In one of my classes this morning – amidst talk of morality and revenge and Nietzsche’s [frankly odd] views of justice and punishment – we arrived at the happy tangent of the Gospel promise and what it meant for the Christian life, especially as it pertains to the factor of human choice coupled by divine sovereignty.
“Imagine you have been offered the chance at a luxurious trip by which you can skip school without punishment, and that trip is fully paid,” said one student, or something along those lines. “That is the Gospel.”
“If it’s been fully paid, why would you not accept the offer?” asked another.
Precisely, thought many people throughout the room. A few said it out loud.
“But if you get on the plane and go on the trip, what prevents you from doing bad things?” asked another, this in response to the matter we had been discussing, that idea of a true Christian not continuing on in an abundantly sinful life. “What motive do they have to do the will of the one who paid the price? The metaphorical salvation has already been grasped, so why do good things at all?” From this broke out discourse over definitions of mercy and grace and sin, and in no time we had wandered so deeply into the weeds that every Calvinist and Arminian in the room was getting sweaty at their palms.
Then Nietzsche came calling once again, and our tangent came to an abrupt end. Back to what we were actually supposed to be discussing.
But this thought stuck with me throughout the day, and I wanted to expound upon this idea, as it is a crucial one. If the Christian Gospel is true (which I believe it is), what motivation has a person to refrain from sinning, lest grace necessarily abound? Once the plane ticket is in hand, need we obey the will of the person who bought us the ticket in the first place?
Of course, I think mere recognition of a full-paid trip of luxury should be enough motivation to do the will of He who paid it (Surely a person willing to pay such a price for little-old-me is worth serving!), but perhaps in perfecting the metaphor I can shed greater light:
On the Trip Fully Paid
You see, the trip being offered to us is not simply a day trip to the Florida Keys by which we get to skip classes without threat of failure. Rather, it comes in the form of a marriage proposal, by which the humblest and greatest and most gracious Suitor now stands before your door with tickets in hand – tickets to an everlasting honeymoon in a place beyond your wildest dreams – and those tickets were paid for with nothing less than His very life. (Luckily for you, your Suitor happens so be in the resurrection business, allowing Him to stand before you today.) He is the most gentlemanly of gentlemen and the noblest of all knights, the truest of all truth-tellers and the only good man to have ever existed. You, on the other hand, are by comparison the vilest of all that is vile and the deceiver of deceivers and the worst of the worst, and it is by no logical appeal that He now kneels before you with tickets in hand, but only His gracious and forgiving love that seeks to call you His bride.
And so now the offer is made: He has tickets in His one hand, but He has a ring in the other. He has paid for the honeymoon you could have never paid for (nor fathomed) and has offered you a life with Him that you could have never deserved. All you must do is accept the offer.
So we see that it is by His grace and through our faith that we respond, trusting that His offer is true and no deception is found in His heart. No work you could have done has earned you this proposal – it is gratis, free of charge – but make no mistake, there is great cost in your response. You must die to yourself – be born again, as it were. Your maiden name must fall away and you must take on His name, to be found “in Christ,” anointed as His very bride. You were raised by the world, yes, but “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24) – you no longer answer to the authority previously set before you (not as your ultimate authority, at least), but now cling to the Groom with whom you have become united. You did not earn the offer and there is nothing you could have done to earn it, but as He kneels before you with ring and tickets – grace – in hand, there will be a great measure of cost in how you choose to respond. As with any bride, your response herein changes everything – it will define the course of your life.
Yes, or No?
But now the question arises once more: “Why would you not accept this proposal? He is the perfect man overcome with sacrificial love for you, and any woman would be lucky to call Him her Groom! Why would you not jump at the opportunity?” (Precisely, I would say, yet there are many who quite evidently disagree or else the whole world would be prostrated before the cross even as I write.)
The way I see it, there are two possible reasons one might answer “No” to this majestic proposal and trip fully paid, and both are closely interconnected: One comes in the topic of holiness and the other in the matter of faithfulness.
