Why is it so hard to accept God’s generosity? Our God truly is gracious and loving and generous toward us in so many things, and it’s consistently a hard thing for us to accept. We see an example of this truth at work in Acts 14.
Paul came to Lystra on his First Missionary Journey. He began to preach. One man who listened had been lame from birth. He had never walked, but he believed what Paul said. Paul saw him and said, “Stand up on your feet!” Immediately the man jumps and starts walking around.
The people start shouting, “The gods are here among us! They must be; look what they did!” They call Paul, Hermes, because he was doing most of the talking (Hermes was the messenger of the Greek gods.) They call Barnabas, Zeus. They saw these miracle workers as their gods and were determined to offer sacrifices in their honor.
Paul and Barnabas rushed to stop them. This sacrifice would be sacrilege; they had to stop it! Paul says, “The living God has sent us to turn you away from such worthless things. He’s the one who made all there is. He’s the one who brings you the rain and the crops and all good things. Listen now to the good news we have to share about what he has done for you!”
Our God works so generously in so many ways in our lives, and yet we struggle to receive the gifts he gives. We struggle to receive them because we always want to do something to consider ourselves worthy of them. Don’t we see that here?
The people of Lystra recognize they have just witnessed a great blessing, and it must have come from above. But how did they react? Did they say, “This is wonderful; tell us more about how God so generously gives!” Not at all! For a pagan, the favor of the gods always comes at a cost. They must sacrifice to show thanks. If not, those gods might take their blessings away or turn away from them altogether. Even more, if they are not thankful enough now, how could they expect the gods to respond to their cries for help in the future?
You might think, “How sad! How silly!” But how often don’t we think the same way? “Why am I suffering; is God punishing me for doing something wrong? I’ve been so good lately so I’m sure now God will help me with x,y, or z. Now he will answer my prayer. Look at all I have done, all I have sacrificed, doesn’t God owe me this one?” All thoughts like these are very much like the people of Lystra. But notice it is the law that drives all thoughts like these. They come so easily and seem so natural because the law pulls us to itself like a magnet. But the path of the law always ends in accusation, condemnation, and finally death.
Our God chooses to work differently. Instead of pointing to the law, he works generously through the outpouring of grace. Paul begins by pointing out many blessings to the people in Lystra: rain, harvest, food, joy in life. Even if they didn’t realize it, these blessings poured forth from the hand of the one God who made heaven and earth. Take inventory of your own life. How has God generously blessed you? Sunshine and rain, food and harvests, family, friends, and health, love and joy. All these things and more he gives, not because of what you do or don’t do, but because he is generous and gracious.
And yet there is still a greater gift! That good news is what Paul went to Lystra to share. It is the news that Jesus has freed you from a worthless life of chasing after the law. Jesus fulfilled the law. Jesus earned righteousness. Jesus paid for every sin of failing to keep the law. Jesus, the living God in human form and flesh and blood, has come down to you. He does not demand sacrifice from you. He offered himself as the sacrifice for you. He is proof of God’s generosity to his people. He is the guarantee of God’s continued blessing, often in spite of us. He is the certainty of salvation apart from any law.