What have you earned? And what have you been given?
Many years ago, an older pastor, Dick Kaufmann, spent time with me, helping me grasp Grace. Counterintuitive does not even begin to capture my experience. Many of our natural instincts are put totally out of sorts by the LORD’s ways, especially our motivations for performance and earning. “I earned a spot on the starting lineup” — so I’m prone to boast about it. “I earn my grades.” “I earned a place in the company,” etc. And so we can be well on our way to pride in our efforts and further and further away from Grace.
Let’s look some more at insights into Grace from Martin Luther. In the preface to his commentary of Galatians, he wrote:
“God imputes [His righteousness] to us apart from our works. In other words, it is passive righteousness, as the others are active. For we do nothing for it, and we give nothing for it — we only receive and allow another to work — that is God … If I tried to fulfill the law myself, I could not trust [that what I had accomplished was sufficient], neither could it stand up to the judgment of God. So I rest only upon the righteousness of Christ … which I do not produce but only receive; God the Father freely giving it to us through Jesus Christ … For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only — that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us, our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation!"
So Dick Kaufmann helped me see that the gospel is not that we give God a righteousness and then he owes us (because we performed or achieved and we earned His blessings), but that He, through Jesus Christ, gives us a perfect righteousness, and then we owe him.
Did you catch that last phrase? “Then we owe Him!” How does that make you feel?
In and of myself, in my selfish nature, it makes me feel terrible!! I hate it! I hate owing anyone anything. I hate being “on the hook” or obligated to anyone. But if all my hope is on what I earn, then I have a problem. Once I see what I’ve truly earned — my punishment for my treason against my Maker — I realize that to have any hope, there has to be a better way than just earning.
And then Jesus enters the picture. It is telling that, in a sense, our salvation IS earned — just not by us. Jesus earned nothing but praises and blessings for His ABSOLUTE faithfulness to the Father. Jesus succeeded where Adam and all of us have failed. Where we earned condemnation, Jesus earned approval (“Behold My Son with whom I am well pleased!” Matthew 3:17). He willingly bore the punishment we earned (“Upon Him was the punishment that brought us peace” Isaiah 53:5), but He freely shares with all who trust Him the credit of His total, perfect obedience.
So what does someone deserve if they treat you that way? When have you been given a gift so stunning that you were almost (if not outright) embarrassed? Yet what is a fitting response to such generosity and kindness?
The Apostle Paul was transformed from a murderous bigot into an ambassador of love by just this. And he wrote in Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways … For who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
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