“God gave His Son for you. What are you willing to give for Him?”
I hear that a lot. It gets on those oft-maligned Christian t-shirts. And it was also written in chalk on a public park my wife and I visited some months ago (see below).
And I wonder if this is a good way to word the question.
Christians who know the Scriptures may not have a problem with it, because they already know there’s nothing they can do to earn God’s salvation. We know that our sins are too bad, and God is too good; only Christ by His grace through faith can save us.
But every once in a while you’ll meet a Christian who seems to have a wrong understanding: “Jesus gave His life for me, so I gave my life to Him.” Quid pro quo. This-for-that.
So if a Christian, who should understand God’s grace, can fall into that kind of thinking, how much worse could an non-Christian, outside of grace, interpret that slogan?
It’s not a heresy. But it’s not helpful either. Christians should clean up their jargon. Here’s why.
Ye have heard that it was said …
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. What are you willing to give?”
Public park sidewalk slogan (artist unknown): “God so loved the world [that] he gave his only begotten son. What are you willing to give?”
Using Scripture, an evangelistic tract gives an overall-good presentation of man’s need for God, and the need to accept Jesus. But it concludes with something like, “Jesus gave his life for you, so won’t you give your life for him?”
What’s the truth in this?
Salvation is not easy — it was not easy for Jesus to die to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and it’s not easy to admit one’s sin, repent and turn to the only Savior.
Some Christian evangelists may commit the opposite error, saying repeatedly something like “all you need to do is believe.” This is true, and for those who wrongly believe Christianity is about earning one’s way to Heaven, it could be vital to emphasize the comparative “easiness” of it.
However, often an “easy believe-ism” approach minimizes the raw, anguish-inducing, personally humbling fact that one’s repentance coincides with his or her belief in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). Jesus said that those who follow Him would need to deny themselves and “take up his cross” (Matthew 16: 24-26). In that sense, we do need to “give” something to follow Him — that is, give up our selfish desires, our arrogance, ourselves.
What’s the lie in this?
But what is the religious “default setting” in non-Christians, or sometimes even in Christians? Is it remembering that salvation is all God’s doing? Or is it thinking that what we give, either before or after salvation, is what impresses God?
I don’t know about you, but my “default setting” is not total trust in God’s grace. It’s reliance on (what I think are) my own good deeds. By default, I would drift out of orbit around Christ and His Gospel, pulled by the gravity of old Earth back into religious legalism — even as a Christian.
This is why it’s vital to remind ourselves of God’s word and His grace as often as possible.
So if Christians can struggle with that, what does a nonbeliever think after reading or hearing a message like “God gave his son for you; what will you give to him”? Put yourself in the place of a nonbeliever. By default, they don’t think, “Oh, God is incredible; He’s given me so much, and I’ve been so rebellious against Him; I need to be saved.” Instead they might think:
“Huh … those religious types … trying to get people to be good.” (Note: misses the “Jesus gave His life” part. Most people know the crucifixion story, but naturally don’t care.)
“Nice to know they think God loves me … maybe I should be more loving too. …”
“Yeah … Jesus set a good example, dying and all of that, so I really should get to work and feed hungry children.” (Note: this is the really convicted reaction! Again, no conviction of sin against anyone — especially God — and the need to repent, and no basis in God’s grace.)
Next week: related Scriptures, and further in. …