Ephesians 2:4-9 NIV
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Everyone wants to be fair. Every employee expects fairness on the job. Every marriage needs a healthy dose of fairness. There is no doubt that fairness matters in relationships. Humans want what is fair and equitable.
This leads me to believe that what happened on Golgotha’s hill as the wrath of God was poured upon His Son was truly unfair. When something happens to someone they don’t deserve, we call that “unfair.”
I was dead in trespasses and sin. Because of the fall, I was given a heritage of despair and damnation. Obviously, I was spiritually bankrupt with no hope of ever attaining the righteousness of God. There was nothing that I could do to fix this eternal problem. Death and hell were my destiny.
Christ came and tipped the scales in my favor, some would say unjustly or unfairly. He accomplished in His death and resurrection what I was not able to on my own merit. He paid the price for that at Calvary. I was destined for eternal separation from the Creator of the universe, and He loved me before I ever knew Him. Then He sacrificed His life so mine would be saved.
There is a parable recorded in the scriptures that illustrates the nature of this unfairness in the Kingdom of God. It is found in Matthew 20:1-16:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.
Let us look at this parable in which fairness was not a part of the plan. In it, there were some workers who came to the work party at the last moment of the working day and were given the same rate of pay as those who had been working the full day. These early hires thought the boss should be paying those late to the party a lesser wage than those who had been there for the whole day. At first glance, it seems they had a point. Clearly, the master’s grace and pay structure was unfair and offensive to the seasoned workers.
The master in the parable pushed back against the perception of just wages. The master asked a question about the perceived inequity when he replied, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
This parable starts with the phrase, “For the kingdom of God is like…” As I read these words, I thought, “Exactly, how unfair is the kingdom?”
Well, I think it might be very unfair indeed. If Christ has chosen to rescue a sinful world and pay the penalty of sin and death with His blood, and I don’t have to do anything except believe in this beautiful atonement, then I will accept this free gift by faith. I will not attempt to earn or merit these blessings. Instead, I have learned to accept the unfair advantage I have been given as a once-in-a-lifetime gift of grace.
I believe Paul the Apostle understood and communicated the nature of this disparity. I read the following verses in Romans and realized Paul saw just how unfair this whole Gospel scenario was:
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. Romans 9:30-32 NIV
It’s unfair because there was nothing I did to merit the gift at the cross. It’s unfair because my righteousness is not what matters here. It’s unfair because my efforts to save myself mean nothing in this story. And, it’s unfair because any efforts to earn my own salvation from eternal punishment invalidate the finished work of the cross.
And that is why people stumble over the “stumbling stone.” The whole plan just seems so unfair. It defies logic that an innocent being would take my place so I could enjoy the freedom of grace.
Jesus demonstrates more unfairness on the day of His crucifixion. He pardons a condemned thief and promises him salvation with these words, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
How can a man, hanging on a cross, make such a statement to another man who was a condemned criminal? The simple answer is that Christ is the hero in our unfair story. The criminal is given a future with God because that was the nature of Christ. His nature was to offer salivation to those who did not earn it or deserve it; people like you and me!
Paul continues his thoughts on this subject when he wrote to the Roman church:
“For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:3-4
The story of the human response of establishing our own righteousness is a common struggle. Things are upside down from what humans think is fair and equitable. We want to earn our own merits and pay for our sins on our own. But that is not the way the gospel works. If you are attempting to obtain the righteousness of God by actions on your part, then the cross will be offensive.
This Easter season, I will choose to embrace the nature of this unfairness. Yes, it is really unfair, but this unfairness works to our advantage. As I read about the enormity of the suffering Son of God on the cross, I’m reminded that you and I were the recipients of His extreme love and mercy.
I will rest in the accomplishment of Christ on the cross. I realize and accept that there is nothing that I can do to earn one merit. I can do nothing that would take away the complete work of forgiveness of my sin. And that is exactly the plan! It is to my advantage and there is nothing I can do to change this free gift. Why would I want to?
And you, will you embrace the unfair advantage you now have and live your life in freedom from the weight of sin and death? Can you accept there are some things that remain unfair and embrace your new life in Christ?