An amazing article written by my friend Dane Ortlund on the Resurgence blog. I admire the way Dane gets grace.
In the upside-down Gospel of Grace, the one thing that qualifies us before God is knowing we don't qualify, and the one thing that disqualifies us is thinking we do.
Four consecutive accounts in Matthew 19 and 20 drive home this counterintuitive truth.
Addicted to Self-Qualification
First, some little kids run up to Jesus but are restrained by the Secret Security-like disciples (Matt. 19:13–15). Next, the rich young man approaches Jesus, trumpeting his moral resume (“All these I have kept”) but refusing to leave his riches behind (Matt. 19:16–22). Then Peter, reminding Jesus that he has lived out the very sacrifice the rich young man refused, wonders what his reward will be (Matt. 19:23–30). Finally, Jesus tells a parable in which workers are hired at different points throughout the day but all paid the same wage, to the dismay of the early-hired workers who have “borne the burden of the day” (Matt. 20:1–16).
In each passage we can detect the assumption that we have to “qualify” to gain corresponding approval.
- The disciples thought little children needed to qualify with age in order to receive Jesus’ attention.
- The rich young man thought he needed to qualify with obedience in order to receive eternal life.
- Peter thought he had to qualify with sacrifice in order to receive a reward.
- The early hired workers thought all employees had to qualify with sufficient work in order to receive a day’s wage.
Things haven’t changed much.
We roll out of bed every day with a bent to strengthen our qualification before God with some kind of self-generated contribution. Like those in Matthew 19 and 20, we deeply resist free grace.
After all, free grace is perplexing. Dangerous, even. How do we retain any moral compass at all if the only requirement is to stop trying to meet the requirement? Doesn’t this destroy the moral fabric of the universe? Isn’t this a moral free-for-all?
No. The reason why is the very next paragraph in Matthew after the parable of the workers:
- And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’ (Matt. 20:17–19)
You Don’t Qualify. Jesus Does.
On the cross, the one person who ever truly qualified allowed himself to be disqualified, so that you and I, naturally disqualified, can qualify. For free. All it takes to qualify is to acknowledge we don’t, and look to Christ.
To use the categories of Matthew 19–20:
- We can have God’s undivided attention without qualifying with age or other social prerequisites, because on the cross Jesus was rejected not ultimately by his disciples or even the religious authorities but by his own Father.
- We can have eternal life without qualifying with a moral resume, because on the cross Jesus experienced hell despite living the only life that deserved heaven, being the only person who can truly say “All these have I kept.”
- We can have a reward without qualifying with sacrifice, because on the cross Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice that means we freely receive the ultimate reward.
- We can have a full day’s wage without qualifying with comparatively more work than others, because Jesus worked the whole day, “bearing the burden of the day,” and then went to the cross, waiving the wage he deserved.
That’s why qualifying before God is so scandalously free.
In the gospel, the one thing that qualifies you is knowing you don’t, looking instead to Christ, and the one thing that disqualifies you is thinking you do. As Dad put it in a recent sermon, “Hell is full of people who believe they deserve to be in heaven. Heaven is full of people who believe they deserve to be in hell.”
Receive it. Humble yourself. Be free.