Can believers earn blessings, favor, or standing with God?
Most Christians have a Biblical understanding that a person cannot earn salvation by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that trying to be good by one's self can never impress God (Isaiah 64:6). Where this seems to stop for many believers is after salvation. For them saved by grace (unmerited favor) turns into living by works. In reality, the Christian life is all about grace from beginning to end. Every good thing comes solely from God and every good thing we do is because God enables us. Every blessing God gives is solely because He is the one who blesses, not because we deserve it, or can earn it, or demand it.
A dangerous philosophy in many churches and with many believers is the conviction that God's blessing is proof that they are doing something right. They would define God's blessing in terms of increased numbers, financial well-being or other material successes. We will offer you this&ldots; Blessing is never proof of God being impressed with something you've done; it's merely proof that God is the one who blesses!
Understand that the Christian martyr who has lost all belongings, seen his family tortured and killed, and is about to die for his faith is still blessed. God blesses every single believer - the outworking of that blessing may vary widely from person to person. In contrast, the rebellious unbeliever - regardless of how many material things he or she gains - is never blessed. The issue is not what they have done; it's whether or not they have found favor with God. This favor is found totally by grace (unmerited favor), from beginning to end, through Jesus Christ.
Looking for proof that all who are found in Christ are blessed?
Notice that this passage tells us that all who take refuge in Jesus are blessed, quite different than the idea that some who have taken refuge in Him might be blessed!
Again, all whose sins are forgiven, or covered, are blessed. Because none of our sins are ever counted against us, we are blessed on account of the one who blesses, not because of anything we do or don't do.
Who gets disciplined? Every believer according to Hebrews 12:5-8! And, once again, the Bible tells us that every believer disciplined by God is blessed. Consider for a moment that part of the blessing is the discipline!
In God blessing us - every person who takes refuge in Him - He has promised us that we lack nothing and that He will provide every good thing. Who knows better what "every good thing" is than the one who is perfectly good and the source of every good thing? (See also James 1:17). In lacking nothing, not even the discipline we need, it is by His standard - He who knows our every need - not by the standard of our whim and wants (or societies' norms).
Who is blessed? All who are blameless are blessed! This is not by the efforts of self but because their sins are no longer counted against them. Every believer has been assured that there is nothing that can ever condemn them again (Romans 8:1). It is the result, or subsequent fruit, of this salvation that enables us to keep His statues (Romans 3:31) and seek Him with all our heart (Hebrews 11:6).
This final passage from Psalms provides a slightly different illustration of blessing, in regards to having children.
Obviously not every person is blessed with children, only those who God chooses to bless with them. This passage clearly states that children come from God (as the giver, by His choice) and that the recipient is blessed. We can desire children, some have even demanded children of God, but the bottom line still remains - God gives them to whom He pleases. In fact, God also determines the amount of time we have them. While it can be said that this is a blessing which God gives to unbelievers and believers alike (as a common blessing, similar to those referenced in Matthew 5:45), the unbeliever never truly experiences the full blessing of understanding that their children are "a heritage from the Lord."
Perhaps the most known passage on being blessed comes from Jesus' words in Luke...
Notice the recurring theme in all these "blessed are" statements. Every one of them is a statement that applies to those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. These are not "do this and you will be blessed" statements, rather they are "because you are this you are blessed statements." It's those who turn these inside out that create a works based means of trying to find favor with God. For example, people have adopted ascetic ways of life to embrace poverty, hunger, and sorrow, all to try and somehow gain favor with God. Some even teach (including cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses) that going out and confronting people so they can "persecute" or "mock" you increases your blessing, or is proof that you have found favor with God. Again, this is totally backwards. These statements all pertain spiritually to those who are blessed because of Jesus Christ.
Moving to the book of Matthew, the "blessed are" statements here are even easier to see as being spiritual characteristics of believers - the only ones who receive the kingdom of heaven and who don't fall away from Jesus (those who persevere, overcome, endure - all biblical terms to describe God's working to completion what He begins in us. See also Philippians 1:6. This concept is also reflected in the "blessed is" statement found in James 1:12).
Do you believe that Abraham, the man of faith, was blessed? Well, every single believer is equally blessed along with Abraham! Every spiritual blessing available has been stored up for us in Christ.
So is a believer's obedience and service to earn favor with God? Never! (For more on this see Ephesians 6:5-8 and Colossians 3:22-25). It's totally out of love, love that originates and is empowered by God (John 14:15-24).
The last passage we will consider, and perhaps the most definitive, is the parable of the landowner needing workers.
This parable so clearly shows that God calls and God provides. The denarius, which was equivalent to what a worker would need daily to provide for himself and his family in ancient times, represents the blessing each of us needs every day. God's blessing is in proportion to our need not our wants or efforts. To demand any more from Him is to be as ungrateful as the grumbling workers, who called the master unfair, while in fact they had been blessed with everything they needed.
One final note regarding blessing: Consider that sin is the reason we often cannot see God's blessing or wherein we squander or misuse it. Imagine for a moment one of the workmen, in the parable last considered, getting so angry as to throw away the denarius he had just been given. His anger (sinful thought) over a perceived unfairness led to an obviously wrong action, one that removed the results of the blessing from him. In the same way, through sinful thoughts and actions, many believers do that exact same thing with God's daily blessings.