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In the final minutes of the movie, after Miller's passionate imperative, "Earn this," the camera cuts an elderly James Ryan standing over Miller's grave. Tears in his eyes, Ryan speaks to the departed Miller at his grave saying, "Everyday I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge; I've tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that that was enough. I hope, that at least in your eyes, I earned what [you] have done for me."
Miller and his group of men sacrificed much for Private Ryan. They died so that Ryan could live. Their deaths for Private Ryan were not based on anything good in Private Ryan; it was a mission of mercy. Picking up on these themes, I heard a sermon shortly after the movie's release in which the preacher showed the clip and said that this gives us a glimpse of what Jesus did for us. Then with dramatic pause he asked each of us in the crowd, "Have you earned it? Do you live life the best that you can so that in God's eyes He will say you have earned what He did for you?" Then he dismissed everyone. I wanted to stand up and scream, "No! No! You've missed the point!"
This is precisely NOT the message of the cross. Jesus' death is completely different. Jesus died precisely so that we didn't have to earn it.
Just like private Ryan remembered his saviors' deaths every day, we must daily remember our Savior's death. But Jesus said something far different hanging on the cross than Captain Miller said on the bridge. Miller said, "Earn this." Jesus said, "It is finished." In essence, "I just earned what you never could and must not now try." When you remember the cross do you remember Christ's words? We must remember the cross and if you remember the cross rightly you will never try to earn anything. If Christ died for you, he died to earn you that which you never could earn. If you could have earned, Jesus wouldn't have had to die (c.f. Gal 2:21).
Just like Ryan's memory of those who died for him affected his day to day life, so your memory of the One who died for you must affect your day-to-day life. But the motive for it affecting you must be completely different. To try to earn Christ's death through your good works or righteous life is to ignore the true meaning of all the Jesus did there as he died. On the cross, Jesus bore the wrath of God that you and I deserve and Christ's righteousness was applied to us (2 Cor 5:21). We have earned and can earn nothing but Hell. Precisely because we can't earn heaven by our own righteousness, Christ died to give us His.
If you look at the cross and try to earn it, Christ didn't die for you. That's not faith; that's works. Repent.
Rather, recognize Christ's finished work, and trust that it is sufficient to reconcile yourself to God. Christ's death purchased us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14). There is nothing left that you have to do. So now live like the new creature that God has made you, not to earn the cross but because of what the cross has earned for you.
Let's change Ryan's words spoken at the gravestone and say, from the foot of the cross, "Everyday, I think about what you said that day on the cross, 'It is finished.' I now live my life as one forgiven and freed from sins. I could never do enough, and I praise you that Christ has made me righteous in your eyes."Hello Jacob, Just wanted to say how much I appreciated and agree with this article. That part of the movie bothered me since I saw it all those years ago. As much as I appreciate the realism of Spielberg, his morality is very Jewish and legalistic. (Shindler’s List too) But rather than bashing him, I respect what you said and how we should think about Christ and what he did. I went to RTS Orlando and love film. I am also liking the other stuff on your blog here about holy hip hop, anti-abortion and business for God’s glory. Keep it up man. I have a lot of family and freinds from Phoenix and Prescott. Be cool to visit your church maybe. by: Will () - 06 April '11 - 03:57 I agree – what Christ said was that it was finished on the Cross. Yet we have our lives to live. We won’t stop sinning on the day we accept Christ is God. What then?