06 May 2024

God’s unmerited favor.

Titus 3.4-7.

Previously in Titus, Paul reminded Titus and the church of Crete—the men in particular—to be good people, not “tough guys” and alpha males who are constantly battling everyone else to be the top dog. There are a lot of unhealthy Christians who still try to behave that way—who think we should be that way; be far more like the characters Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood play in the movies, than Christ Jesus.

We used to be that way, Paul said; stupid, unyielding, evil, envious, hate-filled…

Titus 3.4-7 KWL
4 That’s when the kindness and love for humanity
of our savior God appeared—
5 not because of works of righteousness which we do,
but God saves us because of his mercy,
through washing, rebirth, and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he richly pours out over us
through Christ Jesus our savior,
7 so we who are justified in that grace might become heirs,
according to the hope of life in the age to come.

That’s when the Cretans—that’s when we all—encountered God’s grace. While we were still jerks and sinners, while we were still unworthy of salvation and adoption by God, while we didn’t deserve God’s kingdom at all, Christ died for us.

And you’ll find that same sort of grace—that same unmerited favor—throughout the bible. It’s hardly just in the New Testament. It’s everywhere.

When the LORD chose Avram ben Terah, renamed him Abraham, Ge 17.5 promised him the land of כְּנַעַן/Kena‘án (KJV “Canaan”) and had him relocate there, Ge 12.1-3 then promised him an uncountable number of descendants, Ge 13.16 it wasn't because Abraham was a good man. Most of the Abraham stories involve him screwing up one way or another. He wasn't a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity. At all.

Yes he had loads of faith. But his story doesn’t start with that faith. He didn’t have it yet. He acquired it—as the product of his God-experiences. After God appeared to him, gave him a mission, and promised him stuff. After he spent 25 years—not a short time!—following God before he finally got the son God initially promised. God showed up way before Abraham’s faith did.

So why'd the LORD establish a relationship with Abraham and his descendants? Grace. Solely grace. Pure grace.

And he did it again. When the LORD sent Moses to rescue some of Abraham’s descendants from Egypt, then patiently dealt with these Hebrews’ sins thereafter, and finally got their descendants into Canaan and helped them take the land: Again, ’twasn’t because the Hebrews were good people. Without constant divine supervision, they’d turn idolatrous within a month! Miraculously supply ’em with daily bread, and they’d still piss and moan they had it better in Egypt. (Where they were slaves. Where the Egyptians murdered their babies.) The Hebrews were just awful to their God. So why’d the LORD even bother with them? ’Cause he promised Abraham he would. Dt 7.7-8 ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

When Jesus decided to save me, what had I done to merit saving? Not a thing. I was a little kid. Not a good little kid either. I could be a tantrum-throwing brat when I didn’t get my way. (I still can be, which is why I gotta keep that misbehavior in check. God help my poor nurses if ever I go senile.) Plenty of Christians will easily confess they were awful human beings when they first encountered Jesus. Why’d he save us anyway? ’Cause he loves us. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.

Christians love to describe grace as “unmerited favor.” It’s actually more than that—it’s God’s entire attitude towards us, which includes unmerited favor. And often we forget the unmerited part: It really isn’t deserved at all. Totally unfair. Often inappropriate. It breaks all the rules of karma. We shouldn’t get it!

Hence there are a lot of people, Christians included, who still strive to achieve good karma. Who try their darnedest to be good people, try to balance out any bad in their lives, and make it so they do merit God’s good favor. Who think the whole purpose of good deeds is to make ourselves worthy of heaven. They forget God doesn’t work like that. At all. He forgave us already. He makes us worthy of heaven. Ep 1.15-23

Why? Nah; I’m not gonna repeat it anymore. Go back and read it again.

Those who think it should be merited.

Obviously there are people, Christians included, who aren’t so sure people should receive unmerited favor. Not even from God! It should be deserved, to some degree. At the very least, people oughta be very, very sorry they’re sinners. Oughta feel bad because they’re bad people. Oughta try to clean up, just a little, before they come to Jesus—they shouldn’t come to Jesus drunk or stoned, shouldn’t come to church if they’re still promiscuous or adulterous, shouldn’t think they’re Christian until they’ve quit all the behaviors that somehow disqualify ’em from Christianity.

They’re kinda like Simon the Leper. You remember when a notorious sinner interrupted Simon’s dinner party to anoint Jesus’s feet with ointment, and Simon, as a good Pharisee, felt Jesus shouldn’t have anything to do with such a person. Lk 7.36-39 Even though she certainly acted as if she were sorry. But for Simon, she was just too far gone. Didn’t merit Jesus’s favor at all.

Of course Simon would think that way—he was a good person! His sins were few. He gave God very little to forgive. Therefore he wasn’t the recipient of radical forgiveness; why would he need it? Wasn’t the recipient of unmerited favor; he largely did merit it by his good behavior, and devotion to God.

And there are still plenty of Christians who share Simon’s attitude, because they too aren’t all that bad. They behave themselves! They act like good people—by the standards of their neighbors, which isn’t necessarily God’s standard, but it’s enough to make ’em think they really are good people, and therefore don’t need God to forgive much. And like Simon, they don’t need unmerited favor, so they haven’t experienced radical favor… so they don’t express radical favor to others, and treat ’em like God treated them. As Jesus put it, “To whom little is forgiven, [the same] loveth little.” Lk 7.47 KJV

That’s a rebuke, by the way. Even if we haven’t been so awful we need significant grace, we should still show grace!

Yet among too many Christians, we find this poisonous idea of “I did what God asked of me. I always have! Therefore he’s obligated himself to do this for me.” We work out various bargains with God, and think we have merited enough of his favor for him to owe us one.

Note these quid pro quos are hugely disproportionate. What’d we do for God? Well, we offered to pray more often. Or go to church more regularly. Or give money to the needy. And in exchange God’s meant to reward us with something major, like cure leukemia or keep us from going bankrupt. Or raise us from the dead and give us eternal life. Tiny effort, crazy payout. It’s like God’s a cosmic, but very loose, slot machine.

These deals are so heavily slanted in our favor, we should recognize God’s not really making a deal with us. He’s tolerating our tiny token efforts, but he’s offering us so much in return. It’s kinda like a little kid telling his mother, “I want a puppy. If I give you what’s in my piggybank”—which is like $4.50 in change, plus washers—“will you buy me a puppy?” And she says yes. Not because a getting a puppy costs anything close to $4.50, but because she wants her boy to be happy. Not because the boy’s gonna feed and walk the dog and clean up behind it; you know she’s gonna wind up doing all that. Yet the boy’s just so earnest about his wholly token contribution. In the same way, God puts up with our sad little efforts, pats us on the head, and gives us eternal life anyway.

He’s hoping we’ll realize this, and laugh about how immature we once were as new believers. Not turn it into a lifestyle, and institutionalize it as our new religion.

No no. God owes us nothing. He’s not trying to rub it in, and neither am I: He really does owe us nothing. But he wants to give us his kingdom, Lk 12.32 and we don’t have to work our way, or claw and scratch, into it. Ask and you’ll receive. ’Cause grace. Pure grace.