"There is none who does good, not even one.” Psalm 14:3
As I was retelling the story of the adoption of our youngest daughter, a friend beamed at me and said, “God has blessed you because you have been faithful to him.” I know this person loves the Lord and I also know she was trying honor me in her words, but her response carried a deceptive false premise. False statements often start with a plausible-sounding premise (Col 2:4).
The implication in her words is that I somehow earned and played a part in the amazing works of God we had seen through our daughter’s adoption process. So I gently responded, “This was all God, we just got to be along for the ride.” But again she insisted that no, God had blessed us because we had been faithful to him, then quickly turned a corner and went into her next meeting.
For the next few months I began to notice how often phrases like this have cropped into our conversations as we share good news: “You deserve it!” “It’s because you’ve been faithful in what God has given you!”
I hear these statements most often, intended in love, from one believer to another. But these seemingly innocuous words they carry a lethal lie. We are not only undeserving of God’s blessing, but we are ill-deserving (Rom. 3:10–18). None of us deserves anything good from God (Rom. 5:6–11). Every day that we wake up and get to hug our families and take in this beautiful shadow of the world to come is God’s unmerited favor upon us.
The truth is that God has blessed us despite how unfaithful we have been to him. He has blessed us even though we are undeserving. God is not rewarding us with his gifts—he is being merciful and gracious to rebellious sinners. If God gave us what we actually deserved, our friends would not congratulate us, they would mourn for us. But mercifully, God doesn’t (Ps. 103:10), and he has shown his love for us in that despite our rebellion he has adopted us in Christ and daily pours out mercy after mercy on our lives for our joy and his glory.
While God does give us gifts of health, children, material things, and—most amazingly for Christians—eternal life with him, they are a reminder of his gracious mercy, not wages for a job well done (Rom. 6:23). Once we accept the premise, even to be polite, that we have somehow earned God’s blessing, we unconsciously start to see ourselves as deserving of God’s good gifts and undermine the gospel with that other person and anyone else within earshot.
I have seen up close the powerfully tragic effects of the prosperity gospel, which says that God’s main goal for us is that we feel blessed and comfortable—not that we glorify him (which is our end). It is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons in a nation of blessed and comfortable people. Most of the people in our churches would reject the prosperity gospel outright if it were proclaimed from a pulpit, but for many of our churches this pox will not visibly walk in through the front door. Instead, it will be smuggled inside by a carrier who smiles at us and through one complimentary, plausible-sounding encouragement at a time, infects us with a lie that we deserve anything good from God.
I praise God for his incredible mercy and goodness to my family and me! God has blessed me in countless ways, the greatest being the hope of eternal life with him. My love and praise for him, my enjoyment of these blessings, and my passion to spread Christ’s gospel is immeasurably deeper when I consider how undeserving of them I truly am. God is not honored by constantly focusing on our sinful nature; instead we should look up to him and never lose hold on his unfathomable graciousness to us. Once we begin to consider God’s extraordinary blessings as wages instead of gifts we not only dishonor him, we actually lose some measure of the joy he intends for us. We enjoy God’s blessings more, and our joy and passion in him increase when we savor them as gifts from a loving Father.
Matt Rogers is a pastor at the Downtown Bellevue church.