“Place your order by December 31st and get a free gift!”
“Drop your business card in the box and have a chance for a free gift!”
“Just say this prayer and you’ll receive eternal life as a free gift!”
Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard offers like this all your life. Perhaps they all seem to weigh in at about the same value. The Christian “gospel” has been cheapened to the point of being little more than a promotional gimmick. It costs you nothing, and in fact, you get what you pay for — some passing good feelings followed by an uncomfortable emptiness. Your life is still going nowhere and you’re powerless to change the destructive habits that gnaw away at your dignity. You’d think that being “saved” and having “eternal life” ought to mean that you were set free from such things!
“Salvation is a free gift.” It says that in the Bible, doesn’t it? So what good is it?
It’s true. The Bible does say, in Romans 6:23, that “the free gift of God is Eternal Life...” So salvation is a free gift, but to whom is it given?
The Apostle Paul said to some who heard the gospel that they judged themselves “unworthy of eternal life.”1 Unworthy? But if it’s free, how can a person be worthy or unworthy of it? What does a person’s worth have to do with his eligibility to receive a free gift?
Well, it does say that they rejected Paul’s message, so evidently there was a way a person could respond to Paul that would render him unworthy to receive the free gift of eternal life. But that doesn’t line up with what you’ve been told! Any Christian tract will tell you that all you have to do is say the “sinner’s prayer” to receive the free gift of salvation — you don’t have to listen to any man. And anyway, what was it that Paul could have said to them that was so hard to accept?
Hmmm. There’s something else in the Bible that talks about being unworthy of salvation. Yahshua Himself said it:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37-38)
Or, as Luke recorded it:
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple... So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:26,27,33)
So a person must prove himself worthy of salvation by receiving the message of the gospel that calls him to forsake mother, father, wife, children, brothers, sisters — even his own life and all of his possessions. If that was the message Paul was preaching, it’s no wonder they rejected him! But in doing so, they proved themselves unworthy of eternal life. What then does that say about Christians today who only embrace a “gospel” that excludes these “hard words” of the Master?
It is a fact that God grants the free gift of eternal life only to those who prove themselves worthy of His Son by obeying the gospel. The Apostle Peter confirms this:
And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)
As does the writer of Hebrews:
And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation... (Hebrews 5:9)
On the other hand, God has something else in store for those who do not obey the gospel:
...dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power... (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
So the true gospel is a message not to be merely accepted in the mind but to be obeyed, and faith is the key to obedience. In fact, the faith that enables you to obey comes by hearing the gospel from someone who has himself obeyed it — someone who is sent from a place where the gospel is being lived out:
“Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17)
Without faith it is impossible to obey the gospel. Without faith it is impossible to please Him.2 What pleases Him is total trust and surrender, and that is the result of the kind of faith that comes from hearing the true gospel. But this response of faith might seem mystical were it not for the practical demonstration that is carefully preserved for us in the Book of Acts:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:37-40)
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. (Acts 2:41-45)
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
Those who were “pierced to the heart” in Acts 2:37 did not actually receive the faith to obey the “many other words” of Acts 2:40 until after they had heard them. They needed to hear what the gospel required before they received the faith to obey it, thus proving themselves worthy of Him.