CHRISTIAN FINE ART GALLERY > BELIEVER’S ROAD SERIES > Empty Hands
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Though our human tendency is to want to approach God on the basis of our good works, the only way he will receive us is if we come as repentant sinners with empty hands, having no genuine ‘good’ works to offer him and placing no confidence in our own tainted self-righteousness. God forgives us and declares us righteous through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross for our salvation alone–never our good works.
Oh my Lord, how it tears me apart
To know that it was my sin
That pierced your hands, your feet, your heart
And to know I’ve grieved you again and again
How you still love me–I’ll never know
And why when I’ve fallen there’s mercy below
Oh, my Beloved Lord
To you my heart outpours
In bitter sorrow I long to bring
Good works to you as my offering
Or at least my best attempts to say I’ve tried
But they’re altogether filthy rags and pride
All I can bring, for I’ve fallen short
Are empty hands and weeping eyes
My broken spirit and contrite heart
My God, do not despise
For I see it’s not the wrongs I’ve done
More than it is who I am
That proves me a sinner undone
Whose only hope is the blood of the Lamb
For there is no one righteous, not even one
Save Jesus, the Christ, the Righteous One
No fruit of my hands could ever suffice
To replace your Perfect Sacrifice
So nothing in my hands I bring
For you alone, my God, will provide
Forever and ever I will sing
Of your cleansing blood where I abide
Before you, O God, I cast my crown
Before you, O God, I fall down
To worship you here on my face
Forever grateful of your amazing grace
Be exalted, O God, and your name be blessed
Live in me; all my work is relinquished
I have entered your rest
By your Word that, “It is finished”
(My experience of coming to God with “Empty Hands” inspired both this drawing and this text (which are lyrics to a song I wrote at that time). It alludes to many Scriptures, which I have listed at the bottom.)
“For it is by grace [unmerited favor] you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“…when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…so that…we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-5, 7)
Christianity is radically different from every other religion in the world.
It is the only religion where you do not “earn” your way into heaven or into God’s favor by doing good works.
God, knowing our moral failures, graciously grants us the free gift of salvation (being saved from our sins and their consequences) solely based upon our trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. (See “Message“).
God created us to be in a loving, personal relationship with him. Sadly, however, we have all sinned and have thus been separated from him because he is perfectly holy.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)
The penalty for our sins is not only alienation from God, but also death and hell.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
However, God still deeply loves us despite the fact we are sinners. Therefore he sent his Son, Jesus, to take the penalty for our sins. Jesus lived the perfectly sinless life none of us could live. Then he took upon himself all of our sins and bore the punishment for them by his death on the cross.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
All you need to do in order to be forgiven, reconciled to God and saved from your sin and its consequences is:
1) Repent (turn away from) your sins and ask God to forgive you.
2) Personally trust in Jesus to be your Savior, believing that he has paid the full punishment for your sins through his death and resurrection.
God desires us to come to him just as we are: sinners with empty hands, having no ‘good’ works to offer him but only a heart that is grieved and repentant over our sinful ways.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
God does not accept us on the basis of how ‘good’ of a person we think we are (pleading with God to grant us his favor based upon how many good works we have done). On the contrary, God only accepts us on the basis of acknowledging and repenting of the sins we have committed against him and believing in Jesus to ransom us from them.
God does not weigh our good and bad works on a scale to determine whether or not he will grant us his favor. Only one sin is enough to eternally separate us from the most holy God. Furthermore, God himself has declared that it is not good works but the shedding of blood (death) which is the only acceptable basis upon which he will forgive sins. This is precisely why Christ came to die in our place.
“…and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)
Do not be afraid to approach God empty-handed, a sinner with no good works to present to him. This is exactly how he intends for us to come to him. He already knows our sin and our predicament, and that is exactly why he came to earth to make the way for us to be forgiven and reconciled to him.
Jesus said, “…whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:16-21)
Interestingly, my “Empty Hands” experience, which inspired this drawing and song, was not my salvation experience. Instead, it was years of perpetually failing at sanctification that caused me to come to God once more with empty hands. God was teaching me that the entire Christian life–both justification and sanctification are by grace through faith alone. The victorious, fruitful Christian life is a life of perpetual rest–not work. (Study Hebrews, especially 3:7-4:16).
