Almost everyone develops a “fairness mentality” to some degree. We are conditioned from childhood to respect and seek fairness, otherwise known as justice. We know what it means to deserve (or not deserve) something. Very early in life, kids learn to say, “That’s not fair!”
Most of the world, including many groups and individuals within Christendom, try to apply the fairness mentality to salvation itself. The assumption is that only those who are “good enough” go to heaven. Long ago I saw the results of some random answers to the question, “What are your chances of going to heaven?” One person said, “50-50. The older I get, the more I think my chances will improve.” Another said, “My chances are kinda slim, maybe 50-50. You have to be more than a nice person. But I’m still in the running.” An optimist said, “85%! I don’t think the entrance exam will be that tough.”
Like many others, all of these folks were obviously assuming that Judgment Day will involve something like a balance scale, where sins are on one side of the scale and good deeds on the other. One’s good deeds must outweigh the bad, perhaps significantly. Only then will we deserve heaven.
The fact is this: the FAIRNESS approach to salvation is futile! James 2:10 says even one sin outweighs all the good we can do. The only way to deserve heaven is to be perfect: 100% good. Even 85% is not good enough, and 50% does not come close.
Here’s the deal: when it comes to salvation, forget about fairness! If you want God to be fair with you on the Day of Judgment, you will go to hell. That’s what all sinners deserve. If you really want to go to heaven, rather than fairness you must think instead in terms of GRACE. And we must get this through our heads: grace is the OPPOSITE of fairness! Grace means that on the Judgment Day, we will get the very opposite of what we deserve.
In most matters of this world, fairness is definitely a virtue. Children should be taught to be fair, to play fair, and to share fairly. We expect our courts of law to apply justice and fairness. We believe in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
But when it comes to eternal salvation, our only hope is grace—and grace is the very opposite of justice and fairness. Very often, even Christians have trouble accepting this. I heard a Bible college chapel speaker once say, “God will give to those who MERIT it, the blessings of eternal life.” No! When it comes to salvation, we must STOP thinking in terms of merit or fairness, and think in terms of GRACE.
Our usual Sunday-school definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” This is okay as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough! God’s gift of salvation to a sinner is not just unmerited or undeserved; it is the opposite of what the sinner deserves! As one of my early seminary students put it, grace is “favor bestowed when wrath is owed.”
Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (publican) teaches us the difference between the fairness mentality and the grace mentality (see Luke 18:9-14). First the Pharisee recites his list of good works and his supposed absence of sins (vv. 11-12), with the implicit assumption that he is obviously deserving of God’s favor. Then the tax collector prays with the grace mentality. He did not say, “God, be fair with me, the sinner.” He said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (v. 13). Only the latter went home forgiven (justified), said Jesus (v. 14).
When you think of the Judgment Day, are you afraid, because you are thinking, “I know I’m not good enough to go to heaven”? STOP IT! Stop thinking like this! Of course you are not good enough! No one is! That’s why God has given us GRACE, and that’s why we must think in terms of grace!
We must be like the tax collector, and forget the balance-scales idea of Judgment Day. To go to heaven by the balance scale, you would have to live a perfect life. The only balance scale judgment that really works is this: all our sins go on one side of the scale, and Christ’s atoning death goes on the other! Only his death can “outweigh” our sins, or “make up for” our sins. And no, that’s not fair – IT’S GRACE!