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Associated Blessings

dig for treasure

by Dennis Pollock

When Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, his emphasis upon salvation through grace by faith in Jesus was considered revolutionary. Nearly all of the theologians of the church of his age believed that salvation was achieved through various means associated with the ordinances of baptism, communion, mass attendance, and others. Technically, they would have agreed that salvation was through grace, but their idea of grace was based upon keeping the ordinances rather than believing solely upon Jesus Christ. As Luther became more and more accepted and his ideas grew in popularity, their constant argument was that he was one lone monk trying to upend what the church and all the church leaders had been preaching and believing for the last thousand years.

It seemed like a logical argument, but in truth he was right, and they were dead wrong. What began as a revolutionary doctrine has been accepted in most churches today. Little children in Sunday School have heard this so often that even many of them can tell you that we cannot earn our salvation through any good works or righteous acts of our own – it is a free gift given us by God when we put our faith in Jesus. And this is, of course, exactly what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul declared:

…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

As Christians have given serious thought to the doctrines of the grace of God, they have rightly concluded that not only is our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, but essentially every successful ministry and every answered prayer is “by grace through faith” as well. God’s power flows and His blessings fall into our laps and our lives not because we have been such good little boys and girls, but because we look to Him in faith, and call upon Him in the name and by the merits of His Son Jesus Christ.

Our Part

Although this is unquestionably true and right, sometimes we err in thinking that there are never times when God’s blessings flow as a result of anything we do. At times people get so taken up with the grace of God that they erroneously assume that grace will flow regardless of what they may do or not do, and therefore they do absolutely nothing to advance the kingdom of God, nothing to elicit blessings from heaven, and nothing to help others to find Christ. God will do what He wants to do if we’ll just believe. No need to pray and seek God, no need to fast, no need to work, no need to evangelize, no need to give our money to promote the work of God. It’s all on Him.

In the realm of logic, there is a principle expressed in the statement: “If A then B.” This is known as a “conditional.” It suggests that sometimes one event automatically triggers a second one. A simple form of this conditional is the statement: “If you drink deadly poison, you will die.” Another one would be: “If a baseball is thrown up into the air, it will come back down.” Both declare that if the first event occurs, the other one is certain to follow. There is an ironclad association between the two events. The first one automatically guarantees the second, and there will never be an exception. “If A then B.”

In a similar manner there are promises of blessings in the Scriptures which seem to follow this “if A then B” principle. I call them associated blessings. They tell us that if we do certain things, God will surely bless us. Anyone who reads the Bible knows of these promises, but theologically we have a problem with the whole idea. If God says, “Do this and I will bless you,” are we not therefore earning this blessing? And does not the doctrine of grace teach us that we never earn anything from God – that all His blessings are grace-based and “by grace through faith” in Jesus?

Biblical, Conditional Blessings

And yet these “associated blessing” promises run all through the Scriptures. How can we reconcile them with God’s amazing grace through Jesus? Let’s look at some of them.

We find three of them listed one right after the other in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the sixth chapter of Matthew. The first one has to do with giving to the poor. Our Lord tells us:

But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly (Matthew 6:3, 4).

Jesus seems very big on sharing our wealth with the poor and needy. But He insists this must not be done for applause or recognition. We must help our unfortunate brothers and sisters secretly, neither asking nor expecting any notice or approval. Let God be our only audience – it is His approval that we must seek. And Jesus tells us that if we do this, if we are generous in helping those who have little or nothing, God will see our compassionate giving and reward us openly. There will be blessings poured upon us because we gave. In the Book of Proverbs we find a very similar thought:

He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given (Proverbs 19:17).

These are wonderful, encouraging promises, and certainly should provide us some motivation to share with the poor, but what about grace? We put some money in the heavenly slot machine, and more money comes out? Is this grace?

Prayer and Reward

In a second promise of associated blessings, Jesus says:

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:6).

