Grace Modeled…and Abused

There is a question that I hear often when I talk about the truly free offer of eternal life that Christ offers. 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17)

The offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone is the central message of the New Testament; it is a testimony of the grace of God and a truly phenomenal gift.  Not only that, but the gift comes not on the basis of anything we have done, but only on the basis of what Christ has done.

…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)

Eternal life is a gift.  You can’t earn a gift; something that is earned is not a gift but a wage.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, (Romans 4:4–5)

The question that I hear often is, “If the gift is truly free, can’t God’s gracious offer get abused?  If the offer of eternal life truly comes without works, can someone accept Christ and then go on living in sin?”  It’s a good question, and one that God brought to mind this Saturday at our church yard sale.

A member of our church had a financial need that he couldn’t possibly meet.  He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and his doctor told him that he needed a wheelchair, as his legs have a hard time on trips to the mall or grocery store.  He and his wife live on a small pension and her job and have to be very frugal.  The chair would normally cost about $4,000 to buy, but by the grace of God the vendor had a demo unit they were willing to sell for $1,050!  My friend called me about it, because there was no way he and his wife could afford it.  It was a fantastic opportunity, but it may as well have cost $1 Million in his situation.

We decided as a church to act.  Our elders agreed that in the spirit of Acts 2:45 that we needed to provide for this man’s need, so we bought the chair for him.  He did nothing to earn that, and it was amazing as a pastor to see the grace of God modeled by our church family.  It was a truly free gift given without strings attached.

The story continues though.  Our church, like many in these economic times, didn’t have $1,000 lying around just to provide for the need.  We decided to ask our members to bring donations to hold a yard sale to raise the money we needed to buy the chair, and they responded graciously!  The people decided that since our friend could not buy what he so clearly needed that we would provide what was needed.

We posted the sale on Craigslist and had a LOT of people come to buy items.  We had a simple message for everyone who came and perused what we were selling:

  1. The sale was to fund the purchase of a wheelchair for a member of our church who needed it.
  2. We needed to raise $1,050 to buy the chair.
  3. There were no prices on any of the items; everything was sold for whatever donation that the person wanted to give.  Their conscience was their guide, as we would not haggle.

Generally, most people were quite generous.  They almost always donated more than we would have asked for the item at a yard sale, and this method is far less stressful than haggling over a $0.50 coffee mug.  However, there is always “that guy” at the yard sale.  You know “that guy,” the one who takes advantage.  In this case it was a man who came with a full-size pickup truck. 

When he found out what we were doing and how we were doing it he set about building himself a huge pile of items.  He took a working washing machine.  He took two vacuum cleaners.  He took a full-size futon with a nice frame.  He took a nearly-new microwave with mounting brackets.  He took a nice sewing machine.  He took a set of end tables.  He took a bunch of clothes.  He also had a pile of other stuff that I didn’t really get to see, but by this time you get the point.  He cherry-picked the place clean!  He knew that we were raising money for a man who needed a wheelchair.  And after loading it all up and filling the entire bed of his full-size pickup to the top of his bed rails…he gave me $30 and drove away.

I wish I could say that I smiled, waved, and wished him well.  I mean, we said that his conscience was his guide, didn’t we?  We said it was donation-based, so whatever he wanted to give was acceptable.  But when the time came to put that plan to the test, I was frustrated and upset that he took advantage of us.  I mean, it’s for a good cause!  It’s not like we were going to throw a kegger with the money or take a trip to Aruba; it was to buy a WHEELCHAIR!  It really chapped me that he took so much and gave so little.

Fast forward to the end of the day.  I was worried that we wouldn’t make our goal, and after getting taken to the cleaners by “that guy” I was really concerned.  Even with Captain Skinflint stealing our lunch money, the sale was a huge success.  We raised $1,240!  The chair was paid for and we even had money left over to help another family who might need it in the future.  God provided for the need and more.  Yes we had Mr. Scrooge take us to the cleaners, but we still had more than we needed and that guy will have to take his actions up with God.  I needed to be grateful that God provided for the chair rather than worry about one person who wasn’t onboard with the whole generosity thing.

Can you see the lesson in the “parable of the yard sale”?  I can see two, personally.  First off, when my friend had no way to provide for his need, the church provided for his need completely!  In God’s economy, that is how salvation works.  We are made right with God 100% by His work, not our own.  We are the recipients of His grace without any merit on our part whatsoever.  We have redemption not because we serve God, but because Christ was faithful and was sacrificed for us.

Secondly, I see a lesson about taking advantage of God’s grace.  Yeah it frustrated me when that man took advantage of our policy in the yard sale.  Only one person out of dozens and dozens did that, though.  It wasn’t a widespread phenomenon.  And while he split without really contributing, it was our offer that allowed it.  We didn’t say, “Well, it’s donation based unless you try to rip us off…then it’s pay up or pack sand.”  Likewise, the “water of life” is truly free.  God doesn’t play “bait and switch,” saying that our salvation is a free gift unless we don’t meet His standards afterwards.  Certainly He asks us all to live for Him out of gratitude for the amazing gift of eternal life, and just like in our yard sale most respond to the gracious offer with generosity and love for the God who bought them from their sin.  However, the offer stands and is still good, even if we are not faithful to the calling of holiness that He has called us to.

Eternal life is a free gift that God gives to all who trust in the work of Christ on their behalf.  There is no front-loading of the gospel allowed (it takes faith PLUS [baptism…confession…stop committing that one sin you like so much] to receive eternal life), and no back-loading (it takes faith alone, but if you don’t do x, y, or z then you never got the gift because you don’t have real faith) either.  And God reminded me of that at our yard sale.

How about you?  How is God reminding you about the truly free gift of eternal life in Christ that you have received?

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