The theme for part 1 was that grace ≠ merit and that our very culture, my deepest ingrained ideologies, is a deterrent to fully walking in grace, to living by and receiving freely God’s grace every day. Our culture says that we work to receive, that you can’t or shouldn’t receive something for nothing, and so pride and self-sufficiency is our great hindrance to grace, which freely gives what is so undeserved, which freely gives in no regard, whatsoever, to our merit or demerit.
Sure, we can admit our needs when we are desperate—as I was desperate that day I stood in the middle of 5th street in the cold with a police officer blocking traffic while we wait for a tow truck to pick up the pieces and the tire and the three-wheeled 4Runner sitting lopsided. Of course, I was desperate then.
The problem is that because we are our own hindrance to grace—by living and operating based on earthly cultural values—when we get desperate enough, when we truly need God because we just. cant. do. it., even then we pick up a different hindrance to grace: entitlement.
I’ve written about this entitlement thing before, but I feel like I see it in two different ways now. The first is when we begin mentally checking our magical piggy bank to see if we have stored up enough credits (enough merits) to ask our wish-granting God if He will hear us. When we are desperate, we are all-the-more demanding.
And this goes two ways, too (back to work-therefore-entitlement): either we say, but I’ve done this and this and this, so can’t You just do this one thing to get me out of my desperate bind? Or, we say (as I did), well, my sin is so great this week, my piggy bank is pretty depleted; I guess I’ll just take my consequence now.
All of this is a very wrong and very limiting understanding of grace.
So, part 2 picks up the second half of our second cultural hindrance: entitlement. And I’ve already said entitlement is related to our sense of works (I worked; therefore, I am entitled). But there’s another kind of entitlement game, and I play it a lot. It’s called the game of justice: what is right and fair.
I’ve been reading through a Bible study written by Paige Allen, and toward the end she talks about the verse in Micah to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And she comments that she sometimes loves justice more than she loves mercy.
Blame it on my personality—that I’m so black-and-white, but I have a very strong sense of justice and fairness, of right and wrong. And it’s not always just for me—it’s for others who often face great injustices that make me so angry I cry out, But why God? It’s so unfair!
Before you think I’m only selflessly carrying the justice torch for others, let me tell you, I carry my own torch really high. Most people like to get the fair deal and to be right, but I really like it. In fact, the greatest issue I have had to work through in our marriage is this very thing: marriage is about compromise, about humility and selflessness; it’s not about being right or “winning.” (If you’re a newlywed, and you’re bull-headed like me, put that on your mirror. When I let go of the need to “win,” it changed our marriage forever.) Okay—soap box over.
Here’s the deal, though, I still very much like to be right—and more than that, it’s hard for me to get over what I think is unfair.
Example: $3,000 worth of damage (a conservative estimate), and we likely aren’t responsible for any of it.
So, enter again, Day 8 of the lessons-from-my-car-repairs: I’m reading about the parable of the rich landowner, the one who gives a very fair pay to the laborers who worked all day and a very generous and equal (but unfair) pay to the laborers who only worked an hour.
Jerry Bridges in Transforming Grace puts the parable in a modern perspective: a class of students who take an exam. Some studied very hard and earned an A; others did not study at all and deserved an F, but the professor gives everyone an A—both earned and undeserved.
If you know me, you know I was highly concerned with grades in college and grad school, particularly. So, as a student, this makes something inside me go, Ahhhhhhh!!!!! As a professor, I think Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Either way, my heart cries out—but that’s not right…it’s not fair!
And yet the landowner says, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15).
God is indeed very generous; it’s in His inherit nature to give. But when we feel entitled to receive, we lose sight of His generosity.
Bridges writes, “But for Christians, such a high sense of entitlement is especially detrimental to our spiritual lives. For one thing, God is the ultimate supplier of all our needs and desires. Every good gift is from Him, regardless of the intermediate means through which it is supplied… If we do not receive what we think we have a right to expect, it is ultimately God who has withheld” (p. 65).
The bottom line is this: “None of us wants to get what we actually deserve” (p. 69).
God doesn’t owe us anything. And any gift He has given us is by His grace, His inherit generosity—to give what is undeserved.
Through Jesus, I am made righteous; through Jesus, I can do anything; through Jesus, I am more than a conqueror. But when I begin to think it’s really me that’s so great and awesome: I am not. Apart from Jesus, I am nothing. I have nothing without His generosity. And I can never give Him anything He hasn’t already given me.
So I began to pray last week that God would pierce my heart with this truth. I don’t deserve to have my car fixed on my time table; I don’t deserve to pay nothing. It’s not my right nor is it justice.
It’s only grace to get what we don’t deserve, but if we think we deserve it, then we miss the gift—we miss grace.
If you’ve made it this far and are, at this point, really only interested to know what happened, here it is: By God’s grace, the service manager took most of the weight of the repairs, and we paid less than 10% of what those repairs should have cost—and by His grace upon grace, our initial estimated cost was even lower when we picked up the car on Wednesday.
Did we deserve it? Nope. Not at all. But we have a generous Father who gives gifts of grace upon grace, and when our heart releases our culture and ideologies, we see and receive His grace everywhere.