It’s free or it’s nothing

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We were in such a bad state that the only way it could possibly be, was for God’s acceptance and forgiveness to be a free gift with no strings attached. We were completely unable to earn it beforehand or pay him back for it afterwards. Trying to pay for it actually stops people from being able to receive it.

Romans 4:5 says, “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” There are three conditions for God’s forgiveness: (1) don’t work, (2) be wicked and (3) have faith.

Everyone meets condition (2). We are all “wicked,” even the “nicest” people *. Jesus once made a passing comment, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children ...” No malice intended, just a statement of fact: “you are evil.” This is the effect of the fall on all humankind.

Condition (3), “have faith”, means to just receive his forgiveness as a gift. Jesus’ example of faith was a little child (Mat 18:3) who, when he is given a gift, just says, “OK! Thank you,” and receives it.

Condition (1), “don’t work,” means that grace is completely incompatible with the law. You can have grace, or you can have the works of the law, but you can’t have both: “and if by grace, then it is no longer by works: if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Rom 11:6). Forgiveness is either a gift which you accept at no cost to you, or you don’t get it.

Everything else in the Christian life is received the same way, because everything God gives us is a gift of grace. For example, if you insist on paying for your healing by being good enough to deserve it, or by making promises to God or anything else, it will put a blockage in the way of receiving it.

If you try to make up for your sin by doing good works or by punishing yourself, it will keep you from receiving God’s forgiveness – not that he won’t forgive you, because he has already given you the gift of righteousness and you have been once and for all forgiven for your sins, but it will block your experience of that forgiveness. Everything is only ever for free.

* Note: “we are all wicked” (1) This is not to devalue all of the precious things inside us; we are still in the image of God, just a broken image. (2) As we will see later, Christians have been given a new heart. At our centre is Jesus and his new life, so it is no longer accurate to call us “sinners” but rather “saints.” See the book Recover your good heart by Jim Robbins.

For reflection:

God gives all men “life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). He “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). Every breath that you take, every bite that you eat, every time you enjoy a rainbow or a sunset or the wind on your face, you are receiving another lavish gift from God. He doesn’t hold back, he won’t run out and he doesn’t ask for payment; he just gives.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

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