It’s true: sometimes, I have an entitlement mindset. When I come home from work, I often feel like I should have a break to rest and relax. When I’ve been working outside on a Saturday morning, I may believe that others in my household are obligated to let me take a nap in the afternoon. However, when I get too self-absorbed, seeing how much work my wife does is a great cure for this attitude. Her service to our family and others reminds me that I’m not the only one who has expended a lot of energy, and showing me (by her example) that it is my role to serve, as well.
When God wanted to restore the relationship with fallen humankind, there was a problem: we deserved punishment and eternal separation from God’s holiness. There was nothing that we were entitled to except an eternity separated from a good God, since our sin and His goodness are inherently incompatible.
In a discussion about what it would take for non-Jewish people to be saved, we find the following statement in a response from Peter the apostle, emphasizing that God’s salvation is not what any of us deserve, but is instead a gift of God’s grace.
We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts of the Apostles 15:11 NLT
In this particular English translation, the phrase “undeserved grace” is somewhat redundant, since grace is – by definition – something that the recipient doesn’t deserve. However, the extra reminder is helpful in emphasizing the unmerited nature of salvation: God’s grace is not what we deserve.
For those who have not received this salvation, we find in this verse a message of hope. Even the greatest sins (both hidden choices that we keep from others, and heinous acts that are known to many) can be forgiven by God, replaced with the gift of righteousness that Jesus offers. For those of us who do not want to receive what we deserve (because we realize that we deserve punishment), Jesus’ decision to take on that penalty confirms that we don’t have to live in fear of getting what we have earned (see Romans 6:20-23).
For those who have accepted Jesus as the source of their salvation, and walk with Him out of love and appreciation for His gift, this is a good reminder that this gift is not what we deserve. That has a few implications:
For one thing, it destroys any valid foundation for believing that we are entitled to more and more good things. Yes, we serve a God who keeps His promises, but these blessings are still gifts from God, and not something we actually earned. Our very lives are a gift, and God’s stay of punishment for our sins manifested His mercy, giving us a chance to repent and accept Jesus’ salvation. If God had stopped there, He would have been merciful beyond measure, but instead He gives us grace (blessings we don’t deserve) piled on top of that.
In addition, this reminds us that we have received far too much grace not to give that same grace to others. There is no kind of sin that can be committed against us that God hasn’t already forgiven in other sinners (maybe even us!). The standard of perfection that we failed to meet isn’t something that we can force upon others: that is God’s role, and He judges with both justice and mercy. And, when we tell believers that they must follow extra, man-made rules beyond God’s commandments, we are pushing the exact opposite of grace. We might call this legalistic approach of the Pharisees, “unmerited burdens”.
So, if we have not yet received God’s gift, let us confidently accept it, not as an entitlement that we have earned, but as a blessing that God generously offers to us. And, once we have found the freedom of God’s salvation, may we share that blessing with others, rather than living like spoiled children who expect whatever they want.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.