Previous article in this series: March 15, 2020, p. 285.
There you are, sitting straight up on the bed. The diagnosis was hard to hear. It is difficult even to focus as the doctor looks earnestly into your eyes. He is an honest man: your health condition, he says, is serious. But he will not dismiss you just yet. There’s a prescription! As the doctor opens his mouth to tell you about it, you hang on his every word.
Last time, we, as it were, sat on the doctor’s bed and listened to the diagnosis. We heard from the Word of God about a sin in our life: entitlement. Entitlement is an attitude of deservedness: a person deserves to have this or have that; it is a demanding of one’s rights, a person has the right to do this or to have that. To put it simply, entitlement is an “I deserve, I have a right to” attitude. We considered that there are four main sins that lie behind this sinful thinking: pride, ingratitude, selfishness, and covetousness.
This time, we continue to sit in that figurative doctor’s office. We are eager to hear about the spiritual prescription for entitlement. We will not find this prescription in ourselves, in other people, in an institution, or in some self-help group; this prescription is found in the Word of God alone. God’s spiritual prescription for this entitlement attitude is four Spirit-worked “opposites”: humility (spiritual opposite of pride), gratitude (spiritual opposite of ingratitude), selflessness (spiritual opposite of selfishness), and contentment (spiritual opposite of covetousness).
Four spiritual opposites
The first spiritual opposite is humility. Humility is lowliness of mind and heart.
We are just creatures of the dust. The next time you go outside, get on your hands and knees in your lawn, and pluck out just one blade of grass. Hold it between your fingers and look at it for a while: just one blade of grass out of the trillions and trillions of others on this massive planet. Ponder this fact: you are no more than a blade of grass, so tiny, just here and gone. But now consider God, the Creator of this planet and every star; the Sustainer of every blade of grass; the all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing God. Know who you are and who He is. This is humbling.
More than this, we are sinful. For us, the redeemed and regenerated children of God, the old man is no longer on the throne—and for this we thank God! But we do carry that old man all the days of our life until we die. Also, our sins cover every corner of our life like stubborn grime, sins in thought, transgressions in words, evil in conduct. In fact, while there are many wicked things we do consciously, there are many perversities of which we are not even aware. God exposes our sin in the mirror of His law every Sunday morning, so that we can say within after each commandment is read, “That was I this week.” To know our sin—that is humbling.
But God is gracious toward us! Grace is favor. This favor that God has on us is not something we earned from God, deserved from Him, or somehow put ourselves in a position to get from Him. It is unmerited. We are sinners, totally unworthy of this favor, and deserve the fury of the thrice-holy God now and forever. God sees us not as we are in ourselves, but He sees us as we are in Jesus. God has favor upon us in Christ. Meditate on that! What breadth, what depth! Think of the saints of old: adulterer and murderer David, denier Peter, and persecutor Paul—but how amazing was the grace of God they experienced! Think of yourself: your own sin, the magnitude of which you cannot comprehend—but how sweet is the grace of God that you know! To know God’s grace—that is humbling. Humility—the opposite of the pride in entitlement.
The second spiritual opposite is gratitude. Gratitude: a heart inflated with thanks to God. When the Lord works in us the knowledge that we are creatures of the dust, that we are sinners, and that we are saved by grace, this will not only humble us but also make us thankful. We are profoundly grateful for salvation, but also we are deeply thankful for all of God’s gifts to us. A thankful heart does not demand or expect. A thankful heart receives gladly and humbly what God gives of the things of this earth, understanding that these things are loaned by God for a time and ultimately belong to Him. Gratitude leaves no room for a thankless, entitlement mindset.
The third spiritual opposite is selflessness. When we are keenly aware that we are lowly creatures, are sinners, and are recipients of the grace of God in Christ, our focus will shift from the inward to the outward. No longer will we ask, “What can I have?” But now, we will say, “What can I give to others, and do for them?” This selflessness is basic to the second table of God’s law, our relationship toward the neighbor. Listen to what the Heidelberg Catechism has to say concerning our relationship with others, in connection with the possessions bestowed upon them: “But what doth God require in this commandment? That I promote the advantage of my neighbor in every instance I can or may, and deal with him as I desire to be dealt with by others…” (Lord’s Day 42, Q&A 111). This is Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:12: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Selflessness is God’s contrasting prescription to the selfishness imbedded in entitlement.
The fourth spiritual opposite is contentment. Hebrews 13:5 is a beautiful passage on contentment: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” When the verse says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness,” this implies that there is such a thing as a conversation of covetousness. One’s conversation is his manner or way of life. A conversation characterized by covetousness is a life consumed especially by love for money. Let your life be without that covetousness! Furthermore, we are told to be content with such things as we have. Contentment is a satisfaction with what God has given to us. Contentment is to say, regardless of what we have or how much we have, “I have enough.” Then, notice how Hebrews 13:5 ends: “for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Our covenant Friend-Sovereign says that to us! So strong is this promise, that in Greek there are five negatives; a rough English translation is, “I will never, never leave you, and never, never, never forsake you.” That is God’s promise to us His covenant people. You see? No matter our circumstances in this life, even if we have very little, we truly have everything. Having God’s unchanging promise, we are content.
The One we need
Convicted of sin? We know our pride, ingratitude, selfishness, and covetousness. We know that we fall far short of the humility, gratitude, selflessness, and contentment to which we are called.
We need the One who is the total opposite of the entitled sinners that we are. Never was the proud, ungrateful, selfish, covetous ‘I-deserve’ attitude ever found within or expressed by Jesus. So opposite was He from all of that! The Son of God took to Himself man’s nature in the incarnation. In the incarnation, Jesus became lowly and spiritually poor. In the incarnation Jesus was lowly, for His divine glory and power, as the Son of God, did not so clearly manifest itself for a while. Jesus was spiritually poor, for to Him was imputed our sin. Jesus was spiritually poor, for not only did He bear our sin, but He bore the wrath of God on account of our sin. No more clearly is that poverty and lowliness seen than at Calvary—how spiritually poor He became, descending into the horrors of God’s wrath! We need the Savior described in 2 Corinthians 8:9—“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.”
But there’s more to 2 Corinthians 8:9, and it reads this way: “…for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” Rich! So rich! We have been saved, delivered from hell! We have received the forgiveness of all our sins, and we have been declared righteous before God. And we are heirs of life and glory! When we shall open our eyes in glory, a glory that God has graciously laid up for us, then we will cry with the Queen of Sheba, “The half was not told [us]!” Even if you should heap up all the riches of all the ages into one pile, that would not even begin to compare to these riches in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Spirit of this Jesus Christ lives within you. Thankful for these riches in Christ, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we fight against pride, ingratitude, selfishness, and covetousness. Empowered by the Spirit of Christ, we can and will live humbly, gratefully, selflessly, and contentedly. Stumble often? Yes. Then we must repent of our sin and flee for refuge once again to the cross.
Bow your head, young person, and make this your prayer: Father in heaven, we live in a world awash with entitlement. We find within us, and expressed by us, this same entitlement. Father, graciously pardon our iniquity, for Jesus’ sake. Grant to us Thy grace to fight against this sin. So work by Thy Spirit that we might live lives of thankfulness for the Savior who, though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. This we pray, in the Redeemer’s name alone. Amen.