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My last post titled the good guy, the Christian guy, and the poor guy was about the good guy who came to Jesus and fronted his CV. laden with moralistic achievements, and how Jesus added some more to-do things on his list. The added weight crushed him and brought him to the end of himself. I explained this is what Jesus sets out to do to good moral people. He makes us come to the end of ourselves and encounter grace.
Now let’s focus on the Christian guy.
Immediately after the conversation with Jesus and the good moral guy had ended, Peter, one with the loudest mouth in the group spoke up and said this, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” Jesus replied with one word, “Yes,” Here I can imagine Jesus looking at Peter with his eyebrows raised and giving him the “like soooo? Really, Peter? Really? Not you as well.”
Peter represents most Christians. Christians have the same performance-reward mentality that good moral people have. This idea “What’s in it for us, Jesus? What’s our reward for following you?” is inherent in Christians as well. Most, if not all Christians have a quid pro quo with God. This is how it goes.
- If I follow you, please God, promise to bless me.
- If I tithe, please God, promise to bless me financially.
- If I am a good Christian, please God, promise to help me get a good job.
- If I stay sexually pure, please God, promise me to reward me with a Christian spouse, mind-blowing sex and marital bliss.
- If I raise my kids in a god-fearing manner, please God, promise you will cause them to rise to greatness.
- If I work hard, please God, promise you will bless the work of my hands.
- If I confess long enough, please God, promise me that my confession will become a reality.
- If I fast and pray hard, please God, promise you will answer my prayers.
- If I obey you, please God, promise you will not abandon me.
- If I go to Church, please God, promise me you will be pleased with me.
- If I submit to my husband, please God, make them love me.
- If I love my wife, please God, make her submit to me.
- If I serve you, please God, let my service be acceptable to you.
- If I have enough faith, please God, move this mountain for me.
This quid pro quo is so prevalent among Christians. I struggle with this too. I have asked God to bless Jenny and I because we tithe and give money to the poor. I have asked God to bless Jenny and I because we are good Christians—we don’t drink, curse, smoke, or watch X-rated movies, etc. I have asked God to bless us with kids because we would be such good parents, and would raise our kids well. I have prayed Jabez’s prayer or even King Hezekiah’s prayer so many times. Remember their prayers? Check them here 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, 2 Kings 20:1-11 and Isaiah 38:1-8.
My relationship with Jesus is riddled with the performance-reward mentality. I have negotiated with God many times regarding obeying him. I prefer a no or less difficult relationship with Jesus. If he asks me to do something for his glory, I immediately want to know what’s in it for me? How are you going to reward me, Lord? My prayers, many times, are littered with my performance record of what I have done for Jesus, lately. I recite them to God in the name of Jesus hoping God will reward me for the sacrifices I’ve made on his behalf. The insult, agony, rejection, despair, and loneliness that I’ve had to endure for his glory.
And when I see someone else get blessed by grace, I immediately become furious and raise my fist towards God. I cry, howl and blame myself for not doing enough, and then I blame God for not seeing that I’ve done enough. See how twisted my Christian experience is. This is me. Christians, this is us.
You’d have thought Peter had learnt the lesson from the meeting between Jesus and the good guy. He ignored the rather terse reply that Jesus gave the good guy. He disregarded the sorrow and anguish he saw in the good guy’s face as he walked away. Peter wanted to know what’s in it for himself.
Again as Jesus was compassionate to the good guy, he did the same to Peter. Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” Jesus told Peter what Peter wanted to hear.
Jesus, however, doesn’t stop there. For if he had stopped there the case was closed, and the promise guaranteed. No, he didn’t. He went on. Jesus added something to his answer to Peter that threw off the whole reward mentality off. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:31 (NKJV)
What? Are you kidding me? If I were Peter, I’d be pissed-off. I really would because for me Jesus just threw a wrench in the works. Jesus is saying, “You who think are first to follow me yet all this time you followed me because of what you could get from me will be last and those who will follow me whether they get anything in return will be first.” If this is what Jesus meant, if I were Peter, I’d be furious.
Jesus somewhat gives Peter the Christian guy the same answer he gave to the good guy. If you are with me because of what you can get from me, those with me because of me will get in first and you will be last.
This is the same thing that Jesus says to Christians. The quid pro quo doesn’t work in grace. Grace has no paybacks. Grace is not tit-for-tat. Grace is not scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Grace doesn’t seek for a payment. Grace is the unmerited, undeserved and unconditional love of God. Grace gives, gives and gives more. Grace has a reward for you even before you perform. Grace rewards before a performance.
When you become a follower of Jesus, there are outright privileges, rights and benefits accrued to you even before you do anything for the one who saved you. This is the heart of the Christian faith. Every other faith and worldview apart from the Christian faith tell us that to get a reward from God, you need to do A, B and C. The Christian gospel upends all that.
This I believe is the meaning underneath the surface reading of this story. The first who come to Jesus with a reward mindset become last and the last who come to Jesus whether he gives them something become first. Grace turns the tables.
Do you want to see more grace in this narrative?
Right in front of Peter was one who left all. His name is Jesus. Jesus left all—his home, heavenly glory, the relationship he had with his father, his wealth and prestige, etc. He left all. And yet when he obeyed, His father abandoned him. His father forsook him. When he should have gotten a blessing for his obedience, he instead got a curse. When he should have gotten the glory for his obedience, he instead got shame. When he should have had houses and wealth as rewards, he instead got poverty. When he should have had a wife or brothers or parents or children, he was cast out of the family.
And it is his perfect obedience that is credited to all of us—first’s and last’s. Is this good news? Yes, it is. It is not good news to know that you will be last and someone else will be first. No way. This is meritocracy. It is good to know that Jesus has secured the first place for you because of his perfect performance on your behalf.
Hey Christian, go ahead and follow Jesus. Jesus has already secured your house or wife or brothers or parents or children, and most important, eternal life for you. Grace has rewarded you even before you perform.
That’s what grace looks like
Now on to the poor guy