Now I understand firsthand what it means to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
People use that expression today to describe “rags to riches” stories – the stories of self-made men and women who through their own hard work and gumption pull themselves up from poverty to success.
Originally, however, the expression didn’t mean that. When it was first used in the 1800’s, the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” meant something that was ridiculously impossible to do. If you think about it, it is ridiculously impossible to pull yourself up by your boot straps.
Try it sometime. It is physically impossible to do.
No one can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. If you look closely at the “rags to riches” stories in our world today, none of them did it by themselves. They had help along the way. Somebody lent them a hand. Somebody encouraged them. Somebody gave them a chance.
And even if nobody did, you and I know they didn’t do it by themselves. Who gave them their mind, body and ability to work? Who gave them the opportunity to live and work in this country? Who gave them parents, teachers and mentors to guide them?
Nobody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And that’s never more true than when it comes to our salvation.
As a pastor, there’s a question I often ask people: “Imagine you were to die tonight and you found yourself standing at the gates to heaven. God is there and he asks you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ What would you say?”
The answers I hear most often are: “Because I try to live a good life.” “Because I am a Christian.” “Because I go to church.” “Because I haven’t killed anybody.” There’s a problem with all those answers.
The word “I.”
The reason you are going to heaven has nothing to do with you and what you do. If you want to go to heaven by what you do, God tells you exactly how to do it in the Bible. He says, “Be holy, as the Lord your God is holy.” He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But you’re not perfect. Neither am I. We are far from it.
The only reason we can go to heaven is because God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son. The only reason we can go to heaven is because Jesus loved you so much he took your place, suffered your punishment and died your death.
He did it all for you.
You can’t even say, “I’m going to heaven because I found God or because I chose Jesus as my Savior.”
You didn’t find God. He found you. You didn’t choose Jesus. He chose you. The reason you and I believe in Jesus is because the Holy Spirit came to us through his Word and Sacraments and gave us faith. The only thing we are capable of doing on our own is rejecting him.
Ask yourself that simple question: Why am I going to heaven? If there is an “I” in your answer, there’s a problem. You can’t do it.
That’s like trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).