There is only one guarantee in the Christ-centered life and that is salvation by grace. We do not deserve grace, and yet Jesus never says such a thing to us even when we forget that we are not entitled to a place in Heaven based on personal merit.
Some Christians even think they deserve material privilege in this lifetime. Jesus never said, “you get what you deserve” or “you’ll get what’s coming to you.” Scripture has things to say about fairness and justice which, to a materially minded audience, are scandalous.
The Laborer and His Wages
“Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:13-15).
In earthly terms, this is counterintuitive. We believe it is fair to be paid by the hour, or for each item we produce, or according to some measurement of output.
No one earns salvation, so God does not modify payment on the basis of how long one has been a Christian. Salvation is a gift of grace and it comes in one denomination; there are no levels of salvation but a single measure for all who will receive it.
The faithful are poor and meek and they count blessings in terms of their relationship with God (Matthew 5). “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v.4).
Their comfort comes from the Lord himself, and this is counted by the faithful as immeasurable, undeserved treasure beyond anything the world can offer.
Do We Deserve Heaven?
For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
Salvation is not ours by right but is a gift on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. “His death was death so that ours would only be sleep.”
The startling truth is that if the most generous, selfless person you met did not give her heart to Jesus, she would go to Hell because salvation only comes through Jesus.
If a serial killer truly repented and gave his life to Christ 10 minutes before being put to death in prison, he would go to Heaven.
Society, in general, cannot bear this kind of justice; bad people do not deserve mercy. But according to Scripture, “no one is good except God” (Mark 10:8).
One whose life was marked by generosity should, in the world’s eyes, be rich by the time she dies or should at least live in a bigger mansion in Heaven than the one who submitted to God at the very end.
But this is suggestive of a transaction, and also implies the belief that humans believe they have the right to judge who belongs in heaven and who does not.
The truth according to Scripture is that we all, without exception, deserve to spend eternity in Hell because we sin against God every day. Yet, authentic believers have been spared.
Peter Gurry explains, “It’s shocking that we all deserve this fate, not one of us excluded.” Hell is a real place, and the worst part of spending eternity there is being separated from God without hope of reconciliation — ever.
Prosperity to the Deserving?
We often talk about fairness and what we deserve. “In our fallen condition, we are tempted to believe that God somehow owes us something other than justice. However, if the Lord were to pour out His justice on us, we could not stand.” Our culture has always taught us that if we work hard, we deserve to be rewarded.
By taking James 4:3 out of context, one gets the impression that the Lord wishes to fulfill our desires. “You do not receive because you do not ask” for what? And in what manner should we ask?
Western society measures success according to wealth, occupation, whether or not one has a spouse or partner, and we frequently pray for these things. Should we ask for these things? They are not inherently bad; the evil comes from demanding them from God as our just deserts.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to ask for our daily bread, to be forgiven of our sins, and to not hold sins against others. God wants to fulfill these prayers. They are essential, and still, more than we deserve.
Yet, since Jesus himself taught us to pray this way, we know that they are prayers that line up with our Father’s desires. When we put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6), we are able to withstand temptation without committing sins.
He demands that we forgive others (Luke 6:37) and gives us the gift of forgiveness freely. His constant presence is our daily bread.
Earthly riches are nice, but they are not as good as the blessings of our Father who promises an inheritance in heaven. For now, by his Spirit, we are becoming more like his Son Jesus.
We do not deserve this but are receiving this gift because the Lord is merciful and loving. For the believer, these are marvelous and awe-inspiring riches.
As We Have Judged
Asking God to give us what we deserve is dangerous because we place ourselves in the judgment seat, and God turns this kind of pride upside down. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Demanding that God itemize and measure the sins of others in earthly terms will always backfire. Since the Lord has not evaluated each sin in our lives according to its severity, even the small things we do day-by-day will come back to convict us.
Believers are forgiven over and over for all sins (not giving money to a homeless person, telling small lies, physical violence, theft, etc.). All sin is treason against the Lord.
The Lord says that if you would like the world to be judged for sin in an earthly way, you risk being judged in the same way.
The parable of the unforgiving servant demonstrates what Jesus meant by this. The master said to his servant “‘should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers” (Matthew 18:33-34).
Instead of assigning death as a just payment for sin, God has offered the free gift of life through his Son (Romans 6:23). Pride sometimes blinds us to the reality that we are all treasonous scoundrels.
What Jesus Deserved
Jesus supplies the ultimate example of how we are to approach The Lord. He submitted to the will of the Father. Joseph Scheumann put it this way: “Jesus’s death was substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved.”
In terms of what the world calls “justice,” Jesus did not deserve to die. Pontius Pilate even said, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). He was completely correct — Jesus never sinned; he did nothing wrong. Christ died for those who do deserve death — all of us.
The Unspoken Truth in Summary
Jesus never said “you get what you deserve” because the blessing of adoption as sons and daughters of God is not ours by right. It is ours by the grace of God, not because of some power or beauty in us.
By that same grace, we do not receive the just punishment for our sins. If God was fair by human terms, we would be subject to a punishment too terrible to imagine or to bear.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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