Sgt. Fritz Niland, 101st Airborne
“…if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly(Galatians 2:21).”
Chances are you’ve never heard of Frederick “Fritz” Niland, but you’ve seen the movie that his life inspired, “Saving Private Ryan.” Sgt. Niland was sent home after the reported deaths of his three brothers (Edward shot down over Burma, Robert killed on D-Day, and Preston killed June 7thnear Utah Beach).
In the film, Captain Miller searches for Private Ryan to send him home and like Mrs. Niland, spare Ryan’s mother from losing all four sons. After finding Ryan, and losing all of his men, a wounded Miller, seconds from eternity says, “Earn this.” Then he draws Ryan closer and whispers,“Earn it!”
Rest In Peace
This scene then morphs Ryan into an old man at Normandy Cemetery. A tearful Ryan, aware of their sacrifice for him asks his wife, “Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” She reassures him, and then he stands back, and salutes Miller’s grave as the camera focuses on his white cross.
That cross and Miller’s last words always struck me as ironic because we cannot “earn” the salvation the cross represents by “being a good man.” The whole point of the cross demonstrates how helpless we are as violators of God’s Law (Isaiah 59:2). We can’t earn a right standing by our leper-like efforts to bridge the holy gap (Isaiah 64:6).
Yet, most of us think we are good, or at least good enough. The Bible teaches just the opposite; we fall short. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23).” It’s not being good, it’s being perfect. “You are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” Any honest person knows they’re not good enough compared to His absolute perfection. Sound like an unfair standard?
Consider two questions. If you can get to Heaven by being good,“If righteousness comes through (keeping)the Law,” then why did Jesus die? If your “good life” is enough, then Jesus died for nothing.
Secondly, even if you’re a “good man” like Ryan, have you ever broken one of the Ten Commandments? The Bible is clear that one sin makes you guilty of every sin. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).” God doesn’t weigh good and bad deeds. His standard is perfection, and nobody’s perfect. Having to be perfect is not good news, but it makes sense if you want to be with a sinless God in a sinless Heaven.
The good news is you can become as righteous as God Himself and meet His standard of perfection through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. “He made Him (Jesus)who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).” God sees you “in Him”through the Jesus filter.
His sacrifice (Miller) saved you (Ryan), and like Ryan, you did nothing to earn it. That’s grace, unearned favor. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).“