Is There A Divine Scorecard?
By Richard Allen – December 19, 2022
As I alluded to last week, “You Reap What You Sow” appeals to people who have high morals, or who may consider themselves “self-made men and women.” It’s clear that Job believed this viewpoint – and taught it to his students. For this reason, Job’s three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar threw this teaching right back in his face. Allow me to paraphrase a bit, they said:
“OK Job, we all know that you are a good man who fears God, refrains from wrong doing and does good to all those around you. Furthermore, you’ve taught us that by so doing – you merit a blessing from God. So He has placed a hedge about you and your possessions to protect you from all harm. You’ve also taught us that when a man does bad things, he should expect that God would punish him and allow him to suffer the consequences for his bad behavior. In so teaching – you taught us that men and women ‘Reap what they Sow,’ both in this life – and in the next. It’s clear now that you are suffering horribly, by both the loss of your possessions and the death of your children. So using your own beliefs about ‘Reaping and Sowing’ it’s obvious that you have done something very bad. Why don’t you confess and ask God to forgive and restore you?”
On surface level, this sounds okay, but I asked last week, Is this always true? As you read through the rest of the book, Job maintains his innocence. Yet in further discussions with his friends, even Job questions whether his you “Reap what you Sow” view is completely accurate. Here’s how the New Living Translation gives one of Job’s many responses:
“Why do the wicked prosper, growing old and powerful? They live to see their children grow up and settle down, and they enjoy their grandchildren. Their homes are safe from every fear, and God does not punish them. Their bulls never fail to breed. Their cows bear calves and never miscarry. They let their children frisk about like lambs. Their little ones skip and dance. They sing with tambourine and harp. They celebrate to the sound of the flute. They spend their days in prosperity, then go down to the grave in peace. And yet they say to God, ‘Go away. We want no part of you and your ways’ ” (Job 21:7-14).
Truth is, there will be a final reckoning and we will all ultimately “Reap what we have Sown.” But here in this life, it doesn’t always appear that people “Reap what they Sow.” To the contrary, it appears that wicked, evil, covetous and immoral people may thrive and prosper in this life. The problem with the “you’ll Reap what you’ve Sown” view is, that it has to be comprehended over time. It’s only when eternity and God’s final judgment are factored in, we can say people will Reap what they Sow. And since so many believe the here and now is all there is, a “Final Judgment” when God will repay everyone for the deeds they have done – doesn’t appear to be a serious threat. But it’s not just the unrighteous. Even righteous men who struggle with sin don’t Reap all they’ve Sown in this life – men whom God has preserved, protected and led. Just consider the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David or the Apostle Peter?
It's here we should reflect on God’s purposes in Christ for each of these men. As the Scripture proclaims in both the Old and New Testaments: “The Wages of Sin is Death” (Romans 6:23). That has been, is, and always will be the truth. So our question has to be: “How do we reconcile God’s righteous judgment against sin with His desire to forgive and redeem some of fallen mankind by grace?” How does God do it? The answer is given to us by the writer of Hebrews in that wonderful eleventh chapter: By Faith! They all saw dimly through a glass, believing in a future Messiah who would come to deliver. Jesus said of Abraham: “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:58) because of the salvation that Jesus would accomplish. Jacob professed himself to be a pilgrim, looking for a better land, “a heavenly one whose builder and maker was God” (Hebrews 11:10). And Peter, having seen and walked with Christ in the flesh for three-and one-half years, knew that while he was a sinful man (Luke 5:8), his sins would be covered by faith in Christ. So the conclusion for all believers is: We will reap what we’ve sown - UNLESS GOD THE SON PAYS THE DEBT WE OWE! God’s justice will be satisfied one way or another, either by Jesus paying or by our paying eternally for our sin debt.
