Every once in a while, my wife and I like to watch a television show called "Shark Tank". It is a hugely popular program in which a panel of wealthy business men and women listen to the sales pitches of "budding entrepreneurs". Then, if they can be convinced of the legitimacy and potential of the presenters' ideas, they offer to invest hundreds of thousands of their own dollars into these fledgling businesses and inventions. The sharks, of course, want to do more than share their wealth and expertise. They want to make big money by partnering with the best opportunities out there.
It is fascinating, on the one hand, to see how many creative people there are who are thinking up, patenting, and producing goods to fill the shelves of Walmart or to be sold on television shopping networks. It is also tragic to see how many clueless people risk everything that they have on some really, really, bad idea in hopes of becoming the next "success" story. Sometimes, the sharks can be very helpful and encouraging. At other times, they can be brutal. They have no problem tearing down a bad idea with a foolish business plan presented by a person driven by pure greed.
One of the things that shows like Shark Tank do beyond encouraging creativity, and ingenuity, and hard work, is that they fuel the already strong craving within human hearts to be viewed as successful and to have that success measured by money and possessions. As MariAnne and I have travelled during our sabbatical to visit with family and friends, and to study and rest, we have been amazed at how there are, in every city and place where we go, scores of million dollar homes and condominiums. There literally are millions of them strewn across North America. We have often wondered how people do it. We wonder at what price is this so called "success" costing people and families.
I encourage you to read through Psalm 49 and Psalm 50 in one reading. The Bible tells us several helpful and clarifying truths. The most important is this: there are no self-made men or women from God's perspective. What we deem as the sign of success at the human level loses all of its "purchasing power" in the presence of God. Listen to Psalm 49:7-9:
"Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit (the grave)."
One day, we will stand before God like those entrepreneurs who stand before the sharks. What we need to realize is that God is incredibly gracious but He will not suffer fools lightly. If you try to bring all your accumulated wealth as a means to "buy" God's approval and acceptance, He will not tolerate it. We will look like those people who come on television having spent all their money, mortgaged their homes, borrowed from family and friends, in order to invest in some hopeless invention. The sharks look at them, sometimes with pity, but often with dumbfounded wonder at how they could be so foolish. Psalm 50 reads "Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before Him is a devouring fire... He calls to the heavens above and to the earth that He may judge His people."
There will be nothing more pathetic on that day than for people to stand before God seeking to impress Him with their life efforts. Their money means nothing to Him. Neither, to the surprise of many, will be their devout religiosity if they think that God's acceptance and approval can be bought by a life of good deeds and church going. Not only can no man "ransom" another person's soul or his own soul, according to Psalm 49. But neither can we offer enough religious sacrifices to atone for our sins and settle all our debts with God. Listen to Psalm 50:12-15:
"If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Do you see what the Lord God is saying there? All of the sacrifices offered in the Jewish temple were not enough to satisfy God's righteous requirements. God can't be bought or bribed because He already owns everything! If we have some idea that we will show up at the end of our lives and try to buy our way out of the grave and into heaven by something that we bring to God, we are tragically mistaken. Everything we have is taken from His world. He owns it all.
The only thing that God finds acceptable is that we come to God in a posture of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the attitude of a heart that realizes that everything that we have comes from the Giver of every good and perfect gift. God gives us everything we need in this life. More importantly, God gives us what we need for the next life as well. The Psalmist gets it right when he writes that no one can ransom the life of another. But then, he writes these words in Psalm 49:15: "But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol (death, the grave) for He will receive me."
What God tells us to do is to live by faith in Him. Thanksgiving recognizes that God offers salvation by paying our ransom for us in the death of His perfect Son in our place for our sins. That alone is the currency that God will receive and it is God Himself who paid the price in full. Psalm 50 also tells us that we are to commit our lives to the Lord and to do as God says: "call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." God tells us that the only thing that He expects is that we will look to Him and trust in Him to save us from our sins and from death. He alone is the Saviour of the world. We honour His love, His goodness, His grace, His generosity when we show up daily and pray "I need you, every hour, I need you."
There are no self-made men or women of God. There are only God made, God rescued, God bought saints. Don't be impressed by self-made men whether it is by their money or by their religion. That currency doesn't carry on past death. Only sincere faith in an all-sufficient God counts in heaven. We are saved by faith alone in the grace of God alone offered in the ransom paid by Christ alone on the cross. God has already invested in our cause fully. It is our responsibility to simply turn to Him, surrender our lives, and to receive His investment by faith.