We are told that there are rewards for praying! When we pray in secret, not to make ourselves look good in front of others, but simply seeking an answer from heaven privately, we are promised that God, who looks upon us from His secret place in heaven, will reward us openly. Blessings will be showered upon us because we have prayed. In another place Jesus declares: “For everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:8). The implication is twofold: If you ask God, you will receive what you have asked, and if you do not bother to ask, you will receive nothing. Askers receive; non-askers don’t. Again, we are given a powerful motivation to engage in an activity which God clearly desires of us, in this case prayer. Jesus even uses the word reward – we will be rewarded openly by the God who sees all things, even Christians who pray in their closets.

Fasting and Reward

After this Jesus goes on to make yet a third “If A then B” declaration. He states:

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:17, 18).

This time Jesus commends the practice of fasting and tells us that if our fasting is done privately and not for show, our Father in Heaven will see and reward us openly. We will be blessed in such a major way that all will see it; we will be rewarded openly. The premise is simple: we skip some meals (presumably praying and calling upon God in Jesus’ name) and God sees our desire and our fervor, and grants blessings that would never have come to us had we not fasted. We are “rewarded openly.”

To quote a phrase: “This gets curiouser and curiouser.” Three times our Lord Jesus tells us, “Do certain things, and blessings and rewards will be given to you by God.” We act and then God acts. We engage in certain activities, and then God pours out blessings upon us, as long as we do these things privately and not out of some attempt to look good to others.

So are these promises “anti-grace?” That would be impossible, since they are given to us by Jesus Himself. Jesus is God’s channel of grace; He is Grace incarnate. These do not oppose grace; they are God’s means of pouring out His grace into our lives. Let me give an illustration.

Field of Gold

Suppose a friend of yours has come into a major fortune. He is rich beyond his wildest dreams. And because he is generous and good hearted he wants to share some of his wealth with his friends. He buys gold bars by the thousands, each one of which is worth half a million dollars. He then buys a field and buries all these bars in the field. He comes to you and tells you how he has come into such wealth, and invites you to go to his field and spend a day digging around in the field. He promises you that whatever gold bars you unearth are yours to keep. You are allowed to start at 6 am and must conclude your digging by 6 pm. The next day you arrive bright and early and start digging. By the evening you have dug up twelve gold bars, worth around six million dollars.

On your way home with your treasure you meet a friend and tell him of your amazing day. Do you boast about how you have worked so hard and “earned” six million dollars? No, you have not earned it at all. There is no job I know of that pays six million a day as wages. The wealth you have accumulated this day is truly a gift from a generous friend. Still there was a condition. Had you stayed home and waited for him to bring you the six million, you would have received nothing. Digging up the gold was not a means of earning the wealth, but it was a necessary condition. If A then B. If you go to the field and dig around, you get rich. If you do not, you get nothing.

“If you will, I will”

In a similar fashion God has made some promises in His word for His children which require us to do certain things in order to achieve certain blessings. If we ask, we receive, if we knock, doors come open, if we seek, we find. It is all by grace through faith in Jesus, but still we must ask, we must seek, we must fast, we must give to the poor. We cannot simply sit around, ignoring God’s conditions, and expect that these “associated blessings” will come to us automatically.

The Bible tells us that “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Likewise, we are told that “The same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him” (Romans 10:12). Make no mistake about it. Every blessing you will ever receive is a grace blessing that you could not possibly ever deserve. But seeking the Lord is His designated means to activate that grace, and there is no getting around it.

This is why people who pray – regularly, frequently, and passionately – obtain blessings, experience power in ministry, and get their prayers answered far more than people who do not pray. Another “conditional” requirement is repentance. Blessings often are piled up, waiting for our repentance. But if there is no repentance these blessing go unclaimed and unreleased. God tells Israel:

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

But while seeking the Lord is highly commended, it is not the highest conditional requirement. Far more important still is that we seek the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ His Son. Although there may be some conditions to God’s blessings, they are still grace-blessings. And that means that they are entirely based upon the cross and resurrection of Jesus. “For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

 

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