instructions to be the best we can, and do our best in every area of our life. Yet as we do so, we can be free from feelings of guilt and inadequacy, wondering if we are measuring up to and “earning” our Savior’s sacrifice.
We must realize we will NEVER be able to EARN His APPROVAL in such a way. We can only gratefully accept all His good and gracious gifts, and do our absolute best in every area of our life. If our hearts really do love Him and really do love others, we can have peace knowing that our best is absolutely enough.
Do you believe you need to “earn” Christ’s sacrifice for you? Do you hope you can ever be good enough? How does knowing His sacrifice was a gift, influence the way you live?