Keller went on an on about what a meritocracy America is. That is, that we are a nation and people that base everything upon our merits. Have you done enough to deserve a good job? Have your test scores and grades been good enough to get into a good college? Are you a nice and good enough man to be worthy of a wife and family? Even, you will get presents for Christmas if you are a good little boy all year.
If yes, then you're good to go! A good job is yours! A good school, a good family are yours! If not, then you just don't deserve them. You get coal.
In Christian circles it's more subtle. Do you pray regularly? Do you share your faith? Do you study your Bible and know a great deal about it? If these things are true, you are a good Christian! If not, uh oh; you may not be a Christian at all, or so the thinking goes. At the very least, you are a bad Christian. You get no results in ministry, and you do little to impact other people. You aren't living a good enough life.
This meritocracy, or merit-based world we live in, is hard to shake from our psyche. You get what you deserve may as well be (a part of) the American motto.
I was doing this a great deal. Subtlely, I began to think that God was more pleased with me, and I was more loved if I was just more faithful. If I made more support calls that day, then God was happier with me. If I read the Bible more than God was happier with me. If I prayed a little more... you get the point.
And conversely, if I was not doing those things, than the guilt was heavy. God must not like me much today, I'm such a bum. God can't be pleased with me, I don't deserve it today.
The question, then, is this: Is that true? Is God happy with me when I'm good and upset when I am not? Is it true that Jesus loves (only, or so the implication goes) "good little boys?"
The answer, NO! Romans 4:4-5
"Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. "
The Gospel is an absolutely free gift! We do not "work" to be made right with God; rather, God gives us righteousness freely! To the man who does not work means exactly that. The wicked man that does nothing and deserves nothing; that wicked, lazy man through faith, God justifies!
That is scandalous! That is not fair! God, you give your love and grace and righteousness to bums?! For nothing?!
Yes! That's the scandal of the Gospel, and of the grace of God! That's the message that frees the captives and sets the prisoners free. That's the message that has brought friends of mine back (literally) from the edge of suicide. That's the message that has captured hearts of people all over the world. This is not Islam. God will not weigh your good and bad deeds on a scale at the end of your life, as is true in that religion. Rather, and truly, God will look on you and ask if you've embraced and cherished the free gift. Did you trust God, and place your faith in Jesus to forgive you of all unrighteousness, past, present, and future?
See, I made it about me. What was I doing to be a good Christian? Was I being faithful? I was not living as though I was already made faithful by the blood of Jesus. I was living as though I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and be faithful. Then, during worship following Keller's talk, I relinquished my action and submitted to the God that forgives for free, the burden was lifted, and the guilt was removed. I didn't have to try; I simply had to place my faith in the one who accomplished all. Oh how my heart sings at being free!
This, I remembered, is why I do what I do. I'm on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ to bring people to the point of recognition of this reality. Don't you see (I want to cry) that you are under a burden that is to heavy to carry? Don't you want freedom, unlimited mercy, unending love and acceptance from God? Embrace Jesus! He is given you for free; it costs you nothing, you wicked men! Come to the God that forgives and gives, come see His beauty! How can you not love this God?
The Kingdom of God is no meritocracy.