There’s no such thing as a free lunch. We may not pay for it, but someone does. The same is true for everything politicians offer to get votes. Free education, free trash collection, free healthcare – none of those are really free. Either we pay for them in some way, or someone else pays for us. This is also true of the salvation offered in Christ.
Salvation is free, but it wasn’t cheap. We don’t buy our way in with either money or good works or sweat equity. No one earns salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95) That free grace of God came through the cross of Jesus. Salvation is free, but it was bought with a terrible price.
Some have scoffed that since God knew Jesus would be raised again to life that “it wasn’t much of a sacrifice.” But consider this. When we consider the Trinity, we recognize that the unity and relationship between Father God and God the Son are eternal. Yet that which is inseparable became separate as God looked away as Jesus carried our sin and suffered our punishment. “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”” (Matthew 27:46, NASB95) There is no way to express in limited and finite words the heartache and pain Jesus and God felt in that moment when the inseparable experienced death and separation.
No, salvation wasn’t and isn’t cheap, but it is free. Isaiah prophesied, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5, NASB95)
But in a sense, while salvation in Christ is free, it also “costs” us something. Salvation “costs” us our brokenness, our sinful habits, our self-centeredness, our pride – in fact, it “costs” us our lives. Not that we sacrifice ourselves to gain God’s favor but that we exchange our old life for a new life in Him. Paul wrote, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, NASB95) Some have rightly called this the “Great Exchange.” We give God our junk; He gives us more than we can possibly imagine.
And here we enter a bit of a quandary. When we turn our lives over to Christ and receive His forgiveness, we are fully saved. We are no more saved at the moment of our last breath, then we are at the moment when we first accept Christ. And yet, as we grow in Christ, we do (and should) more fully walk into that salvation. My attitudes, desires, intentions, sin-habits, life choices, and world view have changed greatly since that first day, and they continue to do so. Call that the true fruit of repentance. Not that we are completely pure from sin, but that we turn from it and towards Jesus whenever we see it.
Salvation is free, but we still need to work it out. To grow into it. Paul wrote, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, NASB95) We are fully saved, yet every day our salvation in Christ should become more real in every corner of our lives.