We Bring Nothing to the Table

If there’s a character quality that binds us all together, I think it’s this: We want to bring something to the table. Something of importance or necessity. Something we can be known for. Whether it falls in the category of showmanship or salesmanship we want to be good at something. To be a team member the team can’t live without. Or the missing piece to a puzzle.


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 20:22-26
Key Verse: “An altar of earth you shall make for me…If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.” Exodus 20:24-25


We may squawk about the necessity of alone time (at least I do) but deep down it feels good to be needed. In the work place or the home place or the places we favor in between, it’s nice to think we provide (at least in some small manner) a benefit helpful to someone else. A skill, a strength, a shoulder, some smarts, a home cooked meal for a new mama, or at the very least some level headed common sense we’d be happy to share if the world would just listen.

And if none of that is needed, then excuse me while I go eat a tub of ice cream and head back to bed. Because disappointment will abound.

Perhaps that’s why it’s hard for some to accept Christianity. Because truth be told when it comes to salvation, we bring nothing to the table. No works in and of themselves are good enough to get me into heaven. There’s no quota I can fill. No talents or abilities that can help. No amount of good I can accomplish to get me on the right side of eternity.

Because plain and simple, I’m a sinner. We all are. Imperfections and short comings thrive in each one of us. (Sorry for the bad news.) So apart from the righteousness of Christ placed in the account of a believer, we’ve got nothing. “For there is no distinction, 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” (Rom. 3:22b-24).

To try and justify ourselves apart from Christ is like offering God a pile of menstrual rags and asking, “Here is this good enough?” Disgusting right? But that’s what scripture says our best efforts amount to (Isaiah 64:6).

Now to be clear, I’m not talking about the works we do in Christ. God finds those beautiful. Spirit rendered fruit is not rags. It’s a tapestry God himself is weaving. One that will line the walls of heaven for all eternity.

No, what I’m talking about is the stuff we do beforehand. The things we try and do to prove our worth to God prior to coming to Christ. And every time we come up short.

Look what God says to the Israelites just before entering the Promised Land. “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:6). It wasn’t because of them, it was because of Him. God did it all. They brought nothing to the table.

Which brings us to our text today. Directly after the Ten Commandments God gives instructions concerning altars. The main point being this: Any altar they built was to either be of dirt or unhewn stone. Meaning no tools were to be used on the altar. No work of man was to be added to the altar of sacrifice.

But why? That’s the question we want to search out. Why was it so important for no chisel to be used? Because the altar pictured the cross, upon which the Lamb of God, would give His life. And to chisel on the altar was to bring works to the cross. And man can add nothing to the cross. It was all Jesus. It was all God.

It’s God who chooses us.

“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).

It’s God who draws us.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

It’s God who nails our sin to the cross.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2: 13-14).

It’s He who grants us repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). It’s He who gives us life (Eph. 2:4-5). “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself” (2 Cor. 5:18).

To think we’re responsible for any of it is to bring tools to the altar. But every bit of salvation is the powerful working of God (Col. 2:12). From the drawing to the choosing to the saving to the sealing.

Then on the last day it’s Christ who will raise us up (John 6:40). It’s Christ who will and already has declared the victory (Col. 2:15). We’ve got no reason to boast, but every reason to bow. We have done nothing; He has done everything.

In addition, there could be no steps up to the altar as the pagan shrines often had. Because there could be no going up to God, it is God that would come to us. Redeeming every sinner willing to recognize His ability to do so.

Truly, to realize I bring nothing to the table, yet understand I now belong there, is to sit in the depths of God’s amazing grace.

Think of it this way, the instructions for the dirt or unhewn altar of stone are given on the heels of the Ten Commandments because God knew they would break every one of his rules. So out of mercy God wasted no time in telling them how to construct an altar for when they did. An altar with rough, jagged, perhaps awkward, sometimes difficult to handle, unhewn stone. Because neither they, nor we, can bring anything to the table of salvation. It’s God who does the work at the altar and God who works in our life.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Do you see salvation as something you’ve earned or something you’ve been given? How should the depths of God’s grace effect our day to day living?

