CGG Weekly, October 3, 2003

"True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes."
Lord Halifax

Most of us probably remember the series of commercials run on television several years ago by a financial services company with the tagline, "We make our money the old-fashioned way: We earn it." Beyond wealth, earning anything seems indeed to be old-fashioned anymore. Though America used to boast of being a land of hard-working, self-made, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps citizens, it has increasingly become a country of whiney, demanding people who think they deserve to be given jobs, schooling, entitlements, and various other advantages because of some inherent "quality."

The present atmosphere is reminiscent of George Orwell's book, Animal Farm. The farm animals get together and overthrow the farmer, setting up their own, supposedly democratic, government. All animals are proclaimed equal under this government, but it is not long before it is evident that the pigs hold the best positions and reap more of the rewards than all the other animals. Eventually, they pervert the original idea of equality to read, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

This is essentially what has evolved in the United States since the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all its progeny. Rather than buttressing the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal") and the principles of equality under the law, legislation, regulation, and the practice of commercial, educational, and cultural institutions have mandated giving certain groups special breaks and advantages. This virtual quota system has gone far beyond race and ethnicity to include gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, handicap status, and language. As has been said often before, woe to the white, straight, Christian, healthy, English-speaking male!

Perhaps the most egregious violators of the American principle of equality are the large colleges and universities. Like the University of Michigan, subject of a recent Supreme Court decision upholding its acceptance procedures, many schools employ a rating system to screen applicants. What is disturbing is the number of points awarded for race, gender, etc., in proportion to factors of merit such as high school transcripts, achievement test scores, application essays, extracurricular activities, awards, internships, and the like. Increasingly, it is not what a student has accomplished but who he is that makes or breaks his acceptance.

The American public school system is already seeing detrimental effects from this quota-based system. Teachers' colleges are turning out thousands of unqualified instructors each year. Just this past year, several stories hit the newswires across the country regarding incompetence in the classroom. Maybe the most revealing concerned the New Jersey principal who had failed the required basic skills exam so many times that he was in danger of summary dismissal. A similar incident in California revealed an award-winning teacher who could not correctly solve rudimentary arithmetic. Do we really want our children being taught by people who were given their positions based on anything other than aptitude?

As much as God gives grace, He also upholds merit. Obviously, we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8), but many fail to read verse 10: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." These references to "good works" and "walk[ing] in them" are just different ways of saying that God will judge us on our merits (I Peter 1:17; Revelation 20:12-13). Though God freely calls young and old, male and female, rich and poor, slave and free, of every race and ethnicity, it is our response, our efforts, and our endurance with His aid by the Holy Spirit that tell the final tale. Just read the Parable of the Talents to see if this is not so (Matthew 25:14-30).

Jesus warns us that His way is arduous: "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14). In Matthew 11:12, He says, "[T]he kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force," meaning that only those who are willing to put forth the effort to enter it will be worthy of it. As Paul himself says, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. . . . I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12, 14). He describes the Christian life as a struggle, a wrestling match, and a full-out fight for victory. He advises us in I Corinthians 9:24, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it."

God is not filling a civil-rights quota. He does not base His calling on anything we bring to the table (Deuteronomy 7:7; I Corinthians 1:26-29). However, once the calling comes, He expects us to be worthy of it (Colossians 1:10), and though we will never achieve enough to merit salvation, for it is by grace, we need to put forth the effort to please Him and grow in character as if we could.