Battling a payback mentality

By November 6, 2007 culture, faith No Comments

There is a strange mentality at work in our hearts that causes us to pull and push against reality. On one side of it, our desire is to get a deal, to beat the dealer, to pull one over on “The Man” (who is that, anyhow?!). We love to see the underdog come out ahead of the game due to his own luck, his own cunning, or a mistake by the institution itself.

On the other side of this thinking is the difficulty we have in accepting a gift without feeling indebted to the giver. We are a suspicious lot, always looking for the catch in a too-good-to-be-true offer.

These two thoughts weave themselves into all of life, even how we view God. Even for those who have been granted new life in Christ Jesus, we often have difficulty resting in God’s grace and mercy that makes us whole and brings us home. John Piper says this:

The temptation to say: “God has done so much for me, what can I do for him?” is very great. But it is very dangerous for three reasons:

1. We can never pay God back—not one penny’s worth—because every move we make in love and holiness is a move that God himself supplies (1 Corinthians 15:10), and so we are simply going deeper in debt to grace by our obedience, not paying any of the debt off. A better way to think is to say grace pays our debts to God which sin creates.

2. If we could succeed in paying God back for all he does for us, or for any of it, to that degree we would nullify grace and turn it into a business transaction. Grace is free or it is not grace. Grace does not establish an amortization schedule of obedience payments.

3. Thinking of obedience as empowered by gratitude directs our attention backward to bygone grace rather than forward to future grace. In this way the debtor’s ethic tends to divert us from the wealth of grace yet to be known and distracts us from the very power of obedience we need—future grace. You can’t run your car on gratitude for yesterday’s gas.

How often I have thought of my God-honoring, obedient actions as giving back to God . . . I keep trying to relate to God on my warped human level, sort of like how neighbors help each other out by swapping rides or providing the last egg for the cookies in process. God gives good gifts (such as grace, mercy, provision, peace, etc.) because He is good, not because He is now expecting something in return. Obedience is expected because He is God, not because He has already given me something that I must repay.

This is a whole new way of thinking that will take much kneading into my heart. But I keep thinking of the joy that would come as the reality of grace soaks in deep enough to free me from suspicion and deal making that are completely out of place in God’s economy.

(Also see this article by Piper.)

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