"These who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'" Matt. 20:12.
"It's just not fair!"
That's was the viewpoint of the workers in the parable, and later of the Jewish believers in the early days of the Church. After spending their entire lives attempting to follow the letter of the Law, the Gentile believers were getting what was perceived as a pass.
"That you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these things you will do well. Farewell." Acts (Holman Study Bible).
That's it? No circumcision, tithes, offerings, temple taxes, stringent dietary restrictions. In addition, freedom from the myriad of precautions instituted as safeguards to prevent the slightest infraction of the Law. It just wasn't fair.
Despite the directive issued by the Church leaders in
to the incoming Gentile believers, some Jews still tried to impose the law on
their non-Jewish counterparts. If they had to jump through the hoops (which
they didn't have to), so would the newbies. Forget that attempting to do this
was an impossible task; misery loved company. Did it never occur to them that
they could shed the burden of keeping the Law also? Traditions die hard.
Abraham already set the example. His relationship with God was well established before he was circumcised. This sign of their covenantal relationship wasn't a means to garner God's favor. Instead, it was proof of what he'd already received. Revered by Jews as the Father of their faith, Abraham operated without the Law's statutes and walked by faith alone.
Abraham was assured that this same covenant would pass via his descendents to a wide variety of ethnic nations and peoples. The door would be open to all, not just a selected few.
Unfortunately, the pressure to conform exhibited by the early Jewish believers still prevails today. To be fair, intentions are probably honorable, but the resulting attitude is the same. "Believe like ME, or else!"
Take, for example, baptism. Is it only for those old enough to understand its significance or should infants also be included? Do you sprinkle or dunk? Is it done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, or in the name of Jesus only?
How about salvation? Some might contend that the thief on the cross really wasn't saved. He never made a "perfect act of contrition." He didn't officially confess that Jesus is Lord. We don't know if he even knew the Savior's name. He couldn't believe in his heart that God had raised Jesus from the dead, because Christ was still alive. Despite his failure to fulfill Romans 10:9 perfectly, Jesus welcomed him into His family anyway.
Also, Christians many not like to admit it, but we too harbor notions of a reward system that's based on cumulative actions, and not God's grace. How can a "relative newcomer" have as many crowns to throw down on the glassy sea as someone who has put in years of time and effort? Just for fun, try to find in the Bible where it says that believer's cast their crowns down...it doesn't exist. Nice hymn stanza, but wrong theology.
Like first century believers we can't let our pet traditions be impediments to those seeking God. Salvation is by faith alone. Our behavior should reflect the Gospel's impact on our lives, but not be construed as a official means to obtain a right standing with God.
The gift of salvation has an amazing ability to change our lives if given free rein/reign. It is, for the most part a process, not an instant transformation. We can't and shouldn't hold others to our personal standards, especially if they have just started out on their journey with God.
How about you? Are you irritated that other believers who aren't as committed as you are just might get equal rewards? What traditions have you adopted that may look good to others but really aren't essential for salvation? How can you develop a walk of faith built on simple obedience and not a rule book?