by Steve Elkins
It was a week-long high school evangelistic camp—four hundred kids from all parts of the country. At the nightly counselors’ meeting one of the youth ministers questioned the speaker. “I don’t understand. Two nights ago my kids were sure they were Christians, now they’re not sure. I went over what you said with them, and they’re still confused.”
What had the speaker done to cause such confusion? Two nights earlier during the cross talk he had done an excellent job describing Christ’s substitutionary death, His once-for-all finished work at Calvary. He even emphatically pronounced, “Christ paid it all. It doesn’t cost you anything.” Wow. It was great! The kind of message that brings instant assurance to a believing heart. No wonder the counselor’s kids were sure that night. It was a clear, objective message. It was a done deal and they accepted it.
The problem, as is more often the case, lay in the speaker’s next message: the appropriation talk. The following night the speaker wasted no time departing from the “it-doesn’t-cost-you-anything” motif. Now he preached an “it’s-going-to-cost-you-everything” message! I couldn’t believe my ears. It was like a bad dream. Without batting an eye he proceeded with the most convoluted and confusing explanation of how one supposedly becomes a Christian I have ever heard. He had left the message of the cross and departed for the “far country” (even weaving in the prodigal’s adventures, and any number of other passages) to demonstrate how much salvation costs us. He made certain no one would accuse him of Easy-Believism. He wouldn’t even say the B word (believe).
After the beautiful presentation given the previous night about our Lord’s provision on the cross, it would have been fitting to use the word faith, belief, or trust at some point to explain how one receives so precious a gift. These words would have fit the no-cost message of the cross perfectly: “It is of faith that it might be according to grace” (Rom 4:16a). The verses preceding make it clear that faith is neither costly nor a work (4:1ff), but a perfectly unmerited means of accepting a gracious promise.
It should have been obvious to the youth minister in that meeting why his kids suffered such confusion. It’s called contradiction. The double message (It doesn’t cost you anything, but it does cost you everything) can’t give assurance, but it can sure take it away! A contradiction cannot be believed: you can believe one part, or the other, but not both at the same time.
God’s Gospel of Grace gives peace, uncluttered by confusion and contradiction. When we play the melody of God’s grace to young people-or to anyone-let’s be certain they hear the right tune. It must be the clear Grace message, not a mess!
Steve Elkins is the East Dallas Area Director for Young Life. He has been involved in youth work for 20 years. Steve and his wife Marci have three children, Allie, Austin, and Abbey.