Saying No To Free Gifts



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When I was a kid, we had a mother cat that delivered six or seven beautiful kittens. We couldn’t keep them, of course, so we put an ad in the newspaper for free kittens. No one came to claim one.

The same thing sometimes happens today. Authors, from time to time, offer free things—perhaps a free ebook or a short story that someone can download for free. Some even hold drawings in which a winner will receive some cool prize.

So, why doesn’t everyone who hears about these freebies, grab the opportunity to order or download or enter?

I’ve thought of several possibilities:

1. They already have whatever is being offered and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to order or download or fill out an entry form.
3. They don’t want to give the required information.
4. They don’t think the give away will be as good as it sounds or that they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the thing that’s offered.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. Actually there is a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation, offered on the basis of His grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be common. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by without forgiveness.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “I don’t take charity” motto. Or maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in a third camp—they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. You know, if there weren’t strings attached. Sure, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose—sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much, in their book.

Fourth, it’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist, or that He isn’t good. Some few might think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them; it just can’t be true.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe—in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins, is reliable and true? There are just so many other possibilities.

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This article is based in large part, on one that appeared here with this same title in September, 2012.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (15)  
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Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise


A number of years ago a pastor, Mike Erre, spoke at my church from Ephesians, explaining that the book can be divided into two sections—the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

In the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one of this section Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

The pastor illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. At a wedding, as soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering the right way.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. The command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think, are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. The pastor said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in June, 2012.

Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm  Comments Off on Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

What Else Christians Know


search_and_rescueChristians know that God is and that Jesus reveals God. We also know that we are saved by grace. By implication, we also know that we need to be saved.

Christians know that we are sinners. We understand our spiritual condition is a lot worse than simply admitting that we make mistakes. Our inability to live perfectly indicates that there’s a fundamental difference between us and God: He is holy and we are not.

We also understand that no amount of self help is going to take care of our condition. We can try all we want. We can aim to balance out the bad with the good. The problem is, no matter the split–20/80, 60/40, or 95/5–whatever is on the “not good” side is deadly. No exaggeration. We understand our inability to hit the bulls-eye 100% of the time equates to being infected with a terminal illness. The result–the wages, Scripture calls it–is death just as surely as if I drank poison.

So, yes, Christians realize we need to be saved.

We also know we can’t save ourselves. For one thing, the standard is too high. It involves our thought life and our attitudes and intentions as well as our actions. And if we say we don’t sin, Scripture nails us on that and says we’re lying–which of course also is a sin. So we face the fact that we can’t do enough religious deeds to undo our sin, and we can’t clean up our thoughts, actions, words, attitudes sufficiently to cover the sins we have committed. They are on the account book, marked down as stuff we owe. And the debt can only be satisfied by our lives.

Enter God’s grace.

Since God is holy, He’s the only one qualified to intervene. Because He loves us, He’s chosen to do the work to re-connect us to Himself. In many ways, His extension of grace is the same as what the Search and Rescue teams offer someone swept into a fast-flowing river current heading for disaster. Nothing the person in the water can do on his own to keep from drowning. Unless someone tosses him a lifeline, he will die.

The lifeline spiritually is God’s grace.

The means God used to extend His grace to us, is His Son’s death. Jesus willingly offered His life to pay the debt we owe. His death canceled our debt. He died once for all, “the just for the unjust,” that He might bring us to God.

God’s grace is His free gift. Christians know we aren’t special, haven’t done anything to earn God’s favor, and are no better than anyone else. God’s work in us has changed us. He has declared us righteous and is working in us to mold us into the likeness of Christ. But this process is not something we do by pulling up our socks and trying hard. We become who God has declared us to be by giving God the reins of our lives, letting Him take us where He wants, when He wants, how He wants. It’s a position of surrender.

You’ve seen the video of the Golden Retriever who made friends with the little boy who wanted nothing to do with him? He crawled and rolled to his back and lowered his head. He did everything imaginable to show that he was submitting to that little tike. He didn’t have to, certainly.

