Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV): When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
People do the gospel a great disservice when they present salvation as a “free gift.” There is a sense in which that description is true: salvation cannot be earned by living a good life – no earthly life will ever be good enough to merit eternal life. And it is not deserved – no one is ever good enough for God to grant them eternal life as a reward. And it can never be paid for by performing acts of devotion. Salvation must be received by God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus.
But the gift is still not free. If someone gave me a pair of tickets to a big concert by a group that I wanted to go see, tickets that cost them $1000 apiece, it would be an insult to them to declare, “Wow, I have free tickets!” The tickets may not have cost ME $1000 apiece, but they cost my friend dearly! They are a gift that I didn’t have to earn, but they were never “free.” In the same way, when a person receives salvation, it is not paid for by them, but is given freely, and received by grace through faith. But the gift is far from free. It cost God dearly in that it was a purchase through the very life blood of His One and only begotten Son. And it cost Jesus dearly, too. Most people, even most Christians, have no idea of the huge price Jesus willingly paid to buy salvation for all mankind. To begin with, He willingly left the splendor and glory of heaven behind to enter the cold, dark, sin-infested world as a human baby. He took on human flesh so He could identify completely with us, the ones He came to save, and so that He could experience the same hunger, and thirst, and weakness, and pain, and sorrowing, and suffering, and death that are the lot of all people. Then he surrendered Himself to His enemies, putting Himself completely at their mercy, and refusing to use His divine power to save Himself. He endured hours of torture and pain, finally being nailed to the cross, naked and bleeding in the cold springtime air. But all of that was nothing compared to the ultimate price He paid. As He willingly took on Himself the suffering earned by the sins of all mankind, for a space of time he was cut off from His Father’s presence. The one who had enjoyed constant communion with the Father for all eternity, even during His incarnation, was suddenly without a sense of God’s presence. And even though He knew that moment was coming, and dreaded it so much that He cried out in agony in the garden to be spared that separation, when it came it was more overwhelming, more agonizing than He ever imagined. Compared to that time of separation, the hours of torture were nothing. But He willingly bore all of that suffering and agony of body and soul to purchase salvation for all humanity.
In view of all that, how dare anyone foolishly refer to salvation as a “free gift,” as if it were won from a radio contest!
And there is one thing more. If someone bought me those $1000 concert tickets, what would they think if I were to put them in a drawer and forget about them? If I never actually went to the concert? By accepting the tickets, I also accept the responsibility of going to the concert, of using the tickets that were given to me at such a great cost. To take the tickets and shun that responsibility shows the highest level of disregard not only for the price that was paid for them, but for the person who gave them to me. In that sense, also, the “gift” is not “free.”
In the same way, when I accept salvation, I am also accepting the responsibility for living out that salvation in my day-to-day life. And that is costly. In this Scripture, Jesus lays out some of the costs of following Him, of taking up the life of the kingdom. In Luke’s gospel (14:25-33), Jesus clearly calls those who want to follow Him to count the hugely high cost of becoming His disciple BEFORE they make the choice to follow Him. And even today, if someone wants to accept the “free gift” of eternal life, it is essential that they understand the responsibility that they are taking on – responsibility to live out their salvation on a day-by-day basis. To put aside their worldly desires and agendas, and live the life of the kingdom of God. To love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, so that their entire being is taken up with Him. To love others so completely that they give all that they have in the pursuit of those souls for the kingdom. To, often literally, lay down their lives for others and for the sake of the gospel.
Life in God’s kingdom is a life so blessed that for 2000 years people have lacked the words to describe it fully. But for that salvation to be a reality cost God massively. It cost Jesus unimaginably. And it costs the person living it out all that the world holds dear. Thus salvation is no “free gift.” It is instead the pearl of great price, which is worth everything a person owns to possess (Matthew 13:45-46).
Father, You have taken my breath away! Thank You for this amazing insight into the huge cost of our salvation. Forgive us for taking so vast and costly a thing so for granted, for holding it so cheaply! Help us, Lord, to so live our lives in Your kingdom, today and every day, that we show forth the unimaginable value of what You have lovingly given to us – our salvation, our hope, our forever future with You. Amen.