The key to understanding the Bible is realizing that God has two plans. A reader who does not know those two plans or who mixes them together is sure to misunderstand the Bible. A reader who knows the two plans of God will understand far more of what the Bible says.
One key passage that describes both plans is Ephesians 2:8-10—For it is by grace 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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV). In the life of the Church these two plans have been given many names, but I call them the plan of creation and the plan of salvation.
God created people to do good works. Men and women are created in the image of God, and God is love. Therefore, God wants us to love. He wants us to love him whole-heartedly, and he wants us to love each other as much as we love ourselves. The rest of God’s commands teach us how to love. Because we love God, we will not have any higher priority than God, and we will not misuse God’s name. We will give God the time he deserves, and we will honor the authorities he has placed over us in this world, beginning with our parents. Because we love our neighbors, we will respect and protect their lives, their marriages, their property, and their reputations. Because we love both God and our neighbors, we will be content with what we have and not angry because other people have good things.
Whenever someone asks, “Why do I exist? Why did God make me?” the answer is the plan of creation. We were made to do good and loving things, works which God prepared for us in advance. As we learn about his plan, though, we realize that we have not loved as God wants us to love. We have fallen short of God’s plan. Our lives do not match the Maker’s specifications. We are substandard, and we cannot fix ourselves. Therefore, God has a second plan, the plan of salvation.
God entered this world as one of us. He was Jesus from Nazareth, completely God and completely human. He lived a perfect life of love, the kind of life God wants all of us to live. Then he sacrificed himself on a cross, paying our debt so we can be forgiven. This plan of salvation—this rescue mission—this great exchange—was done because God loves us. We do not deserve to be rescued. We cannot repay God for saving us. His plan of salvation is a result of his love and not of anything that we have done or can do or ever will do.
People confuse these two plans. They think that God made us so he could love us. Then they think that God rescues us because of something we do. No penance, no prayer, and no decision can cause God to love or forgive any of us. The plan of creation is about what we are to do. The plan of salvation is about what God does for us. The perfect life of Jesus replaces our mistake-filled lives so we can have the rewards he earned. The sacrifice of Jesus takes away all our sins so we can escape the punishment we deserve. The plan of salvation is a gift, given to us by grace. Not only can we never pay God for that gift, we actually insult God what we try to pay him for his gift to us.
One result of the plan of salvation is that we are returned to the plan of creation. We are given power to do the good and loving things God planned for us to do. The love of God that flows into our lives does not stop with us. It flows through us and into the lives of those around us. So far, we do this imperfectly. We make mistakes every day, and we ask God to forgive us every day. A Day is coming when God’s plans will reach their fulfillment. After that Day, we will love as we should love, and from that Day on we will love that way forever.
When I am discouraged by the failures in my life, or when I am overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings that my life is useless and without meaning, the two plans of God pull me back off the ledge. I know that I exist for a reason. I know that God loves me for no reason. I might not feel any better with that knowledge, but because I know it is true, I can go on living.