I’ve often asked friends the question: What was the difference between Jacob and Esau? Or Isaac and Ishmael? Or Peter and Judas? In our prideful flesh we are always tempted to say: “Well, Jacob was a better man, or Peter was a good man with a good heart, and Judas was a covetous man who loved money.” But as I’ve recently written, Jacob was no better a man than Esau. The difference was God drawing and guiding Jacob, while leaving Esau subject to his own appetites. The same is true of Peter and Judas. Both were covetous men, both had moral failings – Peter’s pride was so pronounced that he bragged: “All others will forsake you Jesus, but I won’t – I’m even willing to lay my life down for you” (Matthew 26:33; John 13:37). As Peter was denying Christ three times, Jesus looked at him across Pilate’s portico. As a result, Peter was overwhelmed and went out and wept bitter tears of repentance (Luke 22:61). Judas likewise had a change of heart, realizing: “I’ve betrayed innocent blood,” throwing the 30 pieces of silver down on the floor of the High Priest’s house. He too went out and wept bitterly – but ended up taking his own life” (Matthew 27:5).
Before Peter’s conversion there is no way to say he was a better man than Judas. We all know that Judas “reaped what he’d sown,” whereas Peter did not, his debt was fully paid by the Savior. I know that in our human pride we think we’re not so bad. That’s our own version of the “Divine Scorecard.” We believe that if our good outweighs our bad, on balance we’ll be OK. This is not true. If things worked this way, we wouldn’t need a Savior. We’d would need a great accountant in the sky to tabulate our merit points on the Divine Scorecard, granting heaven by our own merit. Believe me when I say: We all need the Savior, “there is none righteous, no – not even one” (Romans 3:10). At the same time, those who are saved continue to wrestle against sin and strive to please God. Not that we might earn His favor or eternal life, but to bear fruit. Holiness(“without which no man will see God” Hebrews 4:10) is the fruit, not the root of our salvation!
So what is it that drives our thinking regarding this imaginary “Divine Scorecard?” One version or another of this kind of thinking is present in every culture, religion and nationality world over. The answer is apparent: It’s our “guilt” over sin and knowing that one day we will all give an account to God, the Lawgiver and Judge, that causes us to think this way. And while it’s almost universal that men think of their lives in terms of “good and bad deeds,” in God’s sight – none of us can earn a right standing before God by our works, NONE! And yet, men and women have a running Balance Sheet where they rate themselves and their neighbors against their slanted sense of good vs. evil. Paul, writing to the Roman Church, clearly understood mankind’s sense of guilt for sin, and how we pass judgment on others for the very same things.
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They
are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers,
haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that
those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval
to those who practice them. Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you
who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you,
the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 1:29 – 2:1).
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have by faith laid hold of His Righteousness. God, having imputed our sin to the Lamb of God as He hung on Calvary’s Tree – has imputed His Righteousness to us (Romans 4:4). Sowing and Reaping in the Kingdom of God is still in play, it has never been set aside. But for the believer, Sowing and Reaping has mostly to do with our fruitfulness in the body of Christ. Paul warns the Galatians to make sure they share their provisions:
“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one
who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of
doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have
opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the
household of faith” (Galatians 6:6-10).
I think it’s safe to say that the context of this admonition to the believers in Galatia was regarding their participation in the ministry of their Pastor – Teachers. I’m not saying there are no eternal consequences involved. But the way good theology would explain this, is:
“Those who are truly born from above(meaning of new birth or regeneration), are predisposed to supporting the work of the Kingdom, and will not be gluttonous souls who use all of their means to feed their bellies – which are going to perish anyway.” So Paul’s admonition is not to be taken lightly, nor as a formula for “reaping” (i.e. earning) eternal life by contributing to the right ministry. That’s not grace, but works. We can also say that professing believers who do not wrestle with their flesh, but indulge it with all the means they have, need to be made a new creature by the miracle of the new birth.
Just so you don’t think I’m saying there is a “Divine Scorecard” for the believer, there is not. Jesus paid all our debt, and by His grace we are to live lives that seek to sow – not to the flesh, but to labor for the Kingdom of God. That’s the Good News Message of the Gospel. God has fully taken the judgment and penalty that we are owed by virtue of our sin – and placed it upon His Son! Jesus Reaped the wages for the sins that we have Sown, that we might “become the Righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). God does have a method for dealing with sin after we’ve been forgiven – and He doesn’t call on us to play mind games with a mythical scorecard where our good deeds outweigh our bad. God’s remedy for ongoing sin is given in I John as follows:
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess
our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
God be praised that when God looks at us, he doesn’t look at our dismal record, He sees Our Savior Jesus! My next Blog will be devoted to Jesus’ Advent, that is, the Christmas Season.