In a recent news blurb, I read about proposed legislation to prohibit the use of “entitlement funds” for “frivolous” goods and services. In particular, the bill was targeting the use of Welfare money for tattoos and tanning services. While I would agree that such services are frivolous, I am not sure what I think about the legislation. What struck me, though, was the irony of the situation. Entitlement is a human problem far greater in scope than the Welfare legislation.
It is not hard to see that we live in a culture heavily influenced by feelings of entitlement. If we work hard, we deserve material success and affirmation. If we do something nice for someone, they owe us a return favor. Women have the right to equal pay for equal work. If we act in honesty and integrity, we should be immune to being cheated. And feelings of entitlement extend to Christians as well. If we raise our children in good, Christian homes, take them to church, have them attend Sunday School, VBS, and youth group, they will always become faithful adults. If we engage in enough Bible study and prayer, we can solve our problems. If we give generously to the church, the Lord will reimburse us many times over. I have a former counseling client who abruptly stopped speaking to me when I refused to support her “name it and claim it” approach to the Christian life.
The Lord often confronts me with my feelings of entitlement. Now that our children are grown, He often uses our dog to expose my sin nature. Last week we had a day that was Lucy-centric. We played in the yard, I took her for agility training (think playground for dogs), and we went for a nice walk. Later, I called her to come in from the back yard, and she refused to come. And when I tried to catch her, she ran away from me. My thoughts went something like this: “After all I’ve done for you and with you today, at the very least you could come when I call you.” I was in fact feeling that my care for and training of our dog entitled me to her obedience.
Please do not misunderstand me. God is the God of reaping and sowing. It pleases God when we work hard, extend kindness to others, pursue justice for everyone, raise our children in faith, invest in Bible study and prayer, give generously of our resources, and expect our Lord to act on our behalf. And many of our desired outcomes are appropriate. But there is a fine line between a desire—even the most appropriate of desires—and the demand of entitlement. The Bible is very clear that we are sinners, and we deserve death. We simply are not entitled to large salaries, fair treatment, perfect children, obedient dogs, and a comfortable life. In fact, Jesus made it quite clear to His disciples that His followers would be subject to this fallen world and be treated with the same contempt and hatred as He was. In the world we will have tribulation….
So if righteous living does not entitle us to freedom from the troubles of this world, why bother pursuing it? Several reasons leap to mind. First and foremost, our Lord, Savior, and Master desires us to be holy as He is holy. If we are to be in relationship with Him, we must partake of His nature, which is wholly righteous. Pursuing righteousness in this way is the goal that God wants for us. Second, the pursuit of righteousness is also the means to that goal. As we pursue righteousness and fail, we learn to appreciate God’s grace and depend more and more on our Master and so become more like Christ who depended completely on His Father. In short, we become more fit for heaven. And finally, a time of judgment is coming. The Bible is not entirely clear what judgment for believers will look like, but there is undeniable mention of reward for righteousness in life.
There is another reason to relinquish our attitude of entitlement. While we so often focus on the good things to which we are entitled, more to the point is the not so good things that we deserve. As I have mentioned, we are sinners. The wages of sin is death. And while we are sometimes the victims of abuse and unfair treatment, there are times when we are the perpetrators. All too often we act in our own self interest. If we are honest with ourselves, we cannot avoid the truth that sometimes we do not deserve to be treated kindly, or justly. The uncomfortable truth is that the Lord could say the same thing about me that I thought about Lucy: “After all I’ve done for her, at least she could obey me!”
But thanks be to God! This is where the good news of the Gospel rescues us. The glorious truth is that we do not get that to which we are entitled. In Christ, we get far more than we deserve, far better than we can earn. We have been freed from our death sentence. And in that freedom, we can outgrow our attitudes of entitlement and live in gratitude and thanksgiving. We can appreciate the freedom from the frustration that inevitably follows the feeling of entitlement, and we are able to love others as Christ loves us, without needing anything in return.