By Sandra Ostapowich
There is no such thing as equal rights before God. Really, we have no rights, none at all. Not one of us has the right to stand on our own two feet before the throne of God, full of (self-) righteous indignation, and demand that He give us a single thing. The only thing God has for us sinners is eternal condemnation and horrific punishment. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that eager to march my arrogantly sinful self up to the holy throne of God and insist that He give me what I’m, in all fairness, entitled to get from Him.
Thank God, He does not treat us fairly. He doesn’t give us what we have a “right” to claim for ourselves. In fact, that was the whole purpose of the Son becoming man, so that He could take our place before God and spare us from the eternal damnation our sin has earned us. The Father took all the wrath and anger we deserve for our sins and threw it at His Son, who hadn’t even sinned once. Ever!
And, as if that weren’t enough, He took all that the Son of God, the Heir of the Kingdom of Heaven, has the right to claim as His own, and He gave it to us. For free! In Christ (and only in Christ), we have the right to approach God and ask Him for things as dear children ask their dear Father. We now inherit heaven, too. In Him, we are even as perfect and holy before God as Jesus Christ Himself is.
Now, we live in a country where we have the right to participate in the civic life of our nation and to expect equal protection under the law. We believe that everyone should have a chance to succeed, and the person with the most ability, regardless of sex, race, religion, etc. should get to do the job. That’s just how it works in the regular world.
It’s easy to continue that way of thinking into our new lives as Christians. We start to think that the best singer in church should lead the liturgy, the most skilled public speaker should be the one to read the lessons and maybe even preach the sermon, and the best communion hander-outer should distribute the Lord’s Supper. Why should pastor get to hog all those jobs for himself? There are all sorts of people (like us) who are perfectly capable of doing them at least as well he does and, sometimes, maybe even better. I mean, what if someone else wants to participate in the worship instead of just sitting there? Don’t the rest of us have a right to use our God-given gifts, too?
As we’ve already established above (go back and read it again if necessary), our Christian lives are hardly based on any semblance of fairness, and they’re certainly not about asserting our rights—equal or otherwise. Our new lives in Christ are full of gifts!
But our sinful nature doesn’t even like gifts. Gifts are out of our control. We don’t want surprises. We drop hints. We make lists. We register. And even then, people still give us “presents” we didn’t want and don’t like. Christmas and birthdays would be so much nicer if people just gave us gift cards and we could pick out what we want on our own.
It works the same way with vocations. Those are also gifts. No matter how much you want a certain vocation, no matter how hard you try to earn it and do everything just right to get it, it’s still a gift from God. And sometimes that means we don’t get the vocations we want, and we get vocations we don’t want.
Our sinful nature would have us believe that we’re not participating in church if we’re “just sitting there.” As if singing and speaking the congregational parts of the liturgy, confessing our sins, hearing absolution, hearing the God’s Word read, taught, and proclaimed to us, and receiving Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins were all a big fat nothing. Because we’re not the one up front. Because we’re not getting what we want.
If we’re truly, deep-down honest with ourselves, we’ll eventually admit that what we really think should happen is that we should just always get to do what we want. Exactly what we want. Only what we want. When and where we want. At home, at school, at work, at church. You name it. We want what we want. And we actually complain that life isn’t fair when we don’t get it.
Vocations aren’t about our wants or our rights. They’re the ways we’re given to serve the people around us. They’re not about what we want; they’re about what our neighbors need. Sometimes we don’t even get to use those wonderful abilities we pride ourselves on; we have to serve people we don’t even like. Sometimes we are even served by people who aren’t as skilled at doing the tasks of their vocations as we would be.
Thank God that we’ve been freed from having to continually think that way; freed from constantly comparing our gifts to those of others; freed from feeling compelled to stand up for ourselves to make sure everyone treats us fairly; freed from slavery to our incessant, selfish desires, and freed in Christ to serve others through the vocations we have been given, and to be freely served by others.
All have sinned; all have been shown mercy in Christ. It doesn’t get more equal than that.
Sandra Ostapowich is the Conference and Retreat Coordinator for Higher Things and served for 9 years on the Higher Things Board of Directors. She lives with her son in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she is also studying for her PhD in Missiology at Concordia Theological Seminary.