“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10, ESV)
I’m the girl who will do just about anything for a gold star of one sort or another. I like recognition and affirmation, whether it’s for an accomplishment at work or the praise of friends for whom I have cooked dinner. It doesn’t even have to be an elaborate gesture of a gold star — I just want someone to notice the effort I put into something and tell me, “Thank you” or, “You’re really great.”
That’s why I cringed as I read the above passage this morning. Because, all too often, I look for God to give me those gold stars. I am selfishly motivated to obey Him and take steps of faith in hopes that He will reward me for being so faithful and sacrificial. I want to be on God’s A-Team, and high school sports experience tells me that, to make the A-Team, you are qualified based on skill and rewarded for your results.
In his book Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges explains the reality of the situation this way:
If we want to live by what we deserve, God could say, “All right, let’s first add up your debits, and then we’ll think about your credits.” Our problem is we don’t recognize our debits. We don’t recognize how far, far short we come every day in doing what we are supposed to do. And because of that, we tend to live by works instead of by grace in our daily relationship with God.
I am a servant, and any sort of ministry I am involved in is what God has given me to do. It’s what He asks of me, and while being faithful in a little thing will often result in being entrusted with more (Luke 16:10), I am merely a steward of what belongs to God. It’s not about what I am doing on my own, as God is the source.
But even further than that, understanding grace produces a recognition that what He has asked of me, I cannot accomplish on my own. It’s only by His grace that I am equipped for ministry, only by His grace that I have financial support, only by His grace that I have favor with students. My response should be humility, recognizing that my “gold star” is the privilege of serving Him.
Where in your life are you living by works, looking for that gold star from God? What in your life is actually “only by grace”?