“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
“If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
“Nothing is as simple as it seems.”
Those are all common American proverbs that reflect our collective wisdom about dubious offers.
However, those are also the ideas that lead many people to doubt the promise of eternal life because it, too, seems too good to be true.
Jesus’ promise of everlasting life seems just too simple.
I don’t know what Max Lucado believes about salvation, but he hits the nail on the head over how people struggle with the simplicity of Jesus’ promise in John 3:16:
Can I really trust that “whoever believes in him shall not perish?”
Jesus’ invitation seems too simple. We gravitate to other verbs. Work has a better ring to it. “Whoever works for him will be saved.” Satisfy fits nicely. “Whoever satisfies him will be saved.” But believe? Shouldn’t I do more? (Lucado, 3:16, pp. 76-77).
Isn’t that true?
Tell people they have to work hard for eternal life, and they’ll believe you. Tell them that God gives it to you for free and they look at you in disbelief.
Lucado explores the illustration that Jesus gave to Nicodemus about how easy it is to have everlasting life. Salvation is like the time the Israelites got bit by snakes in the wilderness, and God’s cure was for them to simply look at the bronze snake on a pole. One look is all it took. People might have objected, “Really? All I need to do is to look at a snake on a pole and I’ll be cured? That’s too easy!” Lucado notes:
That simplicity troubles many people. We expect a more complicated cure, a more elaborate treatment. Moses and his followers might have expected more as well. Manufacture an ointment. Invent a therapeutic lotion. Treat one another. Or at least fight back. Break out the sticks and stones and attacks the snakes.
We, too, expect a more proactive assignment, to have to conjure up a remedy for our sin. Some mercy seekers have donned hair shirts, climbed cathedral steps on their knees, or traversed hot rocks on bare feet.
Others of us have written our own Bible verse: “God helps those who help themselves” (Popular Opinion 1:1). We’ll fix ourselves, thank you. We’ll make up for our mistakes with contributions, our guilt with busyness. We’ll overcome failures with hard work. We’ll find salvation the old-fashioned way: we’ll earn it (Lucado, 3:16, pp. 78-79).
But you can’t earn it.
Yes, given enough time, you can come up with the cure for snakebite. But what can you do about lacking eternal life?
There’s no ointment, lotion, or vaccine that will help with that, and so nothing that you or I can do about it, no matter how hard you work. So the solution is to give up working for that unattainable goal and look to Jesus, and Jesus alone, for your salvation. Moses raised up a snake on a pole, and Jesus was raised up on a cross. He died for you and for your sins, and rose again from the dead, doing all the work that was necessary to make possible the free gift of eternal life.
In this case, and perhaps only this case, the lunch really is free, the news really is good, and salvation really is just as simple as it sounds.