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Below is an unedited response from a participant and the video to which the response pertains.
From: Trent Dialogues
I. “God does not owe us anything”:
At the 7:46 mark in this video, it was said that “God does not owe us anything…ever…anything.”
This statement was intended in the positive sense in which merit is usually contemplated. For example, the Merit section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains six paragraphs (CCC 2006-2011), and five of those paragraphs speak of merit only in a positive sense.
However, the initial paragraph where a definition of merit is provided does technically mention a negative sense
(“…experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment…”; CCC 2006, emphasis added), even though the negative sense is never thereafter explained or applied the way the positive sense is.
In the negative sense, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The true recompense owed for our sin is the eternal righteous wrath of God. This is one of the reasons why understanding the true gospel message is so important.
Scripture speaks of God rewarding Christians for certain actions (see Hebrews 11:6) and sometimes this gets confusingly entangled with the concept of merit, so it would be worthwhile to briefly elaborate on the concept of Christian rewards.
As mentioned in this video, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines merit in terms of the “recompense owed” for an action (see CCC 2006). Further, merit is said to be “relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it” (CCC 2006).
However, similar to what was discussed at 8:46-9:37 in this video, rewards promised by God are not recompense owed, nor do they conform with the principle of equality (or even proportionality). Kindly allow an extreme example to help elucidate this point: Imagine a parent who promises their child that if the child achieves a passing score on their next math test, the parent will reward the child with a brand-new car. Is there some objective societal standard whereby a passing score on a math test entitles someone to a new car, and the principle of equality requires new cars as just recompense for passing scores on math tests? Surely not. If the child then achieves passing scores on their next two math tests, does the parent now owe two new cars? Again, surely not. They key is the parent’s promise, not the intrinsic value of a passing score.
Even though a reward may correspond to an action done by a Christian, the reward is not strictly earned or deserved, but rather gratuitously promised by God in His good pleasure and fulfilled by God in His faithfulness. Thus, the reward is due on account of the promise, not on account of something inherent within the Christian or within the Christian’s action.
For a more in-depth analysis of rewards, we would recommend reading: The Portion Of The Righteous, by Jonathan Edwards.