It’s the fact that none of us can ever be worthy; it’s the truth that no one can ever earn or merit God’s grace or favor that is the bad news of the gospel. It has been a universal disease of humanity that we want to be worthy. When we have toiled through the heat of the day and then we see those who come at the last minute receiving a reward equal to ours, we find our reward hard to take. The message that we can never be saved in any way on the basis of our own works can be bad news to the one who is used to paying his entire way. Yet it is the foundation of God’s economy. He is on the gift system all the way.
You are called to the bedside of a dying missionary. The elders have come to anoint him. And you remind the Lord of all of his years of faithful service — how he buried a son or daughter, perhaps a wife, out there in the far-flung fields. You remind the Lord of all that he could yet do in His work. And you don’t quite say it, but it’s there, in the background, “Lord, this man really deserves Your help.” And the missionary dies, and you go on your way, wondering about God’s system of working.
Then you go to the bedside of a backslider. Somebody who chose a life in sin. One who left the church and became a notorious sinner, the embarrassment of the whole community. He’s dying in a hospital of a heart attack. There’s scarcely enough blood pumping across his brain to enable him to think. Between gasps he says, “Preacher, I’m a backslider. I’ve treated God badly for years. But please pray for me that I’ll come up in the right resurrection.” There are no elders and no oil. You don’t even ask that he be healed. You just ask that he come up in the right resurrection. And he’s healed and walks out of the hospital with a heart apparently as good as anybody’s. And you go your way, pondering God’s system.
God’s free grace may be good news for a dying backslider—but what about the dying missionary? Doesn’t he deserve at least equal treatment? Doesn’t he deserve—? And we continue to be astonished at God’s way of