Wayne and the free cheese
"But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of
one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by
one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that
sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the
free gift is of many offences unto justification... Therefore as by the offence
of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness
of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom
Who wouldn't want a "free gift"? And that's what salvation is,
isn't it? The free gift of God, given -- like all free gifts -- with no strings
Well, let me tell you about "free gifts". Or, rather, let
Wayne tell us about free gifts...
You see, Wayne is a school teacher, a group that haven't
exactly taken a vow of poverty, but they've come close! And it certainly was
close enough some years ago, when Wayne discovered that, according to a special
set of federal guidelines, his beginning teacher's salary qualified him for a
particular government give-away program.
It seems that the federal government, through one of those
high-level bureaucratic management decisions, had somehow financed a vast
nationwide overproduction of cheese. Millions of pounds of the stuff was stacked
up in warehouses around the country, where even with all the proper
refrigeration and other precautions it could only be stored for so
So what to do? Moving rapidly (for a change?), the federal
government let it be known that individuals and families falling below certain
levels of annual income would be eligible for... free cheese! And sure enough,
Wayne's full-time teacher salary qualified for this special benefit. Ten pounds
of free cheese! What could be better?
Now comes the interesting part.
All you have to do, it turns out, is show up at a certain
government building at a certain time, with all the proper paperwork (pay stubs,
past years' tax returns, photo ID, etc), wait in line for what seems an
interminable time, answer a number of questions... and then the "free cheese"
can be yours... IF you meet all the qualifications!
And so Wayne finally returned home with the free cheese... and
a valuable lesson: Very few things in life, certainly very few things of any
value, come with no price tag. Even things that are "free" cost
And so it is on the infinitely grander scale of human
interactions with the Almighty. So it is with what Paul called the "free gift"
of justification, or righteousness, or salvation.
What does this "free gift" really cost?
Now here's the marvelous thing. Despite the "price" that must
be paid -- despite the knowledge, the time, the place, the credentials, the
waiting -- despite all these "qualifications", the gift -- when it finally comes
-- will still be a "free gift". No amount of knowledge, no amount of "good
works", no amount of patient waiting, will ever be enough to "earn" such a gift!
- First, we need to know that we qualify for the "free gift". So many
actually qualify, who never know about it... and they perish for lack of
knowledge: how terribly sad!
- Secondly, we need to know where the "free
gift" will be dispensed. They don't just give it away anywhere: you have to know
the location. In this case, the "location" is Christ, the mercy-seat of God.
"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven
given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
- Then, of course, we
need to know when the "free gift" will be dispensed. And we need to be in the
right place at the right time to receive it. Fortunately, there are many "right
places" to receive this gift... wherever other believers are gathered together,
raising their petitions to heaven, through the one mediator. Or even if the
single believer is all alone, on a mountaintop or in a closet, he or she can
still find the way to the throne of God: "Therefore, brothers, since we have
confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and
living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we
have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a
sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse
us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb
- And we must not forget our proper support documents... not pay
stubs and tax returns, but our names, through confession and repentance and
baptism, properly inscribed on heavenly "documents": "Rejoice that your names
are written in heaven" (Luk 10:20). "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the
heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God... to the church of the
firstborn, whose names are written in heaven" (Heb 12:22,23).
- Finally... if
we are willing to wait, and wait, and wait some more... then, at last, we will
receive our "free gift": "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in
prayer" (Rom 12:12). "Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See
how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he
is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm" (Jam
When it comes, it comes from the blessed Hand of a loving
Father, who desires that we share all His bounty. But it does not come to those
who do not know, it does not come to those who do not act on their knowledge,
and it does not come to those who do not wait, patiently and prayerfully, for
it. In that sense, it has a real "price tag"! In that sense the "free gift" of
eternal life will cost us our whole life: "For whoever wants to save his life
will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? Or what
can a man give in exchange for his life?" (Mar 8:35-37).
But who wouldn't gladly pay over his whole life to "buy" such
a "free gift"?