And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands (Acts 7:41).
There are only two religions in this world: religion of works and religion of faith; religion by human effort and religion by grace: true religion and false religion. Of the two, Christianity puts itself forward as the only true religion because it prescribes a relationship with God through faith and abhors any trust in self with regards to a relationship with him.
In the opening text, Stephen recounts that the Israelites, after they had erected a calf in the wilderness and made sacrifices to it, they further “rejoiced in the work of their hands.” That statement is a picture of self-reliance — trusting in ourselves rather than in God.
Throughout the Bible and human history, we see people attempting to worship God in their own efforts rather than what is prescribed by God. When Adam and Eve sinned against God, they attempted a cover up with fig leaves; representing self-effort and self-rigtheousness(Gen.3:7). Cain offered a sacrifice that wasn’t acceptable to God (Gen. 3:4-6). The story of the tower of Babel gives us a picture of a people, who in their human strength were determined to accomplish something that that will bring glory to themselves. They sought a name and fame for themselves: “let us build ourselves a city and a tower b with its top in the heavens , and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
Charles R. Swindoll in The Grace Awakening wrote these words which paints a perfect picture of our attempts to walk in self-rigtheousness and please God in our own strength. He also offers a suggestion about the right thing to be done. He said:
While most people in the world are busy building towers with highest hopes of making a name and gaining fame, God’s truth sets the record straight. On the basis of God’s Book, His Holy Word, it is my plea that we simply admit our need and claim God’s grace. Instead of striving for a manmade ticket based on high achievement and hardwork…I suggest we openly declare our own spiritual bankruptcy and accept God’s free gift of grace.¹
In our own lives, we can identify many ways by which we attempt to please God and rely on our own works. It is true we are called to a life of holiness (Heb.12:14) and to work our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:13); however, these things are simply fruits of what God is doing in our lives. Whatever fruits we bear, whatever good works we accomplish, Scripture teaches they are a result of God working in us both to will and do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:14). In and of themselves, good works done by us doesn’t justify us before God hence we have no cause for “rejoicing in the works of our hands.”
When it comes to getting right with God, it is not about what we have done but most importantly what God has done for sinners. We cannot do anything to be accepted more or less by God. The difference between Christianity and other religions is that while they place emphasis on “dos and don’ts”, Christianity emphasises salvation by grace alone through faith alone: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10).
If you have been struggling to find acceptance with God by your human effort or you have replaced serving the true God with any form of idol–anything that has taken God’s place in your life, cease trying; abandon any self-efforts and look to God by faith through Jesus Christ.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening ( Dallas, Word Publishing, 1990), 22-23