Grace, the undeserved reward
Posted on: 6th December 2021
CMS missionaries Sam and Shan-Shan Chrisp serve in Taiwan. They share their surprise at the practice of rewarding good behaviour in many areas of Taiwanese culture.
One thing we’re learning about in Taiwan is what we call the ‘reward’ culture. Elijah often comes home from preschool with new small toys or food snacks. When we ask him about them, he explains that it’s a reward for completing a task or for good behaviour.
The heart of Christianity is that we receive the undeserved reward of grace. Our actions cannot earn God’s favour—they’re done in response to his goodness, not as a way of securing it.
Usually the ‘reward’ is for an individual’s good behaviour, but sometimes children are rewarded for the actions of their parents. When Shan-Shan attended a seminar at Jasmine’s primary school, it was announced that all the children of the parents who attended would receive a prize at the next school assembly.
Rewards are prevalent in preschools and schools but also in more official and unlikely contexts.
The Taiwan tax office rarely issues fines or penalties. Instead, they motivate people to report purchases through a lottery reward system. Every recorded purchase in Taiwan receives a lotto number. This gives consumers an incentive to pressure shops to report purchases and pay GST. Banks also have new reward and point schemes every month, often with tasks for consumers to complete, and a limited number of rewards available.
Reward culture in churches
We’ve been surprised to see some churches adopt this approach. One friend explained that her church had a daily devotional plan which involved praying, repeating a memory verse, and reading the Bible. Members who ticked every box and finished the program for the year received a gift voucher for a fancy steak restaurant (steak is very expensive here).
We’re not sure what to think about this. We feel uncomfortable, but why do we think it’s wrong? Could these rewards help some Christians learn to read God’s word, which in turn produces a genuine desire to read it more? We’re waiting and watching as we try and learn more about Taiwanese culture.
The heart of Christianity is that we receive the undeserved reward of grace. Our actions cannot earn God’s favour—they are done in response to his goodness, not as a way of securing it. In Taiwan, this is completely counter to the culture. Please pray for us as we try to communicate that the greatest reward is not one we deserve but one we are given.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Pray for Sam and Shan-Shan and all CMS missionaries as they navigate different cultures and practices. Ask God to give wisdom and insight as they share Jesus’ love with gentleness and sensitivity.