When it comes to staying in good spiritual shape, many of us these days would want to say, “Well, I’m doing okay in some areas of my Christian life, but I have to admit I’m terribly out of shape when it comes to prayer.” Perhaps you are one of these...
When was the last time someone said to you, “You deserve better”? Or when did you last think, I don’t deserve this…?
These are common statements in American culture. We’re told by the media, and by society at large, that we’re entitled to certain outcomes—and we’re easily convinced, for this belief runs in our blood. At the root of everything, from our private discontentment and grumbling to our public complaints, is a sense that we’re good and deserving and can judge our circumstances rightly.
But we aren’t, and we can’t, because sin has corrupted everything. We’re naturally blind to a right estimation of ourselves, and our sense of justice is skewed—which means we don’t actually want what we deserve. We will see that we have far more than we deserve only when we grasp the undeservedness of the gospel; and we will only look at ourselves and our world rightly, through God’s lens, when we respond to his kindness to us in Christ.
God’s Overwhelming Holiness
To think rightly about what we deserve, we must start with God. Our flesh wants to make everything about us, as if the world revolves around humans. But creation tells a different tale:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
If we pause to consider the grandeur of a starry sky, the delicate beauty of a sunrise, or the diversity of plant and animal life, we must confess that our lives are but a tiny blip in the radar.
Creation shouts of our eternal God. Everything begins and ends with him (Romans 11:36).
God not only communicates his greatness through creation, he speaks through his Word. When he spoke to Isaiah, the prophet couldn’t stand before his holiness; he trembled before him, calling down curses upon himself (Isaiah 6:5). John, the beloved disciple, dropped as though dead when he saw Jesus in all his glory (Revelation 1:17). When we encounter God’s holiness through Scripture—when he speaks his perfect, true, pure words to us (Psalm 19:7-9)—we have no choice but to respond in a similar way.
The holiness of God will always be overwhelming to unholy sinners.
Our Offensive Sinfulness
As our proper response to God’s holiness is overwhelm, fear, and an inevitable sense of our inadequacy before him, so God’s proper response to our sinfulness is offense. This is a hard truth. That God is offended by us often offends us. But this is the only right response to sin.
A small child hitting his older brother is a very different offense than someone harming the President of the United States. The weight of the offense always correlates to the offended party.
When we don’t acknowledge God’s overwhelming holiness and our indebtedness to him as his creation; when we rebel and sin against him; or, when we despise his way and desire our own, we greatly offend our holy God, and we’re blinded from seeing what we truly deserve for our sin.
God’s Right Response
And what do we deserve? What does our offensive sinfulness warrant before God? His right and just wrath:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)
When we push back the truth by worshiping anything but God, even ourselves, we receive what our idolatrous worship deserves. This feels harsh to us—but is it? If the weight of the offense directly relates to the offended party, then shouldn’t the response also correspond?
What we actually deserve is to be judged for our sin—we’re entitled to nothing else.
God’s Undeserved Kindness
If we want to call God’s judgment for sin undeserved, then what should we call his gospel? Isn’t the good news that God’s perfectly holy Son bore God’s wrath in our place completely unmerited? Isn’t the gift of his righteousness in exchange for our sin just that—a gift? Yes, and praise God for this! In Jesus, we’re given what we do not deserve so we’ll never get what we do deserve apart from him.
- “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
- “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
- “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1a)
Our Right Response
Now, as new creations, as we gaze upon God’s glory in the gospel, he renews our minds. Suddenly, the circumstances our flesh wanted to grumble and complain about are put in their proper place. And then we’re able to thank God with grateful hearts for all he’s done and provided in his Son. Suddenly, our desire to share this undeserved, good news with others heightens, as we hold out this amazing gift we’ve been granted by faith in Christ. Or, suddenly, we’re compelled to spend ourselves for the One who spent himself for us. Even when the spending is costly. Even when it means being misunderstood.
We deserve nothing—but we’ve been given everything. What good news! “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).