gratitude

I will confess that I can be rather literal in my interactions with people. For instance, I was once approached outside a grocery store by an individual soliciting support for a charitable organization intent on providing for

children's basic needs — e.g., food, clothing, shelter.

While I am certainly not opposed to sincere forms of altruism or philanthropy, a couple of statements from this individual's prepared grandiloquence caught my attention and caused to me ponder the premise for some of his entreaties.

Undoubtedly, many of these kinds of groups employ highly reviewed psychological techniques geared toward persuasive appeals to presumed conscience, honor, and dignity.

Among other things, the campaigner in question asserted that I was a "good

person." Given the fact that we had never encountered each other previously, my immediate reaction was to question how he could formulate such an assumption.

Jesus's response when he was confronted with similar rhetoric came to mind: "No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18). This truth is echoed throughout Scripture (Psalm 14:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:10).

This petitioner further attempted to evoke any sense of sympathy, compassion, or benevolence I might possess toward children specifically. His inquiry was predicated upon the notion of whether I believed children

"deserved" basic material comforts. The singularly emphatic wording elicited hesitation once again and provoked me to wonder aloud about the entire supposition of what anyone actually "deserves."

To reiterate, I approve of efforts to alleviate the misfortune, suffering, or scarcity of those around us as much as we are able; but claims about presumed entitlement almost always prompt skepticism on my part. Personally, I feel that Christians are more prone to advocate a concept of unmerited favor than mere concession or prerogative — that is, they find unwarranted kindness and generosity without regard to be much more authentic and appealing.

With that in mind, it is perhaps a fair question to consider: What do we in fact deserve as human beings?

With regard to spiritual matters, there are those who deduce that any kind of favor with God must in some manner be earned or secured through our own mortal exertions and pains. This rationale insists that by striving to meet any number of stringent requirements for righteousness, we would be able to be justified as acceptably satisfying the criteria of God's holiness, becoming somehow worthy or deserving of entering God's presence, resuming and maintaining our intended relationship with him.

According to the Bible, however, this is not the case.

In order to thoroughly and painstakingly demonstrate the impossibly vast and virtually irreparable chasm between God and man precipitated by the devastating debut of sin in the world, God unveiled a model of qualification for holiness often referred to as the Mosaic Law, delivered to the Israelites at Mount Sinai during their desert wandering. Besides the rigorous regimen of expected conduct and explicit prohibition, the Law ultimately emphasized the terminally severe, indeed tragically grievous cost of sin: death. The Israelites were continually reminded of this cost by the seemingly perpetual ritual animal sacrifices they were compelled to observe.

From the time of God's initial admonition to Adam and Eve, we have been made aware that death is the consequence of rebellion against his wisdom and provision; as Romans 6:23 reminds us, the "wages (cost or payment) of sin is death." And from that time, God has made every possible effort to overcome that breach of trust and fidelity, even going beyond what some might deem reasonable or practical. After all, he was not the one to violate the covenant between himself and us; and yet, he would be the one to pay that price on our behalf to fulfill that demand of holiness.

This is the reality of God's grace, of which we are all beneficiaries if we accept it, and it is this grace toward which we are meant to direct our hope and faith. This is indeed the essence of the gospel, the good news that God has carried out the seemingly insurmountable work of redemption for us, something we could never have done ourselves.

It is this grace in which we strive to live, love, and bless, rather than relying on essentially futile attempts to prove we “deserve” to be counted as righteous, imperfectly laboring to adhere to the rigid strictures of our conception of divine rules for behavior, which typically mutate into flawed and oppressive endeavors for control.

In an episode of the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the crew of the starship Enterprise visits a planet that initially seems quite ideal and idyllic. The inhabitants are demonstrably friendly, even affectionate. They spend their time mostly in leisure and claim that crime does not exist among their population.

However, when one member of the Enterprise crew inadvertently violates an arbitrary (indeed, unknown) injunction, they are faced with a startlingly harsh manifestation of due process whereby the offender is summarily sentenced to death for the ostensibly minor infraction.

The inhabitants maintain that this "swift justice" is intended to prevent or deter potential transgressions. While not wanting to interfere with this culture's natural development, Captain Picard is understandably

disturbed and averse to such extreme legalism. The conversation between some crew members and representatives of the planet illustrates differing perspectives on the law.

MEDIATOR: We cannot allow ignorance of the law to become a defence.

PICARD: I don't know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible, but the question of justice has concerned me greatly of late. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.

RIKER: When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?

As believers, we need not live under the threat of being cast down and deprived of life should we contravene a capricious or autocratic mandate or regulation, unintentionally or otherwise.

Concerning God’s sense of justice, there should be no doubt that Jesus paid the ultimate price for sin on our behalf (Romans 5:8, Hebrews 9:12, 1 John 2:2, etc.), thus endowing to us audacious and undeserved favor.

And as the apostle Paul reminds us, it is this grace, not our own efforts, which saves us by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and this grace is sufficient for life (2 Corinthians 12:9); there is nothing more we could ever do to be considered worthy.

Let us be grateful for God’s grace, and may our gratitude compel us to embrace the comfort and counsel of the Holy Spirit who now inhabits our very being, who writes the principles of the Law (loving God and loving our

neighbor) on our hearts, and who moves us toward living out that grace daily.

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