Seeing What We Deserve

“I don’t deserve this.”

This phrase, or at least the sentiment behind it, crosses my mind pretty often, though it shows up in two very different contexts. Sometimes it shows up when I am at my very best. At other times, it shows up when I am at my very worst.

When I am at my best, I look at my life and I'm so thankful for where I am and what I have. So I think to myself, “I don’t deserve this…” I acknowledge that I’m doing better than I deserve.

Admittedly, there are times when I’ll look at my circumstances or what’s before me and I’ll say the same phrase, “I don’t deserve this,” but with a heart that is bitter and with a tone that is begrudging. In these moments, I complain because I feel like I deserve and am entitled to something better.

Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung gives a helpful illustration when he says that every day, we can wake up and either put on the glasses of fairness or the glasses of grace. Each day, we have a choice as to how we’re going to interpret and experience the world.

To put on the glasses of fairness is to experience life while believing that we are entitled to live a blessed life. We wake up with the assumption that we deserve first place, and so when we get anything less than that, we feel as though life isn’t fair. We need to make sure we get what is ours; therefore, we’re always calculating, sizing up, and feeling like we’re owed something.

What will be the result for people who puts on the glasses of fairness on a daily basis? Life will end up being a series of disappointments in which they are not getting the treatment they deserve, and because of it, they will leave behind a trail of broken relationships.

On the other hand, to put on the glasses of grace is to see life as a gift that is undeserved. Every day we start with the Biblical assumption that as sinners, we deserve last place, but here we are at the front of the pack (Matthew 19:30). We realize we deserve nothing (except God’s wrath!), and therefore, we’re thankful for everything. It’s all God’s grace.

For the person who puts on the glasses of grace, he or she will be a living example of Philippians 2:14-15, which says “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” This person will shine and his or her relationships will come alive because who doesn’t want to be around a person like this?

This is not to discredit any real pain and injustice in the world. I acknowledge them, and I am not trying to brush that aside. We should be sensitive to injustices in this world. However, I do want to challenge a worldview that feels entitled to receive  blessings from the start. It’s easy for us, especially those who have been in the church for a long time, to forget the concept of grace and fall back under a system of fairness in which we feel entitled to our wages based upon our years of service.

We see this fairness attitude in the Apostle Peter who says in Matthew 19:27 “See, we have left everything and followed you! What then will we have?” Peter basically says, “If there’s anyone who deserves to be blessed, it should be us disciples!” And while the world may work under a works-based, wage-based, first-come first-served system, ultimately, that is not how things work in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom it’s all grace!

Such amazing grace that saved wretches like us is not limited to our salvation. It’s amazing grace that allows us to wake up in the morning and face a new day (Psalm 3:5). It’s amazing grace when we’re able to see or hear or speak (Exodus 4:11). It’s amazing grace when the sun shines or the rain pours down on us (Matthew 5:45). It’s amazing grace when we can laugh and find pleasure in life (Ecclesiastes 3:13). It’s even amazing grace when life is tough because we know it is for our good (Hebrews 12:6).

As we seek to be gospel-centered Christians, let’s not just pay lip service to the concept of grace, but rather, let’s have a robust and comprehensive understanding of the amazing grace we have received and still receive on a daily basis. That means more often than not, the daily prayer of our hearts is “God… this is better than I deserve.” 

Patrick Cho is the youth group and missions pastor at Na Sung Church.