In the movie the Godfather Part III, mob boss Michael Corleone is wracked with guilt about all the murders he has ordered, especially that of his brother Fredo. He gives some immense financial gifts to the church to try to atone for what he has done. You know, people really get that idea. When you hear the word atone in day-to-day conversation or read it in essays or articles, it usually refers to people’s personal efforts to make up for their evil deeds.
But God can’t be bought by human gifts. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay him off. There aren’t enough animals in the world to be sacrificed for our sins even if all their blood was shed. There aren’t enough noble deeds a person could do, not a far enough pilgrimage, not enough devotional prayers, not enough candles to light for people to atone for their own misdeeds.
The Lord can’t be bought off: “The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him” (Proverbs 15:8). Get this—what you cannot do for yourself, Jesus Christ did for you. Since wicked people cannot sacrifice their way into God’s favor, Jesus sacrificed himself and gave us God’s favor. Those who believe it have it, and their status with God now reads “Upright.” “Righteous.” “Just.” “Forgiven.” “Holy.” “Saint.”
Your good works can’t buy God’s love. But they can express your love for him.