During my youth my father patterned a good work ethic for me to follow. I remember him on more than one occasion saying, “Kid, there are no free lunches.” It was his way of telling me that if I wanted something, I’d have to work to get it. In other words, I’d have to earn it.
So simple, yet so profound and fundamental to life on this earth. We have this message engrained into us from our earliest years: if you want something, work for it. As a youth I was a student and athlete. If I wanted to get good grades and win tennis matches, it took work. As a teenager I began working to earn money to buy things and, later in life, to support myself and my family.
We get it. Additionally, there is undoubtedly a degree of satisfaction we derive when we experience the fruit of our labor.
Working, striving, and laboring, all to earn something of value—that something including things like status, money, position, prestige, knowledge or pleasure.
Can you hear it? “There are no free lunches!”
That is why, on some level, the gospel message is so counterintuitive to the ethos we’re taught while growing up, and it’s reinforced throughout our journey on life’s road.
For we understand, embrace, and revel in the fact that the gospel message is a message whose central tenet is God’s grace—His giving us a salvation we don’t deserve and can’t earn.
This is one reason the Christian message is unique among all world religions. All other world religions are based upon the basic concept of “this do”. Our Christian faith is based upon the reality of “this happened.” All other world religions have some system of morals, codes of conduct, systems of behavior, which adhered to, allow the follower to go to heaven, nirvana, paradise, etc. The Christian faith is based upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He did it all and that all is enough to save us from the penalty our sin deserves.
Yes, salvation is a gift, a free gift. The Apostle Paul wrote about this gift in Romans 5:15-17:
But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
Notice in these three verses the ‘gift’ is referenced five times!
In this section Paul contrasts the sin of Adam with the work of Christ. Because of Adam’s sin – his offense, ‘many died’ (Romans 5:15). Because of Adam’s offense, judgment came resulting ‘in condemnation’ (Romans 5:16). And because of Adam’s offense, ‘death reigned’ (Romans 5:17).
Because of the work of Christ, the ‘grace of God and the gift abounded to many’ (Romans 5:15). Due to the work of Christ, the free gift ‘resulted in justification’ (Romans 5:16). And because of the work of Christ, those who receive the ‘gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:17).
In Romans 6:23, Paul further described the gift of God:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The result of Adam’s sin is judgment, condemnation and death. The fruit of the work of Christ is justification, righteousness and life!
In the first two and a half chapters of the book of Romans, Paul established the judgment upon mankind resulting from Adam’s sin. Upon this truth Paul then presented the need for God’s righteousness found in Christ. For we are made righteous and receive forgiveness not based upon what we do, but upon what Jesus has done for us. To be justified, therefore, is to be declared righteous in God’s sight. And to be justified is to receive the free gift, which entails forgiveness of sin, a personal relationship with God, abundant and eternal life and so much more.
And how does this transaction occur? Through faith, not works:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 5:1
We cannot earn God’s salvation, nor do we deserve it. Yet God, in His abundant grace and mercy, provides the free gift through the person and work of Jesus.
The concept of getting something for nothing is difficult for some to accept. By definition, all gifts are free to the recipient, but not to the giver. God paid a great price for the gift He offers us. The cost was Christ’s death on the cross (John 3:16). The price Christ paid at Calvary is unfathomable. Yet this good news is God’s means of forgiving us and making us His children.
God’s grace is not cheap. It was very costly for Him. Yet, it’s freely offered as a gift, something that can’t be earned. It can only be received by faith, as we unpacked in our last submission.
As we think about our witness to others in light of this marvelous truth, Paul is a shining example of the one who rejected and renounced his own piety, religiousness, and morality—his good works—for the free gift received only by faith:
“Yet indeed I also count all things [religiousness, piety, morality] loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” Philippians 3:8-10
As we share the free gift of salvation with those in our sphere of influence, especially the religious, may we emphasize the vanity of our own effort and amplify the simplicity, power and glory of simply trusting in the finished work of Jesus!