Ed Silas lived all alone. Way back in the woods. A long time ago.
Ed grew up in the woods. Never went to school. Just lived off the land — gardening, hunting, trapping.
Once in a great while he would come to town to sell pelts and buy staples. But he was uncomfortable in town. He never really understood how town folk did their business.
One day a visitor from town explained to Ed that banks are a safe place to save money. He told him that money in a bank earns interest. Ed thought about that long and hard. And he finally decided that he should visit the bank.
Early one morning, Ed Silas set out for town with a $50 bill in a plain white envelope. He headed for the bank. He was going to save some money. He was going to earn some interest. He was going to be comfortable in his later years.
He arrived at the bank before it opened. Looking around, he spotted the night deposit slot. So he scrawled “From Ed Silas” on the envelope, put it in the slot, and headed home.
Later that morning, bank officials came upon the envelope. “Does anyone know of an Ed Silas in these parts?” they asked. No one did. No one by the name of Ed Silas had ever held an account at the bank. So they assumed that the deposit was a hoax. Or maybe from someone feeling guilty for defaulting on a loan. So they credited the $50 to a local charity.
Back at home, Ed Silas was pleased. What he’d done would serve him well some day, he figured.
Trips to the bank became a fairly regular event after that. Every three months, he would arrive early and make another $50 deposit. And every month the bank, with no record of Ed Silas, would credit the $50 to a charity.
Incredibly, 26 years came and went. Ed Silas had dropped more than 100 deposits totaling more than $5,000 in the night box.
Then came the day when Ed arrived at the bank to collect. He waited until 9 a.m. Then he walked in. What happened next was just plain sad.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Silas, I understand your frustration. But the fact is, as far as this bank is concerned, you do not exist. Yes, we understand that you have made many deposits here. But you had never opened an account with us. Deposits cannot be credited to an account that does not exist.”
Ed Silas was upset. But being upset did not change the facts. So he walked away from the bank empty-handed that day. He also angrily rejected an offer to open an account.
I have studied Christian theology all my life. I have been a Christian minister for more than 35 years. If someone asked me to identify the greatest misunderstanding that people have about Christian truth, I would say, “It’s the notion that a person’s good deeds will be credited to an account with God that he or she has never opened.”
Many kind, generous, moral people have made countless deposits of good deeds all their lives. Some have given selflessly to charity. Others have invested time and effort in worthy social programs. Many attend church regularly.
But the Bible says that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” It says that even though we may do many good things, we also have “sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
I once asked a man, “Why do you think that God will let you into heaven?” He said, “I’ve been as good as most, better than some, not as bad as many.”
But according to Scripture, God doesn’t grade on a curve. It’s pass-fail. And the only way to pass is by receiving God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Good deeds are a very important result of our salvation, but they cannot be the basis for it.
Jesus made it clear that there are going to be surprises on Judgment Day. To the shock of many, even some who have lived very moral lives will be turned away. (Matthew 7:22-23) Why? Because they’ve trusted in their own performance instead of trusting Christ. “And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
The good news of the Christian gospel is that, although we’re doomed on our own, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) That’s the historic biblical evangelical Christian truth.
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and pastor emeritus at the Monson Community Church. He may be reached on the web at AIIAInstitute.org or by e-mail at AIIAInstitute@aol.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.