My friend started a chore chart when her child turned 4. Her daughter earned a shiny star each time she completed a task listed on the chart. Once the child asked if she could go to bed early to earn a star, to which her mother responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” 

A strong desire to earn rewards extends into adulthood. I wonder how many adults using activity trackers have found themselves pacing the bedroom at night, striving to hit a daily step target. When they finally reach it, the blinking lights on their wrists bring great joy.  

We are blessed that God doesn’t hold us to a “law chart” on the refrigerator or a “law tracker” on our wrist. (If so, we would eventually fall short of our shiny star goal or the little lights would fail to blink.) As Lutherans, we believe salvation isn’t something that can be earned. 

In our Reformation Day (Oct. 31) text from Romans 3:19-28, Paul proclaims that no human being will be justified by deeds prescribed by the law. The law in and of itself is not bad—it was given by God as a gift. But we are incapable of keeping the law because of our human nature.  


We are blessed that God doesn’t hold us to a “law chart” on the refrigerator or a “law tracker” on our wrist. (If so, we would eventually fall short of our shiny star goal or the little lights would fail to blink.) As Lutherans, we believe salvation isn’t something that can be earned.


Paul tells the church in Rome that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We alone are incapable of collecting enough shiny stars to get to heaven, incapable of making all the lights blink. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves from our sinful nature. 

The good news is we don’t have to. Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we have been justified. Jesus met us in our human sinfulness, took on our sin and made us right in the eyes of God. We are justified by faith apart from our works.  

Of course, we don’t have to get rid of our chore charts and activity trackers. They are good, just as the law is good. Paul told the Romans they shouldn’t overthrow the law—they should uphold it. We uphold the systems and laws that motivate us, but we aren’t slaves to these things.  

Even when we fall short of our goals, even when we sin, we are still welcomed to Christ’s table. Humans may continue building barriers among people, elevating some over others because of perceived earnings, but God’s grace—God’s free gift of salvation—is not for those who have “earned” it. God’s grace is for everyone 

Jesus continues to love us, continues to come down to us, continues to meet us right where we are. No shiny stars or blinking lights required. 

Tiffany Chaney
Tiffany C. Chaney serves as pastor/mission developer of Gathered by Grace, a newly forming Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community of the ELCA, located in Montgomery, Ala., and is communications chairperson for the African Descent Lutheran Association.

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