Christian Living

What Do We Deserve?

Over the past couple of months, I noticed an interesting linguistic phenomenon. That is, the language of deserving. Let me illustrate using several examples:

As final exams at the end of the school year approached, I happened to engage in a conversation with a friend about a grade they received in a class. Like many conversations surrounding academics this time of the year, the person was bemoaning the grade they received. Yet, I was quite struck in the moment by the language they employed: they said that they deserved a better grade.

Consider another situation – More recently, I was out at a restaurant on a Saturday night with several friends. As we were chatting about life and catching up on the comings and goings of our mutual friends, I happened to mention that one of my closest friends just began dating a wonderful woman. One of my dinner companions then remarked that he deserved to have such a wonderful partner in his life.

Now, if life were a game of minesweeper (you know, the old Windows game), in both of these situations, it was clear to me that I had found a corner tile with a mine on it, and I endeavored to clearly mark the territory with a red flag. What ensued in both cases, whether I was exercising my best judgment or not, was a candid (and hopefully graceful) conversation pondering what people do indeed deserve. After the fact, I was also left wondering: does the language of deserving reveal something about our underlying view of the world? Considering this question and the previous situations, I will offer 4 questions and answers:

  1. What do we deserve?
    The suffering endured by Christ leading to and on the cross, including estrangement from God (but which lasts eternally), is what we as sinful beings ultimately deserve. None of us are righteous (Rom. 3:10) and the wages we deserve from our sin are death (Rom. 6:23)

  2. Does God give us what we deserve?
    He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10, NIV).
    Rather than dealing with us on the basis of what we deserve, God richly lavishes grace on those who receive Christ by faith (Rom. 3:23-25). Instead of eternal suffering, God’s people will receive eternal life (Matt. 25:46; Jn. 3:36).

  3. How then should we understand what we deserve?
    I’m struck by the pronounced lack of Biblical cases of God’s faithful proclaiming that they deserve something. Most of the time, it is instead God who deserves – whether that be respect, honor, obedience, etc. On the other hand, when notions of human entitlement creep in, sin seems to abound. Take the Israelites’ incessant rebellion, King Saul’s abuses of authority, or the Pharisees’ self-righteousness. A rightful understanding of deserving for the Christian instead involves great measures of humility, modeled most powerfully by Christ who took upon himself everything he didn’t deserve – coming not to be served but instead to serve and give his life (Mk. 10:45) so that we wouldn’t get what we deserve.

  4. What place does the language of deserving have in the life of a Christian?
    Beyond the plain meaning of the words we use, it’s important at times to consider the underlying principles we convey with our language. In modern American culture which is so deeply entrenched in notions of entitlement, perhaps it’s best we use language that doesn’t reinforce the prevailing worldly culture. Indeed, the more we speak as though we deserve things, the greater risk we run of falling victim to the same corrupted view of reality. By choosing to speak humbly and spiritually about what we deserve in light of the Gospel, instead of deserving in worldly terms, we can resist conformity to the world and use our language as part of the process of renewing our minds and being the salt and light of the earth.
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