Honest, it’s free!
Every year when the Canadian coffee chain Tim Horton’s has it’s annual “Roll Up The Rim” campaign, not-so-coincidentally McDonald’s has a free small coffee promotion that occurs at the same time. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find it hard to receive something free. It just doesn’t seem right. I feel an obligation to participate in the transaction or else my mind tells me I’m being a free-loader. Sometimes I am able to convince myself to get a free coffee; but sometimes I chicken out when I get to the order speaker and end up ordering a muffin or something to go with my free coffee.
Why do we as humans have such a hard time with “free”? I don’t know. Perhaps it has to do with the sin nature we are born with that strives to be self-sufficient. Regardless, when look at Covenant in Scripture, it is a one-sided affair. There is no room for us to contribute! We see this in Abram’s life. God waits until Abram is sleeping (Gen.15) before God seals the Covenant, so Abram can’t participate in the Covenant ratification. God does it again with Abraham-God ensures it is all Him by bringing about the miracle of childbirth to those way beyond the age of child-bearing. Skipping ahead to the life of David, David desires to build God a hous, but God declares that He will instead build David a house (2 Sam.7)!
We see this struggle of “free” appear in the early church. In Acts 15 we read about the ‘Covenant Controversy’ that gets dealt with at the Jerusalem Council. Some of the Jewish Christians were demanding that the new Gentile converts to faith in Christ be also circumcised in order to be fully connected to Jesus in the Covenant (Acts. 15:1,5). Paul writes the book of Galatians to counteract this false teaching that made it all the way up to the churches he established on his first missionary trip. Years later Paul expresses that again to the church in Rome: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
We need to be reminded often of the free offer of salvation that our Heavenly Father makes to all his lost children. We can be tempted to give people approved and forbidden behavior lists to accompany their salvation. Yes, the evidence of repentance in our hearts will lead to obedience and actions that glorify our Heavenly Father. However, the work needs to begin inside and it will spill out. If we try and conform people to whatever we think the image of Christ is, we are stepping on the Holy Spirit’s toes and stealing His work; not to mention we will do a far inferior job! What our role is, and needs to be constrained to, is teaching people to hear the voice of God and to respond to what they are hearing.