The next time you sit down to watch television or listen to the radio, pay attention to the commercials, and listen for key words. It’s a safe bet that one of the words you’ll hear repeated is deserve. You deserve a new car. You deserve a better career. You deserve a fast-food break today.
Last week, I got 2 different emails from retailers who tried appealing to me in this way. In fact, Korean Air made the bold move of being upfront about it in their marketing last year. (Truth be told, it was so on-the-nose that it didn’t make me want to buy a plane ticket; it just made me laugh.)
If you pay attention to the cultural messages around you, you hear this refrain: Go on, you deserve it. You have a right to whatever you want. It’s all about you.
Of course, the refrain within the evangelical megachurch movement is starting to carry the same tune. This shouldn’t surprise us. The Apostle Paul warned as much, saying that people inside the church would be “lovers of self, lovers of money…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…” (II Tim 3:1-5). We see this played out on the stages of the biggest “churches” in the United States. It’s all about YOU. God’s all about YOU.
It’s a risky question to ask, I know, but: what does the Bible say? What is God’s highest priority?
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)
“For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9-11 ESV)
But [the children of Israel] rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. (Ezekiel 20:8-10 ESV)
Seems like God is all about…God. In fact, throughout Scripture, it seems that God’s greatest concern is not our pleasure but His glory.
Truth be told, the more you read of Scripture, the more you see that what we deserve is judgment. Punishment. Wrath. We have broken God’s laws, we have denied Him the worship He is due, and we set our affections on pitiful little non-gods.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)
…Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:1-5 ESV)
But rather than giving us what we deserve, we get something else: grace.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14 ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9 ESV)
We don’t deserve His mercy or His love, but He chooses to give us both–not because we’re so lovable, but because He’s so loving. Because of God’s great love on undeserving sinners like you and me, Jesus Christ came into the world, lived the perfect life we couldn’t, and then died in our place to pay the penalty for sins, and then offer eternal life to all who repent of their rebellion against God, believe in Jesus as their Savior, and submit to Jesus as their Lord.
Here’s the point: even as a Christian, it’s easy to absorb and believe the cultural message that we deserve the best and should do whatever we can to get the best. The truth is something else entirely.
So when you find yourself becoming frustrated because you are not being treated the way you think you should***, or you don’t have all the physical blessings you believe you ought to, go back to the Bible and get some perspective on what you really deserve.
Because if we are receiving anything better than the wrath of God poured out on us because of sin, we’re already getting much, much better than we deserve.
***I want to be clear here: I’m not talking about issues of abuse or situations where you are being cruelly mistreated by another person. If you are in a dangerous or abusive situation, please use whatever resources you can to get out. The issue of what we deserve is a different conversation than abuse, because abuse is never, ever justifiable. Please hear me clearly on that front.