This is a sentence I’ve never written before: It’s July 15, and your taxes are due.
For the first time, the federal government extended the deadline this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But don’t expect another extension: the Internal Revenue Service announced last month that there would not be another blanket filing delay.
If you filed for a tax return already but did so on paper, expect a long wait for your return. As of May 16, the agency had an estimated backlog of 4.7 million paper returns.
The good news is, the IRS must pay interest on your return from April 15 until it is paid out, so long as you file your 2019 return by today. More good news: If you received an economic stimulus payment because of the pandemic, you won’t owe tax on it.
If you can’t pay your tax bill all at once, the IRS can work with you to develop a payment plan.
A reflection on obedience, gratitude, and grace
We live in a transactional world. For every cause, there is an effect. If we want to live in a country where the federal government provides Medicare and Medicaid, the national defense, and a safety net for those facing hardship, we must pay for these services.
The same is true spiritually: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8).
Our present faithfulness will reap reward in heaven but also benefits in this world: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (v. 9).
This is where the juxtaposition between faith and works can be confusing. Our salvation is not the result of human efforts: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
At the same time, as the text adds, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10).
John Calvin was right: works do not save, but the saved do work. Jesus assured us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
There’s another dimension here: our works not only result from a growing relationship with Jesus, they also position us for such growth. Prayer, Bible study, and the other spiritual disciplines do not earn God’s sanctifying grace, but they connect us to the Spirit who transforms us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:9).
So, just as we pay taxes for benefits received, we serve God obediently in order to grow spiritually and as a result of such growth. Here’s where the analogy ends: most of us are not grateful to pay our taxes, but obedience to Christ should be motivated by unspeakable gratitude for his unspeakable grace.
We serve, not so he will love us but because he already does. We obey his word and fulfill his will to honor the One who obeyed his Father’s call when he died for us (Matthew 26:39).
The next time you find obedience to Jesus difficult, go to Calvary.