We, on the other hand, have no choice if we are to have a relationship with God. He’s made the way of escape. Our role is nothing more than to submit freely to God alone who loves us as His children.

Published in: on October 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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Saying No To Free Gifts


Several months ago I mentioned a giveaway fellow speculative writer and friend Sally Apokedak has going. Those who sign up to receive a newsletter about children’s book, including young adults, will be entered in a sweepstakes with the possibility of winning a Google Nexus or Kindle Fire. The question has come up from time to time: with the possibility of winning such a cool prize, why doesn’t everyone who hears about it enter?

I’ve thought about several possibilities.

1. They already have an ereader and don’t think they need another.
2. They don’t want to take the time to fill out the form (which now only consists of supplying your name and email address).
3. They don’t want to give the required information. Originally subscribers were also asked for a physical address.
4. They don’t think they have a chance of winning.
5. They see so many give-aways, they are numb to them and barely notice them.
6. They don’t want the newsletter, so they aren’t willing to have it arrive, even twice a year, to clutter their inbox.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t about promotional giveaways. This morning I saw a clear parallel between those who decide to say no to an author’s giveaway, and those who say no to God’s great giveaway: the free gift of salvation by God’s grace through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.

The first reason seems to me to be the strongest. Those who say no to God’s free gift of salvation don’t think they need salvation. Maybe they think they’re good enough or that God is such a good guy he’ll overlook their reprehensible thoughts and behavior. After all, there are so many who are worse. You know, murderers and the like, people who nobody wants to hang with for eternity. As long as they’re not as bad as those guys, then maybe they can get by.

Another possibility is that they think they can do enough to earn their own salvation. Maybe they ascribe to the “no charity” motto.

Maybe they think they shouldn’t need salvation and are too proud to let everyone know they actually do.

Secondly, I suspect there’s a good number who say no to God’s free gift because they’re too busy to pay attention to His offer. They don’t want to slow down to find out what exactly they would have to do and how their lives would change if they said yes. They might even promise themselves “someday,” thinking they’ll give it more thought later.

Undoubtedly there are some in the third camp–they wouldn’t mind a free gift if the price weren’t so high. Well, yes, it’s free, but there’s personal information they have to disclose–sins they have to confess, truths they have to believe. Getting to a place where they are willing to be so personal is asking too much in their book.

It’s possible some say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t think it’s real. They think He doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care. Or they think their lives have been so unutterably evil that God couldn’t possibly extend salvation to them.

A fifth reason for saying no to God is that there are so many offers on the table, each saying this about God or that or the other. He’s interested in making you healthy and wealthy, he hates gays, he will bring everyone into heaven eventually, he is one with the universe–in us all and all of us in him–and so on. Who knows if the story about Jesus dying in their place to pay for their sins so that their salvation is free, is reliable and true when there are so many other possibilities?

Lastly, there are undoubtedly some who say no to God’s free gift of salvation because they don’t want to see Him showing up in their house, at their place of business, at their parties, or any of the other places they hang out. Salvation, frankly, isn’t appealing because God is attached to the gift. They don’t want “such a tyrant” bossing them around.

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so valuable, so necessary, so life-changing, and yet person after person refuses the free gift. They have their reasons, after all.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (4)  
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Deal Or No Deal – Notes From A Sermon


Mike Erre and Family

My church has been in the process of selecting a new senior pastor. Or maybe he’s going to be called the teaching pastor now. At any rate, Mike Erre, the candidate which the selection committee unanimously chose, preached on Sunday. Good message. Really good. A couple things stood out.

He spoke from Ephesians which more or less fit with a series we’ve been doing in the book. He opened by explaining that the book can be divided into two sections–the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

I haven’t checked this out, but he said in the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot, said Pastor Mike. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No, Pastor Mike said. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

He illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. As soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering right.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. Pastor Mike said that the command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. Pastor Mike said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

Good stuff. Memorable truth.

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on Deal Or No Deal – Notes From A Sermon  
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