Many rewards in life require us to achieve significant things before we get the benefits. For instance, if we want a license, degree, or certificate to fulfill a certain job, we typically have to study, practice, and then demonstrate that we have acquired the required skills to do that work. If we want to earn a first-place trophy or an Olympic medal, we should expect to learn the sport, train, practice, and give up other things so that we can excel.
Another example would be naturalized citizens in our country. They must meet a number of requirements, and study to pass a test. (When I looked up details about the naturalization process, I was surprised – and pleased – to see that “Demonstrate good moral character” was one of the requirements.)
I realize that there are usually ways to cheat, whether by getting someone else to do our schoolwork for us, buying (or printing) a fake certificate, or breaking the rules of a sport. However, for those who live with integrity, the sequence is pretty consistent: you do the work, then you get the results.
What if we did the opposite, though?
- What if we gave someone a license or certification, with the expectation that this would inspire them to live up to it?
- What if we offered to pay someone in advance, trusting them to do high-quality work without a legal contract to penalize them if they didn’t?
- What if we welcomed someone into a group (whether a club, family, congregation, or nation), and only then expected them to learn how to behave appropriately?
In fact, years (ok, decades) ago, I remember a manager of mine paying me a compliment. He said that I was good at a particular skill. I’m not sure what caused him to say that, but I felt inspired to live up to that feedback, and to do a good job of demonstrating that particular competency.
In fact, there is a place where people are first unconditionally welcomed into a family, and are only then expected to live according to the nature of that family. Not only that, but the people who are welcomed into this family absolutely don’t deserve to be part of it, and could never earn their way in. Furthermore, when individuals accept the offer to join this family, they find that not only are the “perks” of being in this family amazing, but they discover that the family’s expectations aren’t weird or arbitrary. Instead, the family just sets expectations for its members so that they can behave like the head of the family, get along with each other, and remain healthy. Family members are expected to look out for each other, but they are also expected to help those who aren’t in the family.
This family is the family of God.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT
There is no test that you have to take in order to be brought back from being far away from God. There is no training or skill level required in order to be adopted into God’s family, no matter how many bad things you have done. (After all, God saved a murderer like Paul. He can grant the same magnitude of forgiveness – and more – to you and to me.)
The idea that someone must be “good enough” to be welcomed home by God is an outright lie. Jesus died to save sinners (see 1 Timothy 1:15), not people who were “pretty good”, or even those who were “trying to get their act together”.
Now, just as every family has ways of doing things, God would like for His family to live the best life that they can. And, in His wisdom, He knows that we’ll be better off when we make good choices (rather than destructive ones), and that serving others is a greater purpose in life than serving ourselves (see Acts 20:35). But His expectations of His family – while not passive or selfish – are much simpler than what other lifestyles offer (see what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30).
In the family of God, the difference is that the “award” (the seal of being part of God’s family, along with the privileges that this brings – see Ephesians 1:14) is given first. There’s no practicing or payment required of us. The expectation of living like God created us to live – with a purpose that He created us for (see Psalm 139:13-18) – is the result of becoming part of God’s family, not the cause.
If you aren’t familiar with this opportunity, I encourage you to read Romans 3:22-28, as well as Ephesians 1:3-11. In fact, if you have a chance to study the book of Romans with someone who has taken the time to do the same, I expect you to be overwhelmed with the grace of God by the end of it. It’s not a book to merely skim through, although there are plenty of passages that almost jump off the page. This book dives deeply into God’s plan and the free gift of salvation that He offers, in a way that continuing to study it allows God to show us more and more details about that amazing offer.
It’s not normal to receive the rewards before doing the work – whether or not we do a good job or not – but God’s family is real, and the way it works flies in the face of what we expect. I hope that you will give it a try, if you haven’t already.
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.