The Merit Trap

Embrace me not as the unfortunate place of the unlucky few, a place for others but not for you.

After we lost our baby girl, Isabella, I remember thinking, “This shouldn’t happen to us. We’ve devoted our lives to God. We’re good people … we don’t deserve this.” I was stunned that God allowed it … and angry He hadn’t intervened.

As much as we love to profess belief in salvation by grace, “works-righteousness” still runs thick in our blood. Why is it we continue to expect suffering to pass us by because of who we are or what we have done? We appeal to our service to God, commitment to Christ, credentials, accomplishments, or any other marks of distinction we hold dear. Why is our memory so short? How can we so quickly appeal to the very dead-end from which we were so happy to be freed—merit?

The “merit trap” is sneaky. After all, even the Bible teaches that honor should be given where honor is due (I Peter 2:17). We are rewarded for “following the rules” and compensated for a job well done. Yet, such expected outcomes do not always follow in our walk of faith. Yes, God calls us to a certain standard of living but such obedience does not function as currency with God. We do not serve a God we can control by calculated obedience or leveraged service. When we forget this, we become vulnerable to one of the greatest challenges of Christian faith—offense.

Mike Bickle (international Christian leader) once said, “God offends the mind to reveal the heart.” If you struggle with the notion of “fairness” over your ground of brokenness, God may be trying to reveal an attitude of merit not yet fully surrendered to Christ. Unless our faith is rooted in the awareness of God’s grace then we will try to bolster it by our apparent sense of worth. The former is by far the better choice even though it will regularly challenge our self-righteous sensibilities of merit.

When my commitment to Christ is rooted in my perceived sense of what He owes me, then my relationship is more like a contract than the covenant of love He sealed with His blood. While it is easy to profess a faith in Christ when times are good, there is no soil more capable of revealing this commitment than the ground of suffering. There will always be mystery surrounding the topic of Christian suffering (i.e., theodicy) but there is one thing about it that we can be sure—it will reveal our hearts. Next week we continue to challenge heart attitudes as we talk about what it really means to be a broken beggar.


What Do You Think?

Were you ever tempted to believe your suffering, your loss, your brokenness was “a place for others but not for you”? What kinds of objections ran through your mind?


♦  To see the video and poem this post is based on, click here.

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Author: David Trementozzi

David Trementozzi is married to his wife, Emily and they have three children—Judah, Kaleb, and Halle. David likes to write on topics related to Christian faith and their contemporary relevance. He has a B.A. in Psychology (Messiah College), Masters of Divinity, and Ph.D in Theology (Regent University). David is currently a professor of Theology at Continental Theological Seminary in Brussels, Belgium. To learn more about David, go to the About David page above.