“Free” Doesn’t Mean “Work For It”


(Got this image from here, but thought is was perfect!)

Have you ever felt like you’re just not as Christian as you should be? That the “new creation” still looks like the “old creation” or that these white robes you’ve been given just aren’t tailored to fit right?

That producing your “fruits” is taking a lot of effort and after all the work, they come out tasting more bitter than sweet?

Well…maybe you’re trying too hard.

Our culture has engrained in us that you only get what you earn. No free lunch. Reap what you sow. Earn your keep. Pull your weight. Success isn’t going to fall in your lap, you have to work for it. Work your way into heaven.

…did you catch that?

Many of us pay lip service to the concept that you can’t “earn salvation: it’s a free gift.” But while we may say it out loud, we deny it with our lifestyles. We take with us a works-brings-righteousness mentality that sprouts directly from our cultural ideals. It’s a frame of mind that Christians have struggled with since the very beginning.

We all come from a world of rules that govern religion, relationships, and lifestyle. There is a definite input-output formula with how we see things working, and so when we begin to learn about Jesus, salvation, grace and mercy, a lot of the message is foreign. Turn the other cheek? Pray for your enemies? Treat others as if they are better than you?

You can’t earn salvation?

And so we humbly accept with our heads that this is how it’s supposed to be and repeat the phrases we read in the Bible, but we carry with us in the back of our hearts, “It’s not real.” That there is something missing. Some measurable way to see where we stand in God’s favor. Some set of rules or actions to make us feel we’re on the right track. Because…there is no free lunch, you reap what you sow, you have to earn your keep!

Some of us study the scriptures looking for the fine print, “Aha! There it is! Abstain from alcohol! Don’t swear! Don’t eat certain foods! Ostracize smokers! Well maybe it doesn’t say that EXACTLY, but surely that’s what’s implied.” We then use what we feel we’ve discovered and apply it to those surrounding us, either silently or verbally comparing ourselves to those around us; gauging our “status.”

And we never let Christ work.

We try to earn salvation through our actions and deeds. We say with our mouth, “Salvation cannot be earned,” and yet we beat ourselves up for each mistake. We read in the scriptures “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus,” but turn around and condemn OURSELVES when we feel we don’t measure up. We hear in church worship, “Come as you are,” but try to hide from God and others our sins and failures.

And in our attempts to make ourselves more acceptable to God, more worthy of his “gift” and “love,” what we end up doing is preventing the Holy Spirit from working as effectively in our lives as he otherwise could if we just … let ….go.

Of our control to determine the best course of action. Of our will to determine our spiritual fate.

I firmly believe that the relationship we have with Christ is a partnership, that he wishes to accomplish something WITH us, not force something on us. Many of my previous posts focus on this point. But I wanted to take time to recognize we can also err on trying to do too much on our own. We can forget the promise Christ made to us to conform us to his image. We cannot force the “fruits” to grow, but – as Paul says – the fruits are “natural.” We plant and water the seeds, but it is God that causes the plant to grow.

Submitting to Christ as Lord means more than acknowledging his reign in our minds, but letting it settle in our hearts that we cannot become Christlike on our own. So stop trying, and just live. Because here’s the holy little secret…

…you’re already in…

Whether or not you become perfect in this life, you’re still “in.” You’re not standing outside the college campus, composing an essay to prove you should be accepted into the school. You are, in fact, already inside the classroom, being taught by Christ himself through life experiences and divine guidance.

So, here’s the application.

When circumstances present themselves to act as either the “new self” or the “old self,” you do what you can to hear the call Jesus is making – and you act. You may not have heard right, you may act wrongly or out of selfishness. But so long as you keep attending class and continue to try learning, you’ll pass with an “A+”.


You may also enjoy ideas like:

You are creating the future, the 2 Gods I struggle with, or what God’s will for your life is


6 thoughts on ““Free” Doesn’t Mean “Work For It”

  1. I want to comment on this under the assumption that this is too good to be true. But Grace is too good to be true. I cannot wrap my mind around the concept of being saved without having to do anything. I feel that if I stray from the perfect will of God that I’ll fall out of Grace. It’s too good to be true,

    Many denominations build a doctrine around what it takes on our part to appropriate Grace and my mind logically comes to those conclusions. Could it be that the only thing we must to do appropriate Grace is to simply believe in Jesus?

    • I truly believe that to be the essence of the Good News that Jesus brought. You’re not the only one to struggle with the concept either, all of us have to one extent or another. In fact, Paul wrote entire letters to large churches in direct response to people who were trying to add to the requirements (circumcision, eating certain foods, follow certain laws, etc.). In every case Paul tried to hammer the point home that we cannot earn MORE of God’s love and grace, we cannot become MORE holy through our deeds, and we cannot earn heaven or salvation. God gives it to us as a free gift when we come into a relationship with him, because there is no way FOR us to qualify. After believing, there is no condemnation in Christ for our simple mistakes (Romans 8:1), he has decided beforehand that whoever believes in Christ, God will conform into the image of his son so we just need to be responsive (Romans 8:29), and I really think that when Jesus said his yoke was light (Matthew 11:30) he was trying to emphasize the point that following him did not mean just taking on a new set of Jewish Laws, but instead to just do what you can to act in love – both to God and others (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, it is by loving others that others will know we are Christ’s (John 13:35).

      I don’t blame other denominations for adding things to try and better deserve the gift; churches have done that since the beginning. And that is because the gospel is so scandalous, so not of this world, that we initially don’t know how to respond to such grace and mercy. We spend our whole lives trying to let it sink in. But every step of the way, God offers us comfort and guidance – if we are willing to listen. 😉

  2. Pingback: Sowing and reaping | daily meditation

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