Updated: Feb 2, 2022
Ephesians 2:8-9, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."
This is something I didn't know I struggled with until God revealed this to me a couple of years ago. When I made the decision to really focus on deepening my relationship with God, I was very excited and wanted to get involved in so many things which eventually burned me out. I realised through God's grace that I had turned my walk with God into some sort of mission checklist to guarantee myself a space in heaven. I was trying to do so much to make sure I earned salvation.
Because Jesus died for us, he created a way for us to the father once again and as long as we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, "we would not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
I think this is explained very well through the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). Briefly, the story talks about a man with 2 sons. His youngest son asked for his share of the inheritance and left to basically spend it all. He realised how dire his situation was when he ended up living with pigs and eating their food. He resorted to going back home to his father to be a servant instead as he felt ashamed. When he was nearly home, his father saw him, ran to him and embraced him. He apologised for his actions but his father still accepted him as a son and declared a feast for his lost but now found son. His elder brother wasn't happy at all and said to his father how he worked relentlessly and followed orders but was never rewarded as much as his younger brother is now, who didn't do anything. But his father explained by saying "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours but we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again...." (v31).
I think we can be like the two brothers. The elder brother came across as judgemental and boastful which we can be like as well. We sometimes think we can earn salvation by doing good works (I used to be like this) and listing off things we've done to make us appear good. But if our heart isn't right, we're doing things for the wrong reasons. It makes it about us instead of God and everything we do should be for God's glory. The younger brother hoped his father would grace him and still welcome him even as a servant - and this can be us because we feel ashamed and not worthy enough to even approach God or do as he asks but to operate in God's work is being able to choose grace over the shame and guilt we feel. We are flawed and imperfect but accepting that and asking God to help us is the right way.
Now don't get me wrong, there is a place for performance in God's kingdom but it is important for us to remember that our redemption depended only on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for us. We don't want to get to heaven and for Jesus to say "depart from me, for I never knew you".