by Caitlin Meadows

Growing up, my elementary school implemented a merit system. Every staff member carried around little yellow pieces of paper called “bobcat awards” that motivated students to voluntarily complete acts of service. When a student had collected enough, he or she earned a lunch period spent in the “bobcat room” (the band room) complete with a special dessert treat and rated G music playing from a boombox. The best part about earning this reward? The status. Since the bobcat room was right off of the cafeteria, these well-behaved, honored students got to walk right on past all of their less worthy peers as they entered for their lunchtime of glory.

Over-achieving students like me did all we could to earn bobcat awards. We’d spend recesses cleaning up trash, putting misplaced bark back into the play areas, noticeably opening doors for others, letting others go before us in line… you get the idea. Any overtly nice and helpful act of service we could think to do, we did. And if a yard duty or teacher didn’t notice – we’d go tell them what we did. Sometimes, we’d ask them how many bobcat awards we could earn if we did A, B, and C. Then we’d follow through while they supervised. All to collect those precious little yellow pieces of paper. All to achieve 40 minutes of status.

I earned my share of lunches in the bobcat room. And to be honest, it has made no difference in my life since.

Christ Doesn’t Operate Based on a Merit System

Can you imagine if Christianity worked similarly? If God had little yellow bobcat awards ready to offer the most motivated earner? Overachievers like little me could spend our whole lives doing every little “good” thing possible to harbor His favor and justify our own reward.

Unfortunately, many operate with this flawed theology. However, Christianity is the only faith that is not based on human merit to please God. Christianity is based on our perfectly worthy, almighty God extending mercy to perfectly unworthy, weak and sinful humanity as a gift. This gift exemplifies His merit in the face of our inability to ever be good enough for Him. And when accepted, we are free to enjoy the deepest level of intimacy in relationship with our Creator.

Our perfectly worthy God extends mercy to perfectly unworthy humanity as a gift.

Communion with Christ isn’t Based on Our Service

Serving others is biblical. Jesus emphasized that the humble who willingly put themselves last will be counted as first in His Kingdom (Mark 10:31). He spent His earthly life serving society’s forgotten and despised individuals. His very death was the ultimate act of service, resulting in the gift of redemption to all who choose to follow Him. Serving others – counting them as more important than ourselves – is evidence of Jesus Christ’s restoration and re-creation of us (Mark 10:43-45). But our works, thankfully, are not the source of our communion with Him.

Our acts of service are not the source of our communion with Christ, thankfully.

What does this mean?

One can spend his entire life serving in various ministries. He can give all of his time, energy, finances, and efforts to benefit others in the name of Jesus. Yet none of this will delight the Lord. None of it will cultivate the unique, ever deepening relationship with his Creator that is available to him. Because at his heart, he is selfishly attempting to earn a reward that is not his to earn. The gift of redemption and salvation was purchased with the blood of Christ entirely apart from any of our pathetic efforts (see Matthew 7:21-23).

The gift of redemption was purchased withthe blood of Christ apart from our efforts.

This is a Very Good Thing

This means that the pressure is off. We don’t have to spend all of our time and energy looking for ways to earn God’s favor. Instead, we get to sit at His beautiful feet, bask in His unfathomable glory, and commune with Him in a daily, growing, sanctifying relationship. We get to obediently be His instruments of service to those around us, yes. But not to earn a single thing. Rather, in a humble, grateful response to the gift we’ve freely received from Him.

This is a very good thing.