In the Bible, there’s a story of a man named Simon who attempts to buy the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the apostles (Acts 8:19). Peter’s response couldn’t be more harsh—he essentially says, “You and your money can go to hell.”
I feel for Simon, though. Partly because I am Simon. Aren’t we all at times? Don’t we struggle to accept grace? A transaction akin to payment for goods and services makes more sense to us, and we naturally expect God wants the same. But Peter’s harsh response to Simon is a wakeup call for us all to the dangers of assuming God can be bought. If we live that way, it will literally end in our destruction, just like Peter said.
If we don’t get the free offer that is the gospel, then we don’t get the gospel. It’s good news because we don’t need to buy it or barter for it. No one forces God’s hand to save us, including us. He’s moved only by the compulsion of his own pity, love, and grace—and grace wouldn’t be grace if it weren’t free. So Paul says that we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24, emphasis added). And later, “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, how much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom. 5:15, emphasis added).
God’s free gift is everything. It’s life. It’s justification. It’s righteousness. And yet it’s so hard for us to take. Why? At the very least, there are two things at play:
1. We fear being in debt.
We’re wired to work, which is good in and of itself. If we don’t get things by working for them, then we are likely indebted to someone. Nobody likes the idea of debt, and for some people this is what makes the idea of a no-strings-attached gospel unappealing. Does it mean we have to live all of life in God’s debt?
Well, yes. But being a debtor to God’s mercy is not like being a debtor to a bank, or business partner, or family member. Quite the opposite. Knowing that our whole eternity is secured—not because of anything we have done or have to do, but simply because God wants to bestow eternity upon us—has an amazing effect. It’s a debt that buoys but doesn’t burden. Being utterly dependent on the mercy of God keeps our souls afloat throughout the trials and storms of life. It’s a free thing and a freeing thing. An earthly debt drags me down; this heavenly debt actually lifts me up.
The whole tenor and trajectory of your life will be transformed when you acknowledge that God can never be indebted to you, and that you are actually blessedly in debt to him. This kind of debt will lead to doxology:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”—Rom. 11:33-36
2. We think free grace is too good to be true.
This second reason we have trouble with the idea that grace is free is perhaps even more of a hurdle. We doubt the offer. Maybe we view the gospel with some skepticism. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, right?
Today, dear reader, believe it. It really is free. It requires faith—that’s all. It requires that you simply open the gift. But the gift costs you nothing. After all, the only way we could ever obtain it is if God gave it to us. Because it’s too costly for us ever to be able to afford. How could we ever have some sort of meaningful transaction that would dignify the price of the precious blood of the Son of God? It cost Jesus everything, but for you and me, it’s painless and priceless. That’s the only way it could be. Believe it.
Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks once lamented our doubt and hesitation to receive the mercy of God, especially if we think it’s our sin and unworthiness that’s keeping it from us. He wrote,
Jesus Christ hath nowhere in all the Scriptures [rejected] the worst of sinners that are willing to receive him, to believe in him, to rest upon him for happiness and blessedness. Ah! sinners, why should you be more cruel and unmerciful to your own souls than Christ is? Christ hath not excluded you from mercy, why should you exclude your own souls from mercy? Saith Christ, if any man will come, or is coming to me, let him be more sinful or less; more unworthy or less; let him be never so guilty, never so filthy, never so rebellious, never so leprous, yet if he will but come, I will not cast him off.
The gospel is good.
Indeed, the gospel is too good.
But thank our gracious God the gospel is not too good to be true.
Jonathan Landry Cruse