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Few people would disagree that a sense of entitlement permeates our culture. But as the Preacher said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). While shifts in worldview over the past few decades may have poured gasoline on the fire, a sinful sense of entitlement was sparked for the first time in the garden of Eden, and since that day, this tendency to sinful entitlement has been embedded in our fallen DNA.

Entitlement can be defined as the belief that one is deserving of certain privileges. The belief itself may be true or false. People might believe that they have a certain right when they do in fact possess an actual right, or people can believe that they have a certain right when no such right exists. Thus, there are times when entitlement is not, strictly speaking, a sin but rather a legal right in a well-ordered society. For example, if I purchase a car, it is legally my property. I hold the legal title to the vehicle. I believe that I possess the right to that car, and my belief is in line with reality.

However, this legitimate entitlement can turn into a sinful expression of an entitlement mentality if my five-year-old niece spills a drink in the back seat and ruins the interior, or if I am the victim of a parking lot hit-and-run. It’s at those points of pressure that my sinful response to God’s providence can expose a more insidious entitlement mentality in which I think I am owed pristine automobile upholstery or a risk-free parking lot.

In the Reformed world, we (hopefully) embrace wholeheartedly the belief that we are by nature children of wrath, dead in our trespasses, unable to save ourselves, and completely dependent on the righteous life and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God and made His children. We extol the grace of God in salvation and would never say that we are owed the right to become children of God or that we are entitled to His saving grace. Therefore, the problem with our sinful entitlement mentality usually lies not in our understanding of special grace but rather in our understanding of common grace.

A sinful sense of entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart that sees grace no longer as grace but as one’s due.

Common grace encompasses all the earthly temporal blessings that God gives to His creatures regardless of whether they are Christians. It is referred to as “common” because it applies to both the elect and nonelect, not because it is humdrum or ordinary. Yet the irony is that we tend to view it as humdrum or ordinary anyway. The gifts of common grace, which permeate our lives every day, can easily seem to us a birthright that we are entitled to. And when God withholds or removes some of those common graces in our lives, or when we see God pour out those blessings on others in greater measure than on us, we can easily develop a sense of offended justice. Thus, a sinful sense of entitlement is rooted in the flawed belief that while special grace is indeed grace, common grace should be distributed by God more liberally or more equitably, thus rendering it not grace at all but a right we are entitled to.

This sinful attitude of entitlement may surface in our lives when we see God give gifts of common grace either to unbelievers or to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We take out our measuring sticks almost instinctively as we compare our lot in life to others’. Though we may be unaware of it, we often calculate a threshold level of suffering or deprivation below which God should not bring us, and if and when He does, the proud and entitled heart cries out in bitter protest. Of course, we expect some suffering in life and don’t expect to complete our earthly sojourn unscathed. But surely God would never allow too much suffering and deprivation in the life of His beloved child, would He?

Since a sinful sense of entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart that sees grace no longer as grace but as one’s due, setting out to dethrone an entitlement mentality is a daunting task. The sin of pride often feels like trick birthday candles—just when we think we’ve extinguished it, it flares up again. How, then, can we grow in the grace of humility and weaken entitlement’s grip on our hearts?

The glory and sweetness of Jesus Christ are apprehended not only in His work but in His person. And it’s the beauty of His person that helps reorient our disordered desires. The almighty God of the universe—self-existent, eternal, all-powerful, and deserving of endless adoration and praise—was and is entitled to the universe and everything therein. Yet this eternally entitled One, “though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor, so that [we] by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). He, though “in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7).

Our Lord and Friend embodied in His earthly life the exact opposite of a sense of entitlement. He actually did deserve all that He had yet freely chose to set it aside. We, on the other hand, do not deserve all that we have or wish we had, yet we strive after it as though we do. But our prideful, entitled hearts become more beautifully humble as we behold the beauty of our humble Savior (2 Cor. 3:18).

When we lose sight of the fact that common grace is grace and not our due, we become like travelers who bemoan poor overnight travel accommodations and forget the paradise that is our final destination. But looking ahead, through the eyes of faith, we see the new heavens and earth, where God will one day delight to give us ever so much more than we are entitled to, to the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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From the December 2021 Issue
Dec 2021 Issue