Contrary to Popular Belief Our Redemption Has a Purpose

There’s a lot of inconsistency in the world. Like how I can fit into a specific size of jeans at one store, but am two sizes up at the next. Or how strawberries are delicious one week and terrible the next. Or how I can be roasting at Monday’s baseball game and donning my parka the next. Or how insurance will pay one bill but not the next. Or how my children are best friends one day and enemies the next. (You get the idea.)


Devotional Scripture: Exodus 9:1-12
Key Verse: “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” 2 Corinthians 5:15


Yet other times, life is so consistent you can close your eyes and jump with both feet and have no fear of the landing, because you know the Chick-fil-a drive through will still have a line wrapped all the way around the building. The ­­­­­shortest distance between two points will still be a straight line. The baby will always cry the moment your hot breakfast is ready. And someone will inevitably need to pooh, when it’s time to leave for church.

You can count on it my friend, just as you can always count on it to rain after spending nine dollars on a car wash.

Honestly though, it makes me feel cozy. Confident even, having consistency in my life. Driving past the same potholes, on my way to the same stores, for the same foods. Getting up at the same time (relatively speaking) every day to talk to the same God who walked with Adam and Eve.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes change is good. There’s just something about rearranging the family room furniture that puts a skip in my step. But God knew we’d feel safe in consistency, just as our kids do. And He knew, with our inquiring minds, it’d be the least confusing route.

So, sin is still sin. Life lived apart from the Creator is still miserable. God is still the same he was an eternity ago. We are still saved by grace through faith, the same way Abraham was. And for the same purpose, to serve God.

Six times the LORD commanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me” (9:1). Though each plague was uniquely different, God’s purpose remained the same. Whether it was frogs or flies or the death of “livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (v. 3), as we see in the fifth plague. Or “boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt” (v. 9), as we see in the sixth plague. It was all for the same purpose – so the Israelite’s would be freed to serve God.

But what struck me is not God’s consistency, because we’ve already established He’s good at that. What struck me is that God had a purpose. He wasn’t freeing the Israelite’s from bondage so they could go and live however they wanted to. Deciding for themselves what was right and wrong. What felt good and what didn’t. He was freeing them so they could serve Him!

Their redemption had purpose, and likewise, not surprisingly, so does ours. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Christ gave his life as a ransom not so we could say, “Hey thanks buddy” and then run off and live however we want. He redeemed us so we could be His. A people for his own possession, ready and willing to serve him (Titus 2:14).

Accordingly, Romans 6:22 says we’ve been freed from the slavery of sin to be slaves of God.  Not redeemed unto ourselves, but redeemed unto God. We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Indebted to God forever for the free to us (not free to Him) gift of eternal life we serve, to the best of our ability, wholly and fully devoted to Him. (At least that’s the goal, though I frequently get in my own way.)

Yet for fear of legalism, or teaching a works based salvation, purpose often gets set aside. Burying it under a beautiful pile of grace, we tend to flash our eternal security badge more often than we display our gold engraved name plate, exhibiting our position in God’s kingdom.

But it’s for the very purpose of service we’ve been redeemed! “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8), but saved unto works, in order “that we may bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4).

Not by living according to the law, but by living according to the Spirit. That they, a world in desperate need of a Savior, may see Him in us and seek the message of reconciliation we bear witness to. Thereby, fulfilling our purpose.

I see it as a clever tactic of Satan to make us so fearful of preaching a message of works, that in the end, we preach no works at all. But God’s standards haven’t changed. Obedience is still at the forefront of his agenda.

We aren’t saved because we serve, we serve because we’re saved. With gratitude and grace paving the way because grace isn’t a license to sin, but is in fact the core reason not to.

With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God didn’t change the purpose, he simply fulfilled the promise. Just as he did in Israel, granting life and liberty and the ability to serve Him.

He still expects obedience, just as he did with the Israelite’s. He still honors loyalty, just as he did with the Israelite’s. He’s the same consistent God. A God who’s set His people free, so they can freely serve Him.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What purpose is there in your salvation?
What good works has God specifically assigned to you, that others may see and glorify your Father in Heaven?
How can you give glory to God today?

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