Giving up our attempts to earn favor

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Today, I want to draw our attention to something God wants to prune from our lives: our attempts to earn favor.

If you’ve been a part of Faith Reformed Church during my tenure, you’ve no doubt heard me make reference to the Gospel ladder:

We are pursuing a “false gospel” if we try to ascend to God on our own. If we fall into this trap, we think our behavior (WHAT I DO) will somehow make us into good people (WHO I AM). And then, if we are good people, God will love us (WHAT GOD DOES) and we will get to enjoy God (WHO GOD IS).

The “true gospel” is not that we earn God’s favor, but that God’s favor comes to us undeserved, by grace alone. God condescends to us in Christ. So, it works like this: God, because of his love & mercy (WHO GOD IS), chooses to send grace our way (WHAT GOD DOES). Because of his grace in Christ, we become beloved children of God (WHO I AM). And then, based on that identity, we act in ways that are befitting of that identity (WHAT I DO).

For those of us who have internalized this message, you’d think we would put “earning favor” permanently in the past. But, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it can creep back into our lives.

For instance, we might subconsciously think God is only pleased with us based on our most recent performance (kinda like athletes that say, “you’re only as good as your last game”). Thus, if we are judgmental or fail to forgive or neglect to share our faith, God must be displeased with us until we do.

Or we might go out and conduct acts of service so that we feel close to God. Instead, we should do those things because we are close to God.

Or maybe we refrain from swearing or drinking or whatever because we’re scared of how God will act? If we do that, we are, in a very subtle way, trying to work our way up that ladder (because we think God’s acceptance is based on WHAT I DO).

In these, and many other ways, we need God to prune our attempts to earn favor.

The question then becomes: If God prunes your attempts to “earn favor,” what might he put in their place?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s worth pondering. I wonder how you would answer that question? There are many good answers.

Personally, I think God desires that instead of trying to earn favor, we should relish love.

We should bask in that which is freely given. We should abide in the Vine. We should be like Mary at Jesus feet, enjoying the presence of our Savior. We should internalize, in every way possible, that we are treasured beyond measure by a mercy that does not depend on our own worthiness.

If we do that, it is not self-indulgent love-hoarding. Rather, it is getting clear about our primary identity—who we are and Whose we are—so that we can live into that identity and from that identity. After we abide, we will bear much fruit—not so that we can earn favor, but because we’ve received favor and cannot help but share it with others. We are blessed so as to go out and be a blessing.

TODAY’s REFLECTION: What are the ways you try to work up that ladder to God? Can you see them? If you cannot see them, you can take two immediate actions: (1) you can ask the Holy Spirit to show you and (2) you can ask people that are close to you—ask them if they see you trying to earn God’s favor in any way?? Once you have identified anything, surrender it to the pruning shears of the Master Gardener. Ask God to prune that stuff so that you can bear more fruit.

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