I was an assistant high school football coach for a couple of years. Although I played football through high school and college, I never thought much about coaching. However, now that I’ve done it, I realize how great of an opportunity it was – both to have fun and to teach some young men valuable life lessons.
One of the hardest lessons I had to teach (over and over) dealt with rights versus privileges. Some young men thought that all they had to do was show up for practices and games, and that they would automatically play in the game. They thought their presence was enough to allow them on the field on Friday nights. They felt they were entitled to it.
I had to remind them that my job as a coach was two-fold: to help each team member get better, and to put the team in the best possible position to win. Those who didn’t work to get better each week probably couldn’t help us win. And so they would remain next to me on the sideline.
Throughout their history, the nation of Israel also struggled with entitlement. They reasoned that since they were God’s chosen people (Isaiah 44:1) and sons of Abraham (John 8:37-40), they were automatically entitled to be a part of God’s kingdom.
The writer of Hebrews reminded some new Christians about Israel’s history of this entitlement mindset. At this time, some Jews had become Christians, but then life got challenging for them. They even encountered some persecution, and were considering going back to their old ways of doing things, and turning away from Jesus. This letter was authored to encourage them to not reject Jesus, since He was God’s promised Messiah.
In chapter 3, the author quotes from the Hebrew bible, and writes:
“Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
And saw My works for forty years.
Therefore I was angry with this generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they did not know My ways’;
As I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
In the Old Testament, Israel faced the temptation of thinking that just because they were descended from Abraham, that God would always be pleased with them. But they had to learn God was pleased with their faith and obedience, not their ancestors.
And in the New Testament, the church had to learn and be reminded that no pedigree can earn God’s favor. God is pleased by faith alone, not by our works, our knowledge, or our heritage.
Entitlement in Our Family, and In God’s Family
As I read this verse a few weeks ago, I was concerned for my children. I was concerned not because of things they lack, but because of some advantages that they have, which I didn’t have, and most other children in the world don’t have.
My children are blessed to grow up in a family where they are being taught about Jesus. My children are blessed to be a part of a wonderful church that provides them with biblical teaching and a loving community. I’m truly thankful that they have these things, but it also concerns me. Why?
I am concerned that they could adopt a mindset that they are automatically a part of God’s kingdom just because their parents are, or just because they are in a great church. They need to know that pleasing God happens when they make a personal decision to follow God in faith and obedience. Being in God’s family (now and for eternity) is not based on heritage or circumstance, but on their own choice.
My children have many blessings – a family that loves them, a church with loving friends and godly mentors, access to more Bibles than they could ever need. But they need to know that these blessings are not indicators that they have earned the acceptance of God. These blessings are some of the ways that God shows how much He loves them.
How they respond to the proof of God’s love is their own choice. By God’s grace and power, my hope is that they would not harden their hearts, but respond in faith. And I’m thankful I get to coach them along in their spiritual growth.
Written by Joey Espinosa
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