The Problem of “Free” (Sample) Salvation

Christians need to take care to explain Biblical concepts when talking to non-believers. While we might be comfortable with our “Christianese,” we have to remember that the vast majority of the population does not go to church. We need to be diligent students and patient witnesses so those who do not believe are not more confused about Christ after speaking with us than they were before.

One area where I think there is a lot of confusion is the idea of free salvation. While it is true that salvation is a gift from God, the word “free” has many uses in the English language and can be misused to cheapen salvation. Salvation is not free in an absolute sense. Salvation is only “free” in the sense that you can never earn it or pay the debt of sin by good works. To declare “Jesus is Lord” is to surrender your life to Him and to give Him your heart.

I think a lot of those outside of the church, and a great many members of our congregations, hear us talk about the “free gift” (not sure if there is any other kind) of salvation and think of it in the same way they would think of a free sample at the mall food-court. You can walk up to the sample-giver (or walk an aisle to a preacher), stick out your hand (or repeat a prayer), get your sample (or your salvation) and, boom!, you’re done. Sample eaten, salvation received. Then you can continue on your merry way as you were before.

Pastors, I know none of you intend for people to view salvation this way nor would you ever preach it like this, but this perception does happen. 

But does that remind you at all of what happened when people met Jesus? I don’t think so. Those people were changed. They knew Jesus. And it’s that kind of knowing — not simply believing something with your brain, but knowing the person of Christ as a friend and not just an idea — that brings about salvation.

Jesus said of salvation in Matt. 7:21-23 (ESV), “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

A person can recite the “sinner’s prayer” and even show some fruit for a lifetime and still not know Christ or the Father. For example, in the parable of the two sons (a.k.a. “The prodigal son”), we can see that the older son, representing the Pharisees, served faithfully but still did not have a loving relationship with his Father. The older son refused to come in to the party and shamed his Father in doing so. And if Jesus’s other parables featuring feasts and celebrations are any indication, parties represent the very Kingdom of God. You want to be partying! 

To recap, salvation isn’t free because parties aren’t cheap to throw, and you have to know the host to get in. Our host, the Father, is throwing the most costly party possible. It cost Him His Son. Because you know the Son, the Father will welcome you in as His own. But it costs you to know the Son. The Son doesn’t want friends who do favors for Him from time to time. The Son wants lifelong companions who leave everything behind to walk with Him anywhere and everywhere He leads. Close relationships are built in close proximity.

So, maybe we need to clarify what we mean when we say salvation is free. Jesus paid all the price for you, but it still costs you your whole life. Some would say, “All you have to do is repent.” But repentance does not mean simply “being sorry.” The word repent means to “change your mind.” And to truly change your mind to follow Christ is going to result in your whole life changing. 

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23-24).

No-bite Christianity

As John David Smith reported at the BMA of America National meeting, the United States is one of the only countries in the world where, overall, the church is in decline. There are plenty of theories available  as to why this is happening, but here is one more anyway.

As a whole, I think American churches fit the cliché “all bark and no bite.” I actually think there are a great number of pastors who preach good doctrine. We have better Biblical literacy in America than just about anywhere else in the world. Mass media has made the Christian message available to the whole nation. In the U.S., the gospel is not a secret to anyone who is curious about God. We have plenty of “bark.” We lack “bite.”

So what exactly gives Christianity some teeth with which to bite? I’ll first tell you what our bite is not:

Our bite is not now, nor has it ever been political power. Most people know what Christians are against. If we think by gaining enough political power we can somehow legislate our country into righteousness, we are mistaken. We do not wrestle with flesh and blood. And as I mentioned before, I think that Christianity and the gospel, at least in America, are fairly familiar or, at worst, are widely accessible to the general population. So what do we lack?

I believe we are lacking in Christians who actually live as if they really believe Jesus is the only thing that satisfies.

American Christianity at-large is not “I surrender all” Christianity.  It’s more like, “I surrender almost all, but let’s not get crazy” Christianity.  It’s get-me-out-of-hell Christianity rather than give-me-Jesus Christianity. It’s “I’m going to give some of my time, talents and money to Jesus” Christianity and not “I’m going to bring back to God what He has given me” Christianity.

These attitudes manifest in many ways. I’ll mention two areas that I observe as having a huge impact, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

 Finances

For many, giving financially to the church or missions only occurs at a comfortable level. This means that giving never exceeds a comfort zone. Sure, we’ll tithe, but that is because we’ve already budgeted that in. But real sacrificial giving is another story.  Surely God would never ask us to actually have faith that he will supply our needs when we give in such a way that dips beyond our budgeted plans or makes us give up the things we want? Did you know that if you make $34,000 per year, you are in the top 1% of the world in income? The top .1% begins at 70k. With those facts in mind, you might read 1 Timothy 6:17-19 in a new light. You might also want to do a quick Google search on how many times God addresses how we should care for the poor. 

Marriage and Sex

I truly believe the real reason that the church is losing cultural relevance in the areas of sexual purity and marriage is because we have unwittingly adopted the world’s idea that sex and romance are the ways a person gains ultimate satisfaction. Of course this isn’t preached from the pulpit, but it’s definitely in our church culture. Single adults are often looked upon with pity. Why? If a person is totally in love with Jesus and is totally trusting God to be their provider of what they actually need, there is no reason to pity them. (This concept also applies to how we often pity missionaries or pastors who don’t make much money.) Marriage and sex are good things, but Jesus is better. Let’s just be real. Most of us don’t really think a person can experience the fulness of life without a sexual partner. And because we believe that, we constantly tell singles “God has someone out there for you.” Or we tell the gay community “God will change your desires and then you might have a spouse someday.” 

What we need is to tell ourselves and others is the truth: Jesus alone is better than anything. In fact, Jesus alone is better than Jesus plus anything else. To follow Christ is to die to yourself so He can give you His life. He paid it all, so he owns it all. 

The world sees us trying to hang on to everything it has to offer, only giving up as much as we feel necessary to be accepted in our church culture. The world sees that we want the same pleasures and fulfillments it wants, and thinks Jesus is holding us back from what we really want, but He makes us feel like good people. And when the world sees that, the gospel becomes part of another religious system. All our barking about Jesus ceases to have any bite whatsoever. 

For more resources on Finances or Sex and Marriage, visit our Resources page.

Why do College students become atheists?

This is an important commentary from William Lane Craig.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3R2WuJFe5g

Robert Morris: Relationship

This sermon is part of a series called “You are Here.” It is excellent, especially if you are having trouble growing.

http://gatewaypeople.com/sermons/203511