The Wonder Of Grace


Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor's check on "The Millionaire"

Michael Anthony delivers the anonymous benefactor’s check on “The Millionaire”


I think grace is hard for Americans to comprehend. Our Constitution tells us we have certain unalienable rights, and over time, this has morphed into what we see today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other than to reiterate, it’s hard for people who believe they deserve something to recognize when they’ve been given a free gift they could never earn.

When I was growing up there was a TV program called The Millionaire. This, when a million dollars was what a billion dollars is today. Anyway, the premise of the show was that this incredibly wealthy man would choose someone to give a million dollars to, anonymously, with only the caveat that the recipient couldn’t tell anyone how he came by the money. As I recall, none of those people said, At last—I deserve this money and it’s about time it came my way. Entitlement hadn’t caught hold yet, and apparently it didn’t cross the mind of the writer to have a character respond with such hubris.

I point this out because I believe entitlement is a barrier to the wonder of grace.

When we see ourselves as undeserving, then the smallest good thing is a beautiful gift. But if we see ourselves as deserving, then the smallest unmet expectation is a blow.

Might this steady diet of “you deserve . . .” explain why more and more people seem angry? Whether it’s a gunman shooting children in a school or a former policeman gunning down those on his revenge hit list, unsatisfied people are taking things into their own hands.

But what if we actually came to the realization that we don’t deserve anything? After all, what qualities do we have that mean we should get the best, be treated with respect, win the prize, be paid the most, get promoted to the top? We can’t all be number one. We can’t all get our way. We can’t all win, no matter what the self-help gurus and child psychologists say.

Maybe it’s time we told the truth instead. God tells us we in fact do not merit His favor, deserve a place in Heaven, or are entitled to right standing before Him. Nor can we earn any of that.

If we grasped that last fact, virtually every other religion besides Christianity would crumble because they are all built upon working, earning, doing what needs to be done to achieve in the spiritual realm. Not possible, God says.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But then God turns around and gives us what we cannot earn.

Wow!

In one instant we go from being spiritually bereft to being spiritual millionaires. Who can grasp the glory of that transformation? It’s the leper made clean, the blind beggar receiving sight, the immoral woman given Living Water. Changed completely and changed forever. And there’s no reason other than that God loves.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Wonder Of Grace


Millionaire_1956I think grace is hard for Americans to comprehend. Our Constitution tells us we have certain unalienable rights, and over time, this has morphed into what we see today–entitlement. I’ve written about that infectious attitude in the past (see “Our Just Deserts” and “How Deserving Are We?“), so I won’t cover that ground again other than to reiterate, it’s hard for people who believe they deserve something to recognize when they’ve been given a free gift they could never earn.

When I was growing up there was a TV program called The Millionaire. This, when a million dollars was what a billion dollars is today. Anyway, the premise of the show was that this incredibly wealthy man would choose someone to give a million dollars to, anonymously, with only the caveat that the recipient couldn’t tell anyone how he came by the money. As I recall, none of those people said, At last–I deserve this money and it’s about time it came my way. Entitlement hadn’t caught hold yet, and apparently it didn’t cross the mind of the writer to have a character respond with such hubris.

I point this out because I believe entitlement is a barrier to the wonder of grace.

When we see ourselves as undeserving, then the smallest good thing is a beautiful gift. But if we see ourselves as deserving, then the smallest unmet expectation is a blow.

Might this steady diet of “you deserve . . .” explain why more and more people seem angry? Whether it’s a gunman shooting children in a school or a former policeman gunning down those on his revenge hit list, unsatisfied people are taking things into their own hands.

But what if we actually came to the realization that we don’t deserve anything? After all, what qualities do we have that mean we should get the best, be treated with respect, win the prize, be paid the most, get promoted to the top? We can’t all be number one. We can’t all get our way. We can’t all win, no matter what the self-help gurus and child psychologists say.

Maybe it’s time we told the truth instead. God tells us we in fact do not merit His favor, deserve a place in Heaven, or are entitled to right standing before Him. Nor can we earn any of that.

If we grasped that last fact, virtually every other religion besides Christianity would crumble because they are all built upon working, earning, doing what needs to be done to achieve in the spiritual realm. Not possible, God says.

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

But then God turns around and gives us what we cannot earn.

Wow!

In one instant we go from being spiritually bereft to being spiritual millionaires. Who can grasp the glory of that transformation? It’s the leper made clean, the blind beggar receiving sight, the immoral woman given Living Water. Changed completely and changed forever. And there’s no reason other than that God loves.

Published in: on February 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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How Deserving Are We?


picture by Penny Mathews


From time to time I write about a pandemic we’re coping with here in the US — that of deserve-itis. (See “Our Just Deserts” for example). Over and over we’re told we deserve better. The latest arguments I’ve heard have to do with deserving loan modification and a government that adheres to the Constitution.

Are these actually things we deserve as opposed to things we want?

Another term for what we deserve is “entitlements,” for some reason a more negative word. We have to reduce entitlements like Social Security, we’re told. After all, these old people are just going to sit around bleeding the working young dry. Except, Social Security has been around so long now that the aging Baby Boomers who are now beginning to take Social Security have paid into the system their entire working lives. They are now receiving money they are entitled to, aren’t they?

And what about the “tax break” for the middle class that received a two month extension last December — doesn’t the average Joe and Joanna deserve that? After all, it’s their money.

Of course unemployment benefits were extended too. Do the unemployed deserve these benefits?

My real question is this, Do we still recognize the line between what we deserve and what we’re given as a free gift? I think this is a critical issue, with spiritual ramifications. When our minds are fixed on what we believe we deserve, we can easily become presumptuous: I don’t have a job, so I deserve a handout from the government. The banks are too big to fail, so they deserve to be bailed out by the government. The mentality behind both those statements is the same.

The occupy movements proved this. Much of their early complaint focused on government helping Wall Street, yet they expected government to help them too by changing the city ordinances — or ignoring them — so they could camp in places where camping was not allowed. Apparently they believed they deserved special considerations but rich corporations about to take a financial bath did not.

Whatever side of this issue you fall on, the point is, deserve-itis has infected us. One of the most obvious symptoms is the death of gratitude. After all, if you deserve a free lunch, why should you be thankful for it?

Perhaps the greatest loss deserve-itis causes, however, is the understanding of grace — God’s free and undeserved favor. To receive grace we must believe that there is something we don’t deserve. But our society tells us we deserve all good things — health, long life, skinny bodies, white teeth, happiness. Why not salvation, too? Surely, surely, a good God would not do less, would He? We’re such a nice lot, after all. We merit His favor.

Uh, actually, we don’t. What we deserve, Scripture says, is death. From the beginning, God told the truth to Adam — if you eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will die. Men and women have been dying — deservedly so — ever since Adam threw God’s warning back in His face. Here are the consequences, God said, so don’t eat. Adam ate. He deserved the consequences he received. And so do we, now infected with sin natures prone to go our own way. Funny how society commonly believes Man is good, just not perfect. Good has become, good enough. But not to God.

Paul said in Colossians 3:25, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

In contrast, deserve-itis tells us we deserve good things in spite of the wrong we have done. False teaching such as universalism convinces us we deserve heaven regardless of what we believe about Jesus. Humanism convinces us we are good enough, at least most of us, to avoid any kind of eternal judgment (and the only one who would punish Man so unjustly must be a monster).

The fact is, the deadly notion that we deserve good because we are good flips the Truth on its head, and it makes God’s offer of grace irrelevant.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize the pandemic that is upon us.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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