At work, I meet with men and my wife and I meet with couples for “faith checkups”. We talk about their engagement with scripture, the God’s apparent working in their lives, and personal struggles. Sometimes, that involves encouragement. Sometimes, it calls for rebuke or correction. In the latter case, maybe a guy has said something to his wife, his kids, or someone else he shouldn’t have said, maybe at a volume level he shouldn’t have used. Jesus would call that “sin”.
In those conversations, I try to separate “reasons” from “excuses”. All our “dones” are done for a reason. However, no reason excuses us from our actions. One day, we’ll all stand before Jesus to account for what we’ve done and said (the “bema” seat judgment [see 2 Cor. 5:10]), and in receiving eternal rewards for the things we did and said, we cannot effectively invoke anyone else’s name to our defense but our own:
- “You made me mad!”
- “He stole my idea! It’s not fair!”
- “She cracked my screen; of course I’m going to get angry!“
None of these reasons will excuse us from losing a reward for that specific action. (Note: this is not a matter of salvation, which comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone; rather eternal rewards – such as crowns, treasures, honors, etc. – which come by works that flow from a grace based salvation.)
Biology Meets Theology
When someone “cheats” us, fMRI (functional MRI) scans show that the part of our brain that deals with “fairness” (insular cortex) is activated. The hotter the reaction, the easier it is for us to shift to the deadly, faulty gear of blame; our judgment is literally impaired, prompting us to seek vindication or restitution for wrongs against us. No, really – it’s a biological fact, not just a theoretics pop-psychology. But, it’s not just biological – it’s theological. Thank God, James clears the fog:
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God [does not]… tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” James 1:13-14 (see also, James 4:1-2)
Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?!
Regardless of how wrong any offending party was; regardless of how unfair the circumstances leading up to my action/inaction; regardless of how difficult a choice any of us “had to make”, we are accountable for our actions. As we tell our three toddlers: “You are in charge of you.” The bema seat judgment is the plumb line from which all actions can be rightly assessed. Blame, denial, and lying offer us no help at the foot and gavel of our Savior on That day.
All moral evil is owing to some disorder in the being that is chargeable with it, to a want of wisdom, or of power, or of decorum and purity in the will. – Matthew Henry
You Want Fair?
Grace and mercy are legal transactions where God gives us what we don’t deserve (forgiveness) and withholds what we do deserve (punishment). Neither of these is fair. When we respond to our children’s “not fairs”, we often remind them – “you don’t want fair.”
God is not the author of temptation. Neither is the person who offended us (though they are accountable for their sin). Our desire for revenge or restitution is at play here… and we are accountable for how we respond. You’re in charge of you. They’re in charge of them. I’m in charge of me. And, we’re all accountable to Christ.
That Day is coming. Let’s reap a full reward.