This article originally appeared in the November/December 1989 issue of AWANA’s Signal Magazine. Used by permission.
by Blaine Allen*
I couldn’t believe it. I had just picked up a catalog from the stack on the counter—a time-honored tradition for us. Every Christmas season the family thumbs through the “Wish Book,” wondering if any of it will appear under the tree come December 25th. Usually it does not. But that doesn’t matter—it’s the thrill of the hunt!
But three bucks? Before, that catalog had been free. It was there for the taking. But now a price tag? And I had to pay it?
“Sir, this helps defray the production costs. Besides, if you make a catalog purchase, the three dollars is credited toward your order.”
That was some years ago. Times have indeed changed. What was once free, now has strings attached. If you are going to enjoy their “gift,” you must first put something up front. It’s yours to have if you are willing and able to lay out the cash.
Aren’t you thankful there have been no such changes in what God offers to man? What has always been free—eternal life—is still just that. The believer has been justified freely by His grace (Rom. 3:24). No spiritual up-front money. No obligation for future purchases. No need to defray the cost. God’s gift is without strings. It has been paid for by the death of His Son–in full. And to make sure we understand that message in His Word, God includes it in the last book in the last chapter of the last invitation. It reads: …Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely (Rev 22:17).
But just suppose God glanced over His spiritual books and found a problem with His balance sheet. He decides to defray some of the high cost of Christ’s sacrifice by making a person do something first for it! Charge him/her three bucks worth of “works”—things like getting baptized, joining the church, or donating a certain amount from gross income. Make him/her promise to attend church services twice a week, give to missions, or come out and work with the Awana Clubs. All these are good things and certainly befitting a Christian’s walk.
If God did make such a change, His “gift” of salvation would obviously no longer be free. For us, adjustments would have to be made…
…adjustments like with whom we would share the gospel. Families that you want to reach for Christ like the Brians, the Johnsons, the Staceys, the Kellys—you don’t know if they have what it takes. You want to share the gospel with them, but you realize that Christ’s death is no longer enough. More must come—and it must come out of their own spiritual pockets.
And if you are sharing the gospel with boys and girls, forget it. What kind of chance would a youngster have in getting correct spiritual change together to pull off a transaction like eternal life? Forget the “whoevers” in the Bible. If God changed the way one receives eternal life, it’s time to strike them out.
…or what about the believer’s birthright to assurance? Write that off, too. Suppose you blew it before you were saved. Maybe even since. You know it. And you know God knows it. Like a rat chewing on a rope, your thoughts begin to gnaw away at you.
“That was a big one.”
“Could God really forgive me of that?”
“What does He really think about me?”
“Maybe He is having second thoughts.”
And so what do we fall back on in trying to regain our spiritual equilibrium? The cross plus our spiritual payables account.
“Maybe I owe God some more.”
“Surely I must, given what I did.”
“Maybe more effort.”
“Certainly more of my time.”
And with that, we are off on a works treadmill that knows no end. The more we think back on what we did, the greater the sense of guilt. And the greater the guilt, the harder we run. More than anything, we want the assurance that God has indeed accepted us as His child. But how can you ever really know that deep down inside? What if God has decided eternal life is to be dispensed on the basis of both what He and we did? Then, somebody will be fretting: “Did I really do enough?”—and it’s not going to be God.
Suppose my earthly father had offered gifts with the understanding, “Blaine, it is yours if you help pick up some of the tab”? Then my concept of him today would be different stingy, selfish; a giver, but a reluctant giver.
My earthly father wasn’t that way. And for sure our heavenly Father isn’t either. Salvation, with all its elements of justification, forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, adoption, sanctification, and glorification are ours. God offers these to have now, and to be enjoyed perfectly in eternity. God really wants to give these to us, not because He half-heartedly feels obligated.
The list of adjustments could go on. With heaven and hell in the balance, now is not the time to get cheap.
But God is not that way. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9).
No going halves.
No going thirds.
No going even a spiritual $3.00’s worth of our best.
That’s not grace. And, given a person’s condition without Jesus (Rom 3:11-12; 5:12; Eph 2:1; Col 2:13), grace is absolutely necessary. You and I have life in Christ because of the infinite, gracious heart of God. Eternal life, though costing Him everything, is free to us.
Enjoy it responsibly.
Share it gladly.
And remember it the next time you pick up your Christmas catalog.