The Gospel Means the End of Scorekeeping

As Christians, we may say we believe in salvation by grace but we live and treat others as if salvation were by works. Because we’re control freaks, we keep score of ourselves and others. We want to be able to harness our good works to justify ourselves, compare ourselves with others, and pat ourselves on the back. The problem with living this way is that, in addition to being exhausting, Jesus came to set us free from it!

The uniform experience of humanity is that we all live with an interior principle of self-accusation, that nagging voice on the inside of us that tells us we’re not doing enough and we’re not good enough; we need to do better and try harder. This voice is like an incessant slave-driver.

To be sure, one of the functions of the Law of God is to convict us of sin (Rom. 7:7). The Good News for believers, however, is that by trusting in Jesus for salvation, Christ’s perfect life and death have been credited to our account. Thus, Jesus silences the voice of the Law, and we can sing with the hymn writer, “Free from the Law, O happy condition; Jesus has bled, and there is remission.” The words, “Do this and live” (Lk. 10:28; cf. Gal. 3:12), get drowned out by Christ’s words from the cross: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).

Read those words again: “It is finished.” I know what you’re thinking: “I know it’s finished, but . . .” But what? Go get a milkshake and celebrate. It really is finished. You’re free to laugh, sing, and dance. (If you do go dancing, don’t tell anyone I said it was okay. Alas, I’m a Baptist and some of my people still think dancing is a sin.)

One of the byproducts of being swept up into the Reign of Grace is the end of scorekeeping in our relationships and acquaintances. What does score-keeping look like? Let me tell you a story.

When Calvin Miller (the longtime Pastor of Westside Baptist Church, who is now in heaven) was a young pastor, there was a woman in his congregation named Sophie Smithson. Mrs. Smithson was a score-keeping addict. On one occasion she called Calvin and said he needed to get to her house ASAP. Being a young pastor, he dropped everything he was doing and rushed to her house. (He confessed that if he were an older, more experienced pastor he would have loitered and stopped for coffee.) When he arrived, she waved a small black notebook in his face and said, “I’ve been writing down everything you have done as a ‘man of God’ that is not consistent with the Spirit of Christ. Take a seat, pastor; I want to read it to you.”

Here’s my question: Why would anyone want to live that way? I certainly don’t. It is finished. Take note: Christ had to be brutally murdered so that my sins could be forgiven. I am a sinner saved by grace. When the truth finally hits home that I am a sinner, I’ll stop keeping tabs on other peoples’ sins. I’ve got plenty of my own sins to worry about. And in truth, my own sins should bother me more than your sins. Yes, there’s a place for godly correction in the church, but the kind of scorekeeping that’s perpetually taking note of all the sins in a person’s life, and causes one believer to think he’s better than another is nothing more than self-righteous narcissism, a far cry from the way Christ wants us to interact with one another.

And another thing: You’ll always know when you’re around a score-keeper because they won’t be very happy people. How could they be? It’s exhausting trying to keep an updated record of everyone’s sins and shortcomings. Calvin Miller said of Mrs. Smithson: [H]er iniquity research must have fatigued her spirit. Maybe that’s why she never smiled much. . . . She loved hymns, and that seemed almost irreconcilable with her continual, sourpuss expression.”[1]

Lastly, when you’re an incessant scorekeeper, you can’t expect to have many close friends. People will be scared of you. If or when you do something nice for someone, they’ll know that strings are attached. They’ll know that most likely during the course of their friendship with you they’ll be one point down and you’ll be one point up. Such a relationship isn’t based on love. As Ethan Richardson writes, “This bondage to scorekeeping is the enemy of love.”[2] Those closest to you will know that your love for them is conditioned upon their always meeting your expectations. And when people feel that your love for them is conditioned upon their performance, they will create distance to avoid judgment and condemnation.

Jesus is our only hero. He is our handsome King who won for us, who triumphed over sin and the grave. He lived a perfect life for broken, messed up people like you and me. He paid our debt. He rose again from the dead victoriously. You will only find joy and fullness of life in him. In the words of those who witnessed Jesus give a deaf man his hearing back, “He does all things well” (Mk. 7:37). And here’s the really, really good news—no, here’s our only hope: He gives good stuff to bad people for free.


[1] Calvin Miller, Letters to Heaven: Reaching Beyond the Great Divide (Brentwood: Word, 2011), 75.

[2] Ethan Richardson, This American Gospel: Public Radio Parables & the Grace of God (Charlottesville: Mockingbird, 2012), 56.


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