From the time we were children, we were instilled with the idea that “there is no such thing as a free lunch. You will reach a stage in life of ownership and accomplishment only through hard work. There may be some luck along the way, but by and large, you will work for what you get. It is that straightforward. It is that simple.”
Now grace comes along and turns that idea completely on its head. Let me explain. I am not against hard work. We taught our children how to work, and they have carried that on into their adult lives. I am happy about that. The problem comes when we take our work ethic into the realm of religion. Yes, I said religion on purpose. Because apart from Christianity, every religion in the world taps into this “work for what you get” mentality. You “earn” through how hard you “work”.
The Christian message, the gospel message, the good news? You receive because you believe. You receive because of what Christ did. You receive because Christ did the “earning” in your place. You receive because Christ has given life to you by His grace, completely apart from any work by you. Simply believe!
But we aren’t so sure. We want to be rewarded for our effort. We want some credit. We want to bring our work-to-earn thinking into our Christianity. But Christ will have nothing of it. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that salvation is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). No work-to-earn here.
So why do we resist the idea of this free gift? I think there are at least two reasons. First, it just doesn’t sound right. It goes against what we have been taught. It goes against the outcome we expect. I guess you could say that it appears too good to be true. But it is true. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, and that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). No work-to-earn here; just the good news of grace.
Second, we like to look at how we compare to those around us. If everyone is getting this salvation gift for free, how can I compare my effort to the other guy? He looks like he is not working as hard at this Christian life as I am. How can he receive the same gifts; the gift of God’s presence, the gift of eternal life, the gift of a new nature and new heart, and so much more? There needs to be some scale to the gift that is commensurate with my effort.
No, the gift of God’s salvation, the gift of God’s love, the gift of God’s approval and acceptance are completely free. If there is a “work” to be done, Jesus explained it this way … “Then they said to Jesus, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn 6:28-29). Jesus’ answer to the “work” to be done? Simply believe.