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“Earn this.”

January 1, 2011
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Captain Miller: [weakly mutter something]
Private Ryan: [leans in closer] What, sir?
Captain Miller: [whispers] James, earn this…earn it.

Captain Miller dies seconds later. This quote, as you may know, is from the 1998 Oscar Award-winning movie Saving Private Ryan. If you haven’t seen the movie, see it (directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore and a young Matt Damon). I don’t want to spoil the whole movie, but in context Captain Miller is dying after giving his life to save Private Ryan, during WWII. At the very end of the movie, an old, white-haired Private Ryan visits the grave of Captain Miller, and has the following conversation with deceased Miller and then his wife:

James Ryan: My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.
Ryan’s Wife: James…?
JR: Tell me I have led a good life.
RW: What?
JR: Tell me I’m a good man.
RW: You are.

It struck me, as the credits started to roll, how engrained in our culture this concept of earning is. For Private Ryan this meant he needed to be a good person, in order to earn the death of his savior-of-sorts, Captain Miller. How easy it is to bring this deep-seated mindset into the Christian walk. You need to do these things and perform better in order to deserve what Jesus did for you and earn His love, we tell ourselves. That’s a really dangerous mindset, but it’s in all of us. That’s also the real root of the Christian buzzword “legalism.” Performance/goodness = holiness/divine acceptance. But the truth is, Jesus says, “You can’t earn this,” as he dies on the cross. It’s a gift. Don’t turn a gift into something you earn.

“I tried to live my life the best I could,” James Ryan stated. So many people will say that (Matthew 7:21-23).

One Comment leave one →
  1. vickie permalink
    January 3, 2011 4:50 am

    All one has to do to see that he/she cannot earn salvation, or even favor, is to look at the law. Not just what it says, but at the intent. If you covet, it’s like you have stolen. If you are hateful to someone, it’s like you have murdered him. If you lust, it’s like you have committed adultery. Then that person will see how utterly hopeless and lost he/she is and how he/she needs the Savior. Of course, that is if the Holy Spirit shows him and draws him. We just can’t do it on our own! We can’t do anything on our own, except to sin.

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