There is much false teaching in the church that says we are saved by grace through faith but then we must keep our salvation by doing good works. This Judaized gospel sends us right back up the road of works again instead of the straight and narrow way of faith alone. This is the exact error Paul corrected in his letter to the Galatians. It is also Paul’s precise definition of what it means to “fall away from grace” (Galatians 5:1-4).
This drawing is about completely ceasing from our own works (for justification and sanctification), receiving God’s grace and resting in His finished work on the cross.
It was ultimately inspired out of my ‘conversion’ experience from Arminianism to Calvinism (the “doctrines of grace“). (In general I don’t like labels, but I will call it “Calvinism” (even though I believe the doctrines of Calvinism are simply just the exposition of the Scriptures).)
I was indoctrinated in Arminianism, as is most of the church today. Though I barely knew anything about Calvinism, what I did know I hated. But like Saul on the road to Damascus, I had a rather radical ‘conversion’ experience independent of any man teaching it to me. What knocked me to the ground and flipped my entire doctrinal world of understanding completely upside down?
1) Coming to the end of myself and all of my futile attempts to maintain my salvation by living a holy life (my Empty Hands experience). By grace alone was I saved, by grace alone would I ever live a holy life and by grace alone would God keep me saved despite all my failures.
2) The Holy Spirit quickened Word of God in Romans 8:7-8 (and the following chapters). Unregenerate man, who does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit, can NOT submit to the LORD. Therefore, how can unregenerate man, of his own “free will” ever choose to be saved? Given an eternity, his sinful nature would never choose God. That was Holy Spirit revelation and not human reasoning. By grace alone and by God’s sovereign choice could a man ever be born again and saved. Revelation of GRACE all fell into place immediately after that. Praise God for teaching it to me!!
(R. C. Sproul is an excellent Bible teacher who expounds the Scriptures and explains Calvinism in easy terms. He also deals with all of the common questions and objections people have about it from the Scriptures. I discovered his ministry years after I became a Calvinist and have found his teaching very helpful ( http://www.ligonier.org/ ).
The Scriptures alluded to in the text “Empty Hands”:
“…Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (Hebrews 9:28)
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace [unmerited favor] through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement (as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin), through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies [puts into eternal right standing] those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26)
“…they have pierced [crucified] my hands and my feet…” (Psalm 22:16)
“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5-6)
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified [put into eternal right standing with God] by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)
“…but where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20)
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him…” (Psalm 62:8)
“How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:5-6)
The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14.
“”…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
“‘This is the one I [God] esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite…’” (Isaiah 57:15)
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:17-19)
“Then I saw a Lamb [Jesus], looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…” (Revelation 5:6)
“We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:9-12)
“If we claim to be without sin, we decieve ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 1:8-2:2)
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)
The sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ. “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’ ‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied. ‘The fire and the wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son…’” (Genesis 22:6-8)
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! …he [Christ] has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:14-15)
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
“…the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.’” (Revelation 4:10-11 NKJV)
“…And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy…because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth…Then I heard every creature in heaven and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb [Jesus] be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:9-10, 13-14)
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace [unmerited favor], we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:4-8)
“For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 AMP)
“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Nehemiah 9:5)
“I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion] it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by faith in (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and have Himself up for me. [Therefore, I do not treat God’s gracious gift as something of minor importance and defeat its very purpose]; I do not set aside and invalidate and frustrate and nullify the grace (unmerited favor) of God. For if justification (righteousness, acquittal from guilt) comes through [observing the ritual of] the Law, then Christ (the Messiah) died groundlessly and to no purpose and in vain. [His death was then wholly superfluous.]” (Galatians 2:20-21 AMP)
“Now we who have believed enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:3)
“Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:20)
(To read about how God revealed himself to me and to others, see “About the Artist” )
Unworthy, But That’s The Grace of God (Believer’s Road Series)
Where Sin Abounds, Grace Abounds All The More (Believer’s Road Series)
At The Foot of The Cross-Forgiven (Believer’s Road Series 2)
Equal at The Foot of The Cross, Equally in Need of Mercy (Believer’s Road Series)
Set Free: Jesus, My Ransom (Believer’s Road Series 2)