I was in the 3rd grade and had just received that week’s graded spelling test back. As my eyes checked each line I was thrilled as each word had a red check beside it, confirming that I had indeed spelled it correctly. All 25 were marked correct! There was just one problem, I had actually misspelled word 25 and I knew it. Somehow, my teacher had given me credit for it. As an 8 year old boy, my heart was racing. I knew I didn’t earn that 100%. I knew for me to accept it would be dishonest. I decided to inform my teacher of the mistake, knowing that doing right would still pay off as God would bless me. I figured that my teacher would see that I was honest and out of gratitude for my godliness let me keep the 100%. I walked up to her and confidently showed her the error, knowing she would let it pass and both my conscience and grade would be unscathed. She looked at the paper, marked word 25 incorrect, handed it back to me with merely a “thank you” and sent me back to my desk. I was devastated!
Let’s fast forward 22 years…
I was preparing earlier this week to teach the Sunday School lesson to my 3rd and 4th grade boys class, and as I was reading through the material the thrust of the application was that when we obey God, He blesses us and when we disobey God, He doesn’t. The passage being used was Joshuah 8, the defeat of Ai. Israel had lost the previous battle against Ai because of Achan’s sin. After their defeat, Achan was found out, and judgment was dealt to him and his family. Israel attacked Ai once more, with a battle plan that utilized their previous defeat to their advantage, and defeated Ai. The struggle I had with the thrust of the lesson was that the premise was not true – biblically or experientially (I still hadn’t forgotten 3rd grade). Due to this, our Sunday School lesson took a different path.
While it is true that God gives blessings and cursing for obedience and disobedience respectively I the Mosaic covenant, it does not hold true that this pattern holds true to all of life in respect to our obedience/disobedience to God. And while it is true that there are built in benefits to living as God intended us to live, and built in consequences to doing the opposite; it is not a rule that God blesses us when we do good, and curses us when we do bad – nor is He obligated to do so. Those who adopt this line of reasoning tend to get angry at God when something bad happens to them while they’ve been “living for God”. This mentality is merely another form of legalism. I’ve even witnessed some apostatize, declaring themselves to be atheists, because all their years of obeying God were not recompensed and instead they received tragedy and turned against God.
Scripture addresses this reality for us…
The Psalmist recorded in Psalm 73:
1 God is indeed good to Israel,
to the pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my steps nearly went astray.
3 For I envied the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have an easy time until they die,[a]
and their bodies are well fed.[b]
5 They are not in trouble like others;
they are not afflicted like most people.
6 Therefore, pride is their necklace,
and violence covers them like a garment.
7 Their eyes bulge out from fatness;
the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
8 They mock, and they speak maliciously;
they arrogantly threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against heaven,
and their tongues strut across the earth.
The Psalmist shares his struggle with an undeniable reality, the wicked are enjoying the blessings in life while he, who lives for Jehovah, seems to have nothing but struggle and strife. What happened to the blessings for obeying God and the curses for not here? Why is it that the evil man has it easy, while the righteous fight to breathe? I witness the words of the Psalmist daily as I work with people who live contradictory to God’s ways.. and brag about it! Yet they seem to have all the benefits dropped in their lap. Successes that I struggle to just come close to attaining on the job, they just trip into.
Then we have the very teachings of Jesus:
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies[b] and pray for those who[c] persecute you, 45 so that you may be[d] sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt. 5:43-45)
Here, Jesus tells us to imitate Him (which by definition is to imitate The Father) by loving those who do us wrong/hurt. He holds The Father up as our example saying that He sends the blessing of rain on those who live rightly AND those who do not live rightly.
This truth that God blesses those who live contrary to His will is one of the most relieving truths we could ever be told! It is the truth of grace!!
6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:6-8)
This truth puts a different perspective on things, for if I use the premise of the Sunday School lesson then I am actually negating the foundational truth of the gospel – GRACE.
Here is the conclusion of the matter: We do not obey God out of the fear that if we don’t He’s going to somehow metaphorically (or quite possibly literally) zap us with lightning. At the heart of it all, we know God is love – that is what we see manifested to us in Jesus Christ. We are told that all things work together for our good, and that even the evil in the world, God can/and does weave together into something beautiful. Knowing that our Creator has our best interest at heart, we can safely trust His way of living. Even if the results of living as He intends seem to have an end that is less than desirable at best, or down right horrific; we can trust the outcome to Him. He doesn’t promise smooth sailing on the journey, but he does promise an end result. (note the Psalmist’s conclusion in Psalm 73) My responsibility as a disciple of Jesus is not to try to manipulate things to reach a desired outcome, but to follow the Messiah by living as He intended and leaving the outcome to Him. I live a life that imitates Him, not because I love His gifts, but because I love Him. Meanwhile, the wicked can, and will continue to enjoy blessings from the hand of God without expressing an ounce of gratitude to Him. They, just as I did before I was adopted by Him, will be enveloped daily in His love, and never even realize it… even cursing some of it. This is one more truth that shows me just how scandalously wonderful the grace of God really is!