The title of this post may seem puzzling. How can grace be both free and costly? That is simply contradictory. Yet I think that this is a paradox that we see in Scripture and which I have been trying to work out in my head. We receive salvation through the free gift of God’s grace and yet the fact that it is free does not mean that it will cost us nothing to receive it. How can this be?
That we receive salvation as a free gift is undoubtedly true. Scripture tells us, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is a pivotal point of the Gospel. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and the faith which saves us? It is a gift. A gift, by definition, is something you cannot earn or attempt to pay for. For then it would be cease to be a gift. This point Paul emphasizes so that we can all understand that none of us can boast. If we want salvation, we must receive it humbly, giving all the glory to God.
In this sense then, grace is free. With all my works, I could never have been good enough to earn it. With all my money, I could never have afforded it. And the real truth is that with all my sin and wickedness, I did not even want it. Yet here I stand in the grace of God. It is free and it has freed me.
However, salvation is not “free” in the same way that the samples at Sam’s Club are free. That is free in the sense of instant gratification with no cost and no lifestyle implications. The offer of the Gospel is very different. Mercy is weightier stuff. It lays claim to our lives. Christ did not die merely to dole out forgiveness to passersby, but to purchase souls. If we want His grace, we must be ready to give our devotion. If we want His life, we must be prepared to surrender ours.
In a strange sense, the grace of God would be less costly if it was less free. If God merely wanted our money, our good deeds, our lip service, I think many would be more willing to take His offer because we would still be able to retain the one thing we all cringe at relinquishing: the thrones of our hearts. For if the Gospel is really free, if God has really in His sovereignty, reached down and saved me, changing the trajectory of my life from eternal wrath to eternal life, then there is a very great cost. I cannot be the person I was because God has changed my very identity from child of wrath to child of God. I cannot live as Lord of my own life because because Christ has bought and paid for the right to be not just my Savior, but my Lord. Yes, grace is free, but its implications are weighty. I am not my own. For grace has made me His.
This should cause us to consider the offer of the Gospel with due sobriety. We should marvel at the glory of free grace and yet consider the cost of receiving it. We must hear the warning of Christ Himself: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27). These are sobering words indeed. They tell us that being a disciple of Christ may cost us everything, our dearest relationships or even our very lives.
Indeed, many who have chosen to follow Christ, have been led by Christ down paths of suffering that they would never have chosen for themselves. This is the cost of free grace: complete submission and avowal that we will follow Christ wherever He may lead. Yet, the cost does not come without promise and the promise is very, very good. The promise is that no matter where Christ may take us or what He may ask us to do, it will be worth it.
Paul understood the promise. He tells us that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). And in Philippians, he vows to embrace the cost and sufferings of belonging to Christ, even calling it rubbish, all that He might gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9). Paul understood that there was a cost, but that whatever the cost might be, it was simply incomparable to the prize.
Thus we see that grace is free and yet costly, that the cost is both great and yet so transient in the grand scheme of things as to ultimately be counted as nothing. Let us then consider with sobriety the weighty offer of the Gospel and the far-reaching implications it has for our lives, but let us also consider that if a cost must be paid, something must be given in return. Those who do count the cost and consider the worth of the prize will see that it is so much more than worth it. For ultimately, following Christ must necessarily lead us to Christ and Christ Himself is the source of life and salvation and the treasure who is worth more than any price.