They left everything to follow this Man. Some had to make a living off of catching fish. One made his living from collecting taxes. But they chose to forsake these employments. The very things on which they had depended for security and livelihood, they left behind because of this Man. They had never before met anyone like Him. Nobody spoke like Him; almost every word He spoke resonated with power and eternal life. They had never seen anyone do what He could do. They saw Him make a dead man come back to life, simply because He told him to. He even had the ability to tell the weather what to do. He told them that He was, in fact, God in the flesh, and the miracles that He did were proof that He was telling the truth.
Surely, they assumed, they would get some kind of reward from following this Man. After all, they were willing to leave behind everything they knew, everything they had depended on. They were going into extremely difficult and scary situations to heal people who were sick and demon-possessed. They were making real sacrifice for this Man. Surely, they thought, surely they would get some kind of reward. They’d get some recognition, some material possessions, some power. At least they would be able to take some kind of a break.
One of them, Peter, spoke up and voiced what everyone else was probably thinking: “See, we have left everything and followed you. So what will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:20). This is a valid question, in Peter’s mind. Jesus assures him that there would be a time when they would be able to reign with Him, and that everyone who has followed Him would receive eternal life (vv. 28-29). But He is quick to add that when that time comes, the order of things will not be the same as they are now. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30). He then went on to tell them a parable about a landowner who paid each of his laborers the exact same wage; the workers who had worked longer got paid the same amount as those who had not worked as long (Matthew 20:1-16.) Jesus was driving a point home to their presumptuous, proud hearts: In this life, we are entitled to absolutely nothing. He will later go on to tell them, foretelling events to take place in their not-too-distant future, that they will be persecuted, killed, and “hated by all nations because of my name” (Matthew 24:9). This was their reward for following Jesus; this was what they were to face for living in service to God. They were to receive the opposite of comfort and recognition. Instead, they were to receive opposition, hatred, and persecution from the world.
Maybe you, like me, have the same thoughts and attitude of heart that Peter had when he asked Jesus that question. Maybe you have made sacrifices and have suffered for the sake of following Jesus. Maybe you have stood firm on your Christian convictions, you haven’t compromised on the truth of Scripture, and this has caused conflict and division between you and people you love. Maybe you have family members or close friends from your past who want nothing to do with you because you are following Jesus. And deep in your heart, there is the nagging thought: “Don’t I deserve a break from this?” Of course, you wouldn’t actually voice that. You want to keep up a good appearance of spirituality and gratitude. But you can’t help but feel that you have had enough. You have beared up and dealt with so much for Jesus’ sake, so surely you deserve to have some kind of earthly comfort, even some good repute with the world for what you have faced. Surely, God should give you some kind of immediate blessing for this, right?
The tendency to think and feel this is almost universal. Whenever we are suffering for Christ’s sake, or when we have offered some kind of costly service to God, we feel like we are owed something. I have been guilty of this after coming back from short-term mission trips. I would talk about all of the hard service that I did for Christ’s sake, with the hope that someone would be impressed with me, and I would be able to build a good reputation. This comes from lingering pride in our hearts. It comes from a sense of entitlement. We have been influenced by the worldly idea that “what goes around comes around.” This is also referred to as “Karma.” There are some important things to remember when we catch ourselves with this mentality, that will help us to shake off our sense of entitlement.
First, we need to remember that God is our Creator, and we are His creatures. This fact alone is enough to humble is into recognition of the fact that God alone is worthy of honor and recognition. When we understand that it’s through God that we “live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28), it moves us out of an attitude of entitlement and into a posture of worship, adoration, and praise.
Second, we need remember our sinful condition. If there is anything that we are entitled to, if we deserve anything, it is the holy wrath of God. We have sinned against a Holy God. We were born into this world with a heart bent on rebelling against our Maker, refusing to submit to Him, “dead in [our] trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We have committed divine treason. We deserve nothing except for everlasting punishment. But still, God chooses to give us good gifts every single day. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). He blesses every single individual on this earth with breath, sunlight, and food. Christian and non-Christian alike, he gives all of us the experience of living in the world He created; His beautifully-designed world. We can marvel at the wonder of creation. We can look up at the sky and see the incomprehensible vastness of space. We can experience the wonder of holding a newborn baby. He gives us eardrums, and the amazing ability to perceive vibrations in the air that come together to form music. I could go on and on about the incredibly good gifts He gives to every individual. And that is exactly what they are: Gifts. We do not deserve any of them because of our sin and rebellion, and yet, he chooses to give these gifts to us every day.
Thirdly, and most importantly, we need to remember the Gospel. The One who is entitled to every ounce of glory, honor, and power chose to humble Himself. He lived the perfect life we never could, and He died on a cross for us. He took the punishment that we deserve, and He rose from the dead. Because He did this for all believers, we can have true, full intimacy with the God of the universe. We may experience a lot of difficulty in this life, but we can still have complete and full joy (John 16:24). Even in the middle of suffering and opposition, we can have peace that transcends and overpowers everything the world deals us (John 14:27). “In [His] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Because of the Gospel, because Jesus has canceled the debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14), we can have complete joy in knowing and experiencing intimacy with God. It is now a joy to follow Jesus, even if it leads to difficulty and trials. Our hope is set on our eternity with Him in Heaven. We can push through trials and hardship because our hope doesn’t come from anything this world can offer us. Our hope is in the reality that one day, we will see the risen Jesus face-to-face, and that we will live forever with Him. This hope gives us the ability to cut off our sense of entitlement. We feel entitled to things when we are setting our hope on what this world gives. But because of the Gospel, we can have joy in our relationship with God now, we can experience fellowship with the Church, and we are anticipating our eternity with glorified bodies on a glorified earth worshiping the glorified Christ. The joy and the hope that comes from the Gospel kills our entitlement. We need to remember the Gospel.
Entitlement is entirely natural and normal. We all experience it, especially when we face trials and suffering for Jesus’ sake. But letting go of entitlement is supernatural; it is something the Holy Spirit must do in us. We must ask for the Spirit to fill us and renew our minds every day, so that we do not get caught up in a prideful attitude of entitlement. And by His strength, we need to remember and believe that God is our Maker, that we are guilty sinners, but we have been reconciled to Him by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are saved by His grace. This is what frees us from entitlement, and equips us to keep pursuing Him, regardless of the trials we face.
Zach Ilten is a member and intern at Faith Community Church. He helps manage this blog page and is working on his M. Div. at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the grateful husband to Becca and dad to Lucy and Micah.