The Gift and the Condition
The Bible tells us that salvation is a gift. As discussed in the previous post, this means that God gives us what we cannot earn ourselves.
However, also noted in yesterday’s post is the fact that it is not incongruous for a person offering a gift to include conditions. Scripture teaches that the condition related to the gospel is saving faith. I have been seeking to make the case that saving faith includes repentance and submission to the authority of Christ, that is, a willingness to turn from the old life to that prescribed in Scripture.
One problem with presenting a free gift gospel that does not inform the listener of this essence of saving faith is found in the incongruity between this message and the necessary follow-up.
Such a scenario has the evangelist telling the unbeliever, “Salvation is a free gift. You merely need to reach out and take it,” which leads to a prayer in which the person acknowledges that Jesus died for his sin and receives the gift of eternal life.
Let’s say this person is a more or less typical twenty-something guy who is living with his girlfriend, watched movies containing nudity and other forms of ungodliness, cheating and lying when it was convenient, and spending most of his free time playing video games, many of them including ungodly elements. Having received the free gift of eternal life with no strings attached, his inclination is to persist in his current lifestyle but now with the assurance that he has eternal life.
Normally it is assumed that the evangelist would begin follow-up at this point, encouraging the person to start reading the Bible, praying, and attending church. From a biblical perspective this discussion should also include baptism.
However, how does the evangelist accomplish this initial follow-up work without sounding like a bait and switch used car salesman? He just assured the person receiving the gospel that he only needed to receive the free gift of eternal life to be saved. Now that the person has received his free gift the evangelist begins talking about all of the things he ought to start doing.
“I would like to invite you to a free weekend at Holiday Resorts, and we will even give you $50 to buy meals while you are there. What can you possibly lose? When is the last time you and your wife have gone away for a weekend? You owe it to yourself to take advantage of this free offer. The weekend of November 15-17 works for you? That’s great. I’ve got you signed up. I know you will have a great time. Oh by the way, a condition related to receiving the free weekend is attending a presentation on Saturday afternoon starting at 2 o’clock. But don’t worry, it only lasts a couple of hours.”
Likewise, any attempt at follow-up using a free gift gospel message comes across as an “Oh by the way…” line in a timeshare sales pitch. The person receiving this gospel can rightfully respond, “You said eternal life was a free gift. I received a gift. I am not interested in getting involved further.”
The Free Gift and Culture Shift
Prior to the 60s the free gift gospel did not have a significantly adverse impact because our culture informed people that receiving Christ included a commitment to turn from one’s prior lifestyle to that prescribed in the Word of God. Therefore, though these issues were not included in the gospel presentation, the recipient nonetheless understood them as being part of the package. Consequently, when the presenter launched into his follow-up material the recipient was not put off, but rather expected, and even appreciated this helpful direction in his new relationship with the Lord.
Not so in today’s culture with its foundational concept of unconditional acceptance. The attitude tends to be, “Well of course God accepts me just as I am. I can understand why God would want a relationship with me, and therefore it makes sense that He would offer the free gift of salvation. And since I’m okay just as I am, He should not expect anything more of me.”
As a result, the contemporary recipient takes the free gift dimension of this message at face value and accepts eternal life while rejecting the rest of the package. An added concern is that if this person does show up at church he will be put off by any sermon calling him to a holy lifestyle since this also will violate the unconditional terms of the gift that he received.
Because of this culture shift, the free gift gospel presentation is especially dangerous in contemporary America. The good news is that receiving Christ in large measure is a heart issue. Many people are genuinely saved even in response to a truncated gospel message. However, in today’s world employing such a message can lead to misunderstanding resulting in the person not making a commitment to Christ and consequently having an unfounded hope of eternal life. Evidence exists that many of those connected with evangelical churches today possess this type of false confidence.