I like Steven Hein’s analogy for two ways of presenting salvation. He compares it to the difference between receiving a diamond as a gift vs. purchasing it yourself for a bargain:
What is the difference between receiving the largest, most valuable diamond in the world as a free gift—and getting it for a penny? If we look at it on the surface, the difference is not very much at all, just a mere penny. But let’s look at this more closely. In the first instance we have a gift, and quite a gift at that. What do we have, however, in the second instance? Is it not true that what we have is an incredible bargain? Notice the big difference? Great gifts are expressions and signs of great love, if indeed they are true gifts. The giving of gifts is the way persons, both human and divine, express their love for one another. Incredible bargains are different. They are usually expressions of deception, stupidity, or shrewd business enterprise at work…Has experience not taught us that there is a world of difference between a bargain—no matter how great it may seem—and a true gift? Genuine gifts are expressions of love; bargains are not.
One of the most common words used to express the Gospel in the New Testament is the word grace. It means gift. Full-strength Gospel proclaims the Good News of a priceless gift that the gracious God who loves us has appropriated and gives to us for the sake of the saving work of His Son’s death and resurrection. It is the gift of righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation. It is the gift of secured unconditional acceptance now and forever… (Steven Hein, The Christian Life, p. 49)
Although I strongly agree with that last sentence—believers are eternally secure!—I don’t see how Hein, a Lutheran, can make it, since his tradition denies eternal security. Nevertheless, I’ll take it!
Hein then explains that any amount of works (what he calls Law) turns the gift into a bargain:
But what happens to this precious gift if Law is mixed into the Gospel or if it is diluted? What if we attach to the gift the requirement that we contribute something to Him or our neighbor—even just a little bit? Why that’s not asking much for such a priceless treasure as eternal life! See what happened? The gift has evaporated and we now have a bargain. Perhaps even a good one, but the gift is gone. Moreover, we have turned the face of our gracious loving God into a cosmic businessman or huckster out marketing His spiritual wares for a little virtue or affection (Steven Hein, The Christian Life, p. 50).
In salvation, God is a giver, not a seller. He gave His Son to die on the cross for you so that He could give—give!—whoever believes in Jesus eternal life.
I appreciate how Hein makes sure to deny that works are necessary to either secure or to keep salvation:
Notice also that it matters not if your little bit must come before to secure the bargain, or after to keep it. Your little bit is Law and any amount—before, during, or after, will neutralize the grace of God and diminish the power of God unto salvation. Can anyone bargain for your love? God’s love and gifts can never be had for a bargain either” (Steven Hein, The Christian Life, p. 50).
Next, Hein explains how conditioning salvation upon any amount of works destroys assurance:
In our example, the bargain of a happy forever only requires that you contribute a little bit. Will we ever have any assurance of a happy forever? How much does God think is a little bit? Have we provided enough yet, or is more needed? How will we ever know until, of course, it is too late? And what about the quality of our contribution? How good does it have to be? Is ours good enough? Who knows? Even a little bit of Law can rob us of all assurance and confidence that the blessings of God are truly ours (Hein, The Christian Life, p. 50).
How are you presenting the saving message? Are you making it clear that God is not selling salvation for cheap, but giving it away for free?