The Unfairness of it All

Not getting what you deserve can be a good thing. Paul makes clear in his many letters that became part of the New Testament that the Christian’s relationship to God—his salvation—are the consequence of Jesus’ death on the cross alone. There is nothing that anyone can do, or not do, good or bad, that will contribute to salvation. You can not earn your way to God, according to Paul. Jesus was punished in your place, and so there is no punishment left to endure. The price was paid, and so there’s nothing more that you need to pay. It’s all free and clear. It is a difficult concept for most people to accept, for two reasons.

First, it is unfair and unjust. Those who are guilty are let off. Second, it runs counter to our life experience. We get paid our wages on the basis of our performance. We earn grades in school on the basis of our performance. We continue to have relationships with our friends and family because of our performance. We win games on account of our performance. And now, against all that, God tells us that our performance doesn’t matter at all: we get everything just because God loves us, because Jesus died in our place.

It is hard to overcome the sense of guilt, the sense that surely there must be something I have to do or not do in order to earn God’s favor. Counter-intuitively, Paul argues no.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

(Galatians 2:20-3:5)

Being good, doing the right thing, not making bad choices: that’s the smart way to live, like balancing your checkbook is a good idea. But behaving properly won’t make you more holy or closer to God, anymore than you’ll actually change the contents of your checking account by balancing your checkbook.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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