I’ve always been fascinated by this story that Jesus tells in Matthew 20:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
To be honest, this used to grate on me. Because I was picturing myself being one of the people there working all day, the sun hot on my back, standing next to someone who’d just showed up with the same amount of money in our hands. “How is that fair?” I’d ask. It made no sense.
This bothered me for a long time, and I remember reading through Matthew one day and suddenly the Holy Spirit made the light come on:
Being in Christ has no correlation to the work that you do.
You are either in Christ, or you’re not.
Denarius, or nothing.
But I still hear the workers who’d been there all day. “But we worked so much harder! We were here so much longer! Don’t we deserve more?”
And there is something deep within us, within me, that identifies with that. Something that wants to earn what I get and compare myself to how others and how they are performing.
But the Master says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
Here’s how I’ve been thinking about this lately.
I think a lot of people, especially in the Bible Belt, feel pressure to be a “good Christian.” Like, you know that friend you have, and they just always seem to be glowing with peace just like they walked out of a perma-quiet time, they have patience when yours lacks, they serve all over the place, and it just seems like God probably likes them a little more than He likes you?
Have you ever thought, “Man, ________ is such a good Christian.”
Or maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “I want to try to do better this year. I want to try to be a good Christian.”
The sentiment in that is certainly not all bad. The deep heart desire is to be grow in faithfulness and health as a Christian.
But the term, “good Christian”?
It’s worthless. It’s sneakily anti-grace.
There is no such thing as a good Christian.
Because there is no such thing as a good vineyard worker.
Saying that someone is a good Christian would be like saying someone is a good blue-eyed person. That’s not a thing. You either have blue eyes or you don’t.
What makes someone a Christian is not the goodness or badness with which they perform, it’s the union with Christ and the perfection of His performance imputed to them. The forever-sealed, blood-bought righteousness of Christ.
So Christian–pursue health and faithfulness, by all means. But don’t do so because you’re trying to be a good Christian. Do so because Jesus has given you the right to be called a son or daughter of God when you did nothing to deserve it. Do so because He invited you into His vineyard when you were lost and aimless.
And don’t compare yourselves to other believers and how they are doing. You’ll only end up feeling pride when you feel like you are out-performing them, and despair when you feel you aren’t. The truth is no matter how hard or long or well you work, all of us in Christ are getting the same reward.
So all that pressure you feel to perform well, to be a “good Christian”? It can go, because you’ve already been made the only kind of Christian there is. The good news of the gospel is that we are not judged by the quality or quantity of our work, because it was never about our work to begin with.