The Agora
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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 5:15-18).
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 attached?

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 long.

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 something!

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!

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"?

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