On Saturday I made what my Polish family calls “yellow.” It’s a sweet egg custard concoction that I remember my grandmother making every Easter when we visited. She always prepared the “yellow” the day before Easter and it would hang overnight, suspended between two kitchen chairs, wrapped in a cheesecloth, dripping excess moisture so the cheesy blob of yellow would be firm for Easter dinner the next day (the consistency of the finished product is somewhere between that of pudding and cream cheese).
No one in my family even likes “yellow.” I’m not sure why I made it — probably out of a sense of tradition and also for the feeling of accomplishment I get from creating something that required a bit of effort. Perhaps for the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing my part to contribute to my family’s Easter dinner.
When I was making the “yellow” that no one will likely even eat on Sunday, I was thinking about how we try to do that with God. Sometimes, we do things out of a sense of tradition. We “inherit” a faith from our parents and continue to perform the traditions out of either a sense of duty or a desire to honor our family’s heritage.
Other times, we approach God with something in our hands — confident that we have accomplished something that will please Him. If we work hard enough and put enough effort into our faith (or our good works), God will appreciate our effort and approve of us.
As I was stirring the custard on the stove (for a full 40 minutes!) I thought about my own propensity for doing both of those things — both my reliance on faith traditions and my smug assurance that my “doing” is what makes me right before God.
In reality, the Bible says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” [emphasis added] (Isaiah 64:6). When we rely on traditions or our good deeds or even our good intentions, we stand empty-handed before God, who will demand nothing less than perfection on the day we meet him when we will be required to give an account of ourselves.
The apostle Paul, before he had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, said that he believed at one time that his good deeds were enough:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6 ESV).
But Easter — the death and resurrection of Christ — shows us a different, radical way to approach God. “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” [emphasis added] (Titus 3:4-5 ESV).
In His love and mercy and goodness, God gives every one of us the opportunity to stand before Him, unashamed and sinless in His eyes. Paul continued that all the good deeds in his life before Christ were as “rubbish” compared to Christ and his desire to be “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” — Philippians 3:9.
The Bible’s imperative is that we respond to this offer to stand before God — clothed in Christ’s righteousness instead of our own — with repentance and faith.
When we do so, Romans 5 promises that we are justified by faith and “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As I write this, the “yellow” is hanging in my kitchen, wrapped in a cheesecloth (possibly breeding salmonella) and dripping a murky liquid. I’ll take it to my mom’s house where we’ll all have a good laugh about how I went to so much trouble for a food no one will eat. And I’ll be reminded that I don’t need to “work” to receive the righteousness of Christ. That was done for me on the cross and I do, indeed, have peace with God through Jesus Christ.
He is risen!