It’s Not Fair! Embracing the Grace of God


Derek Quan     |     September 3, 2018     |     5 MIN READ


As Asian-Americans we work hard to get straight A’s and strive to get into the best schools. We do extra credit and difficult internships. At a Silicon Valley job, we’ll put in 80 to 100 hours a week. Why? Because in the end, we not only expect, but demand to be compensated accordingly.

But life isn’t always fair or just. The best don’t always come in first. And when all our hard work doesn’t get us into the best schools, or first chair in the orchestra, or a much deserved promotion, or parents to love us more, we scream, “Unfair!”

Grace vs Merit

If you grew up in the church, you probably already know the definition of grace is unmerited favor. As Christ-followers, grace speaks of God’s divine favor that is given to anyone he so chooses.

The opposite of grace is merit. Merit is something you earn and expect. You can boast that you deserved to be in a top ten engineering school, if you were valedictorian in your school. You can say you deserve a million dollar home because you worked hard and should reap the fruits of your labor. You deserve all you get because you’ve earned it!

Jesus contrasts grace and merit in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). In this story, some men are hired at the beginning of a day for an agreed upon wage. At lunch the boss realizes there’s more work to be done and hires additional men, and then even an hour before closing, he does it again.

When the men line up for their wages, the first are outraged because the ones who worked the least got the same wage as those who worked all day. Their anger was based on fairness -- the harder you work, the more you should get. But Jesus emphasizes grace rather than the fairness of the boss. Does he not have the right to give whatever he wants to whomever he wants?

If we’re honest, even though Jesus makes a legitimate argument, we’re still not convinced. We’re not persuaded because since the time we were able to crawl, we’ve been taught that our self-worth is based on merit, not grace.

So we wallow in frustration because we don’t get what we deserve. We want fairness. But Jesus comes along and says you’re seeing life from the wrong perspective. You’ve put yourself in the mind frame of the first workers. You get what you deserve. Instead the Lord wants you as his follower to put yourself in the mindset of the last workers: You get what you don’t deserve!

Jesus never asks us to do something he wouldn’t do himself. He, too, didn’t get what he deserved. He got the cross! But he hung on that cross so that you and I wouldn’t have to. That’s grace!

So what can you do to move from a merit to a graced based attitude and lifestyle?

  • Thank God every day that he’s not fair. Thank him for his graciousness and mercy.
  • When jealousy starts to rear its ugly green-eyed head, try to think about the blessings you’ve received in spite of your inadequacy.
  • Remember, that being number one in anything doesn’t guarantee happiness. Jesus said the first will be last and the last first.

Derek Quan was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the lead pastor of Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church in Chandler, Arizona. He is married to Kathy, and they have three children. He published his first devotional book, “The Faithful and the Flawed,” in 2009. He enjoys fishing, hunting and vacations with his family, playing with his kids, and working around the house.