The Growing Danger of Spiritual Entitlement

Entitlement is growing like stage four cancer these days. One Christian writer in her late twenties writes, “My generation is notorious for our attitudes of entitlement. We think we deserve more than we do, and when we don’t get it, our entitlement siren starts blaring. And when it does, we often act irrationally — in a way that looks foolish from the outside.”[i]

Entitlement is the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. It is the feeling that you have the right to do or have what you want without having to work for it. Entitlement is rampant in the society but it is also creeping into the church as the consumer culture infects the minds and hearts of everyday Christ-followers.

Entitlement is rampant in the society but it is also creeping into the church as the consumer culture infects the minds and hearts of everyday Christ-followers.

Am I “Entitled”?

Entitlement is easy to recognize in others but often hard to identify in ourselves. Here are a few diagnostic questions to help:

  • Do I often feel discontent?
  • Do I feel envy or resentment over the blessings others seem to have?
  • Am I disappointed with life?
  • Do I doubt God’s faithful provision for me?
  • Do I often unfavorably compare myself and my situation with that of others?

Entitlement is easy to recognize in others but often hard to identify in ourselves.

Jerry Bridges notes that an attitude of entitlement prompts us to “grumble about blessings not received instead of being grateful for those we have received.” [ii]

An attitude of entitlement prompts us to “grumble about blessings not received instead of being grateful for those we have received.” – Jerry Bridges

Truths About Entitlement

Pride is the bedfellow of entitlement – “Not I but Christ” is seldom the passion of an entitled Christian. Entitlement places self at the center of one’s universe. Relationships, circumstances, and engagement with life are usually interpreted with self-focused expectations as the primary point of reference.

Entitlement places self at the center of one’s universe. Relationships, circumstances, and engagement with life are usually interpreted with self-focused expectations as the primary point of reference.

Grace and mercy are the antidote for entitlement – When we truly cherish the gospel, we are humbled and overwhelmed daily by God’s undeserved favor and our deserved judgement forgiven at the cross by the amazing love of God in Christ. We are continually grateful for grace that has saved, strengthened, sustained, and sanctified us. Grateful Christians know that the only thing they merit is hell and that the “Fount of Every Blessing” has lavished them with countless undeserved gifts.

I’ve observed that legalists often have an entitlement problem, as they tend to believe that keeping the rules or having some special “experience” earns them a superior position of blessing before God and others. This is a contradiction of grace.

I’ve observed that legalists often have an entitlement problem, as they tend to believe that keeping the rules or having some special “experience” earns them a superior position of blessing before God and others. This is a contradiction of grace.

Gratitude is the antithesis of entitlement – Living in the reality of grace and mercy leads to profound daily gratitude. A chronic spirit of complaint is a sure indicator of an attitude of entitlement. Gratitude, on the other hand, is the habit of a humble, unworthy child sufficiently cared for by a loving and always-good Father.

A chronic spirit of complaint is a sure indicator of an attitude of entitlement. Gratitude, on the other hand, is the habit of a humble, unworthy child sufficiently cared for by a loving and always-good Father.

Responsibility is the habit of entitlement – Paul declared, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Lazy people are often entitled as they erroneously believe that God is obligated to bless and use them, just as He does others, in spite of their disobedience and neglect of the biblical means of grace.

Lazy people are often entitled as they erroneously believe that God is obligated to bless and use them, just as He does others, in spite of their disobedience and neglect of the biblical means of grace.

True appreciation for grace compels and empowers a Christian to work hard in embracing spiritual disciplines and sacrificial service to others for God’s glory. To do otherwise is to “receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Entitlement causes the constant supply of God’s grace to be without purpose or result. We fail “to give God’s grace an effective welcome, to capitalize on opportunities for spiritual growth”[iii]

True appreciation for grace compels and empowers a Christian to work hard in embracing spiritual disciplines and sacrificial service to others for God’s glory.

John Piper said it well, “If you ever start to feel entitled in yourself to the blessings of Christ, you are falling away from grace. A sense of deservedness or entitlement will keep us from knowing Christ. We will not honor him for who he is if we slip into this mindset.”[iv]

“If you ever start to feel entitled in yourself to the blessings of Christ, you are falling away from grace. A sense of deservedness or entitlement will keep us from knowing Christ. We will not honor him for who he is if we slip into this mindset.” – John Piper

Learn from the Centurion – and Jesus

In Luke 7:1-10 we read of an esteemed Roman Centurion whose beloved servant was on death’s doorstep. He sent word to Jesus, requesting His help and healing. The Jewish elders, who respected this man, advocated on his behalf: “He is worthy to have you do this for him.” The centurion, on the other hand, declared, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” stating that he did not presume any “right” to have Jesus come to his house. Not only did Jesus heal the servant, but He observed, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” This kind of faith is not the fruit of entitlement but the evidence of a grateful, humble, and undeserving attitude.

Jesus confronted a spirit of entitlement when He announced, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus confronted a spirit of entitlement when He announced, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Holy Expectations

Clearly, to battle entitlement, we need to live, in the fullest sense, by grace and with genuine gratitude. But we also must adjust our expectations to become truly Christ-centered. He was the only one to walk this earth who was ever truly entitled. Yet He gave up the glories of heaven, sacrificing His divine privileges for the good of others, the gospel plan of heaven, and the glory of God (Philippians 2:5-8). He endured the cross for “the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). We must find our identity, contentment, and satisfaction in Him.

I remind my own heart very often, “The scoreboard is in heaven.” This fallen world is rife with pain, disappointment, comparison, pride, injustice—and the list goes on. We have been redeemed and left to remain in this messy cosmos only as agents of the gospel and servants of mankind. We have no “rights”, only the joyous privilege of serving an eternal king and His eternal kingdom, for His eternal reward.

We have been redeemed and left to remain in this messy cosmos only as agents of the gospel and servants of mankind. We have no “rights”, only the joyous privilege of serving an eternal king and His eternal kingdom, for His eternal reward.

To think otherwise is to set ourselves up for routine disappointment and consternation. Tim Keller has noted, “The presumption of spiritual entitlement dooms its bearers to a life of confusion when things in life inevitably go wrong.” [v]

“The presumption of spiritual entitlement dooms its bearers to a life of confusion when things in life inevitably go wrong.” – Tim Keller

From Disappointment to Delight

Today, let’s hear the call of Jesus from the disappointments of entitlement to the delights of embracing the sufficiency of the gospel by setting our expectations on Him. It’s the best way to live. It’s the only way to serve. It’s the thing that will be rewarded in eternity when the real score of this temporal life is settled – forever.

Copyright © 2019 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.

[i] Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/entitlement-will-rob-you-of-rest

[ii] Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day by Day, (NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2008) 78

[iii] Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), 459

[iv] John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/go-your-son-will-live

[v] Timothy Keller, “The Challenge of Faith,” Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p 115, 2013