As the battle continues to rage around them, Captain Miller draws Private Ryan towards him and whispers to him, “you earn this”. Not “you earned” this, rather “you earn this”. Its impact is devastating, as we see all to clearly over fifty years later as a now considerably older Mr Ryan falls to his knees and asks his family through his tears, “have I lived a good life?”
You see, we can all feel under pressure to live well, whether because we feel it is expected of us, because we are self-motivated or because we have loaded ourselves up with guilt in relation to what somebody else has done for us. We look back at the decisions we have made and how we have lived and wonder whether we have made the most of what was given to us.
Certainly we ought to live well. God considered us sufficiently worthwhile to give the life of his only son so that we could become part of his family. That value that God has placed on us and stated us to have should motivate us to make the most of the days allotted to us. We should see ourselves as precious and significant and we should live our lives in a way that reflects a self-view in those terms. What is more, God has commanded us to live a life worthy of our calling. This should mean that we recognise that we live on earth with a purpose and that in gratitude for all that God has done for us, we live so as to glorify Him and show Him to those we meet.
In order to avoid the paralysing self-analysis and potential self-recrimination that afflicted Mr Ryan (and which afflicts me during my more self-indulgently reflective periods) it is essential to recognise that there is a world of difference between reflecting on and then being grateful for what God has done and instead attempting to live our lives so as to try to earn what God has done. The former is an obvious and inevitable consequence of believing that Jesus gave his life in my place. The latter is an exhausting and ultimately fruitless attempt at self-justification. Jesus has not offered you the free gift of salvation so that you can then regress to attempting to earn it by the quality of your life, your obedience, your giving, your generosity. The Bible describes all of our righteous acts as filthy rags. That is the best your attempts to “earn this” are going get – filthy rags. Instead, sit back and recognise what God has done for you. Humbly receive it, thank God for His mercy and then get up and live your life well as an offering of thanksgiving to a graceful, merciful God.