What does it mean when something is free? I took the students last night through Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts 13 & 14. I wanted to emphasize the importance of following God and sharing God with everyone no matter the cost. I ended up spending a good deal of time on that one word, “cost.” In Acts 14 Paul is stoned for his work as a missionary, there was a very real cost to his work.
It seems like we get really nervous about using the word “cost” in church. It sounds too…obligatory. Henry David Thoreau said, “the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.” I think we have done such a good job of championing the fact that salvation cannot be bought or earned that we have turned it in to something that is simply consumed.
I asked the students last night: Assuming a perfect world where everyone is good, if someone walks up to you and gives you a candy bar, what does it cost you to enjoy that gift? We agreed, you pretty much just have to eat it. There’s nothing really to it. It’s free. I think that we sometimes see salvation that way. It’s a free candy bar that we get to enjoy without actually paying any price, giving up anything, or even putting forth any effort.
I made up a story to help our students understand the idea that the cost of salvation is surrender. The story goes: “a general decides to rebel against his nation, so he takes his followers and he wages war with his country. He comes to the realization during one particular battle that he cannot win, there is no hope of victory. So he waves the white flag, goes to the opposing general and surrenders.”
I asked the students what it cost him to live? They gave me answers like, “his pride.” But as we talked about it I helped them understand that the price he paid for life, for hope, was surrender. He surrendered his pride, he surrendered his position, he surrenders his very life to the mercy of the opposing general. Had he kept fighting he would eventually have been completely destroyed. But that was an option. He could have fought to the last man…to the death. He chose to surrender and in doing so, was able to receive life.
I know the story isn’t perfect, but it helped them understand the point I was trying to make. When we “accept Christ” or “invite Jesus into our heart” it is not simply an acceptance of a free gift, it is surrender to the One True King, making him Lord of our Life, realizing that without him, there is no hope.