As I was exiting the parking lot, trying to figure out which lanes of empty spaces I could dart across to reach the exit lane quickest, I noticed three girls standing near a pickup truck. One carried a cardboard sign: “Free Kittens.”
I chuckled to myself as I considered this misnomer. Let’s see,… free kittens require vaccinations (some repeatedly), spaying or neutering, regular grooming, housing, litter, food and water, to name just a few. Pretty soon it’s obvious: free kittens aren’t really free. Oh, I understand the sign was never meant to imply that raising a kitten would be free, but you get the point.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6.23
There’s a general similarity in the idea that kittens are free of cost, and that salvation is also free of cost. Paul’s statement in Romans 6 does not teach or imply that there is no personal obligation or condition for a person to be saved. But what it does teach is that there is nothing we can do to merit what God gives freely.
The continuum of understanding about how one is saved is bordered by the extreme positions of the universalist (everyone will be saved) and the legalist (only those who earn their salvation will be saved). But the umbrella of grace – the singular reason anyone will be saved – does not extend to either of these extremes.
Most of the religious world lives nearer to the universalist end of this spectrum, not entirely embracing the thought that everyone will be saved, but vehemently rejecting the idea that there can possibly be any conditions attached to the acceptance of grace. After all, the argument goes, God’s grace is a gift, freely given (John 4.10, Romans 6.23, Ephesians 2.8-9, Romans 3.22-24, Ephesians 1.5-6). Scripture teaches this clearly – grace is a free gift.
The tendency among fewer is to live closer to the legalist end of this spectrum, admitting the obvious teaching that grace is a free gift, but loudly protesting that a person must “do” something to obtain this grace (1 Peter 1.14, John 12.26, Genesis 49.10, Psalm 66.3, Romans 1.5, 5.19, 6.16, Galatians 6.2). Scripture teaches this clearly – God demands faithfulness.
How do we marry these? Remember those “free” kittens? I imagine if I had stopped and asked those young ladies about the kittens, they would have gone on and on about how cute they were, how much enjoyment they would bring, etc. But what do you suppose their response would have been if I had said, “So if I take one of these kittens, it will never cost me a dime? If I have to take them to a vet, I can send the bill to you? You’ll come to my house once a week and provide food?” The response, rightly so, would have been, “Mister, you’re crazy.”
I understood that accepting the “gift” of a free kitten would mean also accepting the responsibility for all that keeping a pet entails, including the not insignificant time and effort required. To think otherwise would be derangement – a desire for the benefits of a pet, without any of the obligation. This is so obvious even the most obtuse can see it.
I wonder, then, why some spiritually-minded people honestly believe that serving God involves absolutely no effort, no obligation, no participation on the part of man. Even the most dense person can see the common sense in assuming that if we serve a God who has so vividly delineated between right and wrong – strongly and clearly indicating this distinction has serious meaning to Him – then we’re going to have to accept that some behaviors will not please Him. And that will mean that to “accept His grace,” we will be obligated to see the same right-wrong distinctions, and strive to implement these distinctions in our behavior, if we want the benefits of the free gift of grace. Accepting the “gift of God” means also accepting the responsibility for all that being a disciple entails, including the not insignificant time and effort involved in such commitment. Free kittens? They may not cost, but they require significant effort. Free salvation? We do not merit (earn) it, but discipleship has a cost, and it must be accepted (Luke 14.25-33).
May grace reign through righteousness in your life.
– Bo Couchman