I. HOLINESS. In regard to the first, I will try to be brief. Have you ever spent a great deal of time with a person and not begun to reflect their character traits? It is surely impossible, if ample amounts of time are spent together. Now consider this proposal at hand: He is Good – in fact, He is God – and you are the sinner, and you recognize that in marriage to such marvelous Groom, change is inevitable. By spending life with Him, you will, in time, become set apart from the world and you will, in time, begin to reflect His very character. When people look to you, they will think of Him; that’s how marriage works. In part, this scares us – What if I fail Him? What if He looks down on me upon seeing how deeply I have fallen? – to which I would say, “You will fail Him time and time again, make no mistake, but He already knows the worst and yet His offer still stands.”
On the other end, this offends us – What if I don’t want to change? What if I like my sin? What if I don’t want to be set apart? – to which Hamlet would say, “With this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.” Our offense is too great, and the inevitability of change turns us away, and so we see that for many, holiness itself is enough to make them say “No” to the greatest marriage possible, offered by He who designed marriage in the first place. They want Him to be theirs, but they do not want to be His.
II. FAITHFULNESS. Then comes the matter of faithfulness, to which I will ask, “What is faith?” We know that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9), but what is faith? It is certainly not a work and it is quite evidently a matter of the heart, we know that much…but what is it truly? What is faith?
For this, let us return again to the metaphor of marriage. By what means is a husband proved faithful to his wife, or the bride in return to her groom? Certainly Christ is always faithful unto us – He now kneels before us with tickets and ring in His hands, even after we scourged Him and mocked Him and nailed Him to a tree – but how are we to be faithful to Him? A wife might profess to be faithful when she first stands at the altar and says, “I do,” but of course that faithfulness will be put to test in the years to come. Will she run like Gomer into the arms of another, or does she stay true to her beloved as the Shulamite to Solomon – “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song 6:3) ?
“What you are describing sounds a lot like works,” you might say, but be careful: The bride’s practiced monogamy and willpower to refrain from adultery does not make her faithful; it only bears evidence to her faithfulness. As we have discussed, faith is a matter of the heart, and so we see the truth of the matter: You are saved by grace through faith, but “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17). Works are not the means, but the evidence, of your faith. Works do nothing but bear testimony to what already dwells within. A spouse is faithful by heart, but that faithfulness of heart is demonstrated through faithful action.
“So is this to say that I am to remain sinless or else be damned?” you now ask, to which I will remind you not to constraint God. Remember, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). As a man, all I can do is make a judgment by testing the fruit they produce, for “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16); God, however, is not limited by the ways of man. The Lord knows the true contents of your very heart and He alone stands justified as the final Judge who makes the final call, and so I trust that sin though I might, I am no longer a slave to sin. Tempted though I may be by the desires of my past and weak though I may be in stumbling onto my old ways, I have but one Master, one Groom, to whom my heart truly belongs. All I know is that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:21-23) Just as a man who trains vigorously and eats healthily will find himself in better shape than the idle man of no motivation, so one who is found in Christ will become like light to the world (Mt 5:14) because he is best friends and has become one with He who was first and always shall be the Light of the World (Jn 8:12).
So we now see the only reasons why one would deny this great proposal, this trip fully paid: either they do not want to sacrifice on behalf of Him or they do not want to sacrifice because of Him. The trip is beyond their wildest dreams and He is the greatest Groom imaginable, but the proposal has come at what they could consider an inopportune time that doesn’t precisely fit their plans. And so they deny Him marriage and shoo Him away, rejecting the only One who could have ever provided a life of satisfaction.
Regardless of how one looks at it, it comes down to the fact that they would have Him to be their one of many, but not their one and only. They want the honeymoon, but forsake the vows. They want the intimacy and blessings that come from marriage…without actually being married.
NOW LET’S BE HONEST…Given our present culture and how they treat marriage, can we truly be surprised? Yet that is another matter for another day. Thanks for reading, and God bless.