The Price for Everything



Do you want everything (everything good anyway)? Well it’s being offered to you…but for a price.

A lot of Christians get lulled into an over-simplification of their faith. This over-simplification deconstructs into a dangerous conclusion that there is nothing we have to *do* (i.e. a “work) in order to attain eternal life. They say that if your salvation requires “work” on your part, then you have implied that Jesus’ work was not enough or that His Grace is insufficient. Not only are both of those conclusions illogical, but they lead to a Christianity where there is nothing that one *has* to do (which is not Christianity at all).

Eternal salvation requires work on our part, not because Jesus’ work was insufficient, but because God requires us to work! When I require that my 3 yr-old son pick up his toys in order to get dessert, it doesn’t therefore follow that I am unable to pick up the toys myself. That would be nonsense. I just require that my son make the effort because I know it’s just and it’s good for him (and then I usually have to tidy them up properly myself even after his effort). I don’t require that he do it perfectly, but I do require that he make the effort.

And the requirement to make the effort (i.e. do some work) doesn’t therefore mean that God’s Grace must not be enough. In fact, it is only by His Grace that we are able to even *make the effort* in the first place! All Grace and Grace alone. This is (and always has been) Catholic teaching.

Is a Christian required to love? Yes. Is a Christian required to forgive? Yes. Is a Christian required to give up their own life for Christ and others? Yes. All of these require effort on our part. God could do them for us, but he prefers to work through our effort and free choice to cooperate with his Grace. It is that free choice which God gives us that makes real love even possible in our universe.

So is eternal life still offered to us as a “free” gift? Sure. But even free gifts, by the nature of the gift, can require something on the part of the receiver.

If somebody offers me free swimming lessons, I don’t actually receive swimming lessons by just passively sitting there, “accepting” them and proclaiming how much I believe in swimming lessons. No. To receive the swimming lessons it requires me to do something. I’ve gotta make an effort and I’ve gotta jump in and get wet.

That’s what choosing to be Christian is all about. It’s not some magical process by which we are given a free pass to get in to heaven without us having to do anything. On the contrary, it’s a free opportunity to let God’s Grace work on you by surrendering all, forgiving unconditionally and loving genuinely so that the trials and challenges of this world are transformed into things that sanctify you for the next.

Leonardo Da Vinci nailed it when he said “O Lord, thou givest us everything, at the price of an effort.”

Everything. But you have to make the effort to participate in the gift. Time to jump in with both feet and get wet.

[photo credit]

14 comments Add comment

Kyle de Beausset October 5, 2012 at 8:35 am

This post reminds me a little bit of a Matisyahu’s song “Searchin'”:

In the Earth, there are so many wonderful treasures. And if you know where to dig, you will find gold, diamonds, jewellery, all kinds of treasures. But if you don’t know where to dig, all you will find is rocks and dirt. A rebbe is the geologist of the soul. He can show you where to dig, and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself.

Alex October 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm

The ongoing debate between grace vs. works is one in which, as you’ve mentioned before, Catholics and Protestants probably agree on more than people might think (when understood correctly). Sadly though, I have met Catholics who believe that they have to reach a critical mass of “doing good” in order to get to heaven and fellow Protestants who believe that they can just “take it easy” because they accepted Christ as their lord and savior.

Thanks for the post.

Steve Hopper October 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

The Bible makes it crystal clear that salvation from sin (i.e., “being saved”) is 100% a free gift from God. It is not something that we could ever achieve by “doing” anything, because as sinners, we can never “do” enough to be worthy of salvation. So good works are not necessary to reach the point of salvation. As an example, one of the thieves who died on a cross next to Jesus is in Heaven, even though he didn’t achieve his salvation through good works. He was saved by his faith alone.

However, if one does not do good works after salvation, then there is no evidence that they were ever saved. In other words, good works are definitely expected of us after salvation, but they are not the cause of it. Put another way, good works are not required from us to achieve salvation, but if someone who claims to follow Jesus never does good works, then obviously they were never truly saved to start with. They are either misled, or a fraud.

Salvation can never be achieved; it can only be accepted. But if we are truly saved, we will do good works.

Matthew Warner November 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Steve – First, Jesus disagrees with you.

“One came up to him, saying, `Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And Jesus replied ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments‘” (Matt. 19:16-17). Pretty clear. He didn’t say, just have “faith alone” (which appears nowhere in the bible EXCEPT where it is explaining we are “not saved by faith alone” (James 2:24). Not sure how much more clear scripture could be on the subject.

Additionally, you just said we have to “accept” salvation. That’s DOING something. So you are contradicting yourself. First you say we don’t have to do anything, then you say we do have to do something. The rest of your points are already addressed in the post. And many of them are further expounded upon in the other linked-to posts throughout this post. I think you might find some of them interesting and hopefully helpful.

God bless and thanks for commenting!

Steve Hopper November 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Matthew, with all due respect, you are taking the story of the rich young man out of context. You only told half the story.

Before I explain, let me point out that the difference here is sin. Technically it is *possible* to go to Heaven without being “saved,” assuming one never sins in the first place. After all, Hell is only for sinners. But since even the smallest sin eternally separates us from God, we don’t have that option of going to heaven because we’re perfect.

Now, back to the full story of that rich young man. When Jesus told him that all he needed to do was keep the commandments, this was technically correct, as I stated above — assuming the man really had done so and never sinned. If he were really perfect, he wouldn’t have needed to overcome his sin. But Jesus knew this arrogant man’s heart before. The man clearly thought of himself as perfect, so he replied to Jesus, “All these (commandments) I have kept,” which was clearly a lie, and Jesus knew it.

Then Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, hit him where it really hurt and told him he should sell his possessions and give his money to the poor. One could paraphrase Jesus’ words this way: “OK, Mr. Perfect, if you’re so perfect and never do anything wrong, just sell all your stuff and give everything to the poor.” Jesus knew he wouldn’t do that, and that’s why the rich man went away sorrowful. Once he had sinned, his “works” couldn’t save him, but his faith could.

Also, you claim that “accepting” salvation through Jesus Christ is “works.” I disagree, by definition. “Works” are good deeds, not mere actions. Salvation is a GIFT. When you receive a gift from a gift giver, you did nothing to earn the gift. It is given by the giver in love, with grace. Humble acceptance of a gift is different from doing good works to earn it. We must not confuse these two concepts. After all, when I do good works by serving the hungry or the sick, or any of “the least of these” Jesus spoke of, did they do something to earn my care? Of course not.

Since you so condescendingly told me that Jesus disagrees with me, let me point out what else Jesus said. If works are required for salvation, then Jesus would have been lying when he said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) to one of the thieves being executed on the adjacent crosses. It’s clear from the thief’s words that he had faith in his last moments, but no opportunity to do good works. So if works were required, he’d have been toast, unlike what Jesus promised him.

Finally, Ephesians 2:8-9 makes this issue crystal-clear: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.” That pretty much buttons up this question.

Peace, friend.

Nick October 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I’m new to your site, but I just wanted to say that you write well. I’m enjoying reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Matthew Warner October 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Thanks, Nick!

Eileen November 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm

“…grace is intensified wherever effort is made.”

“When we set limits to our service of God, God does not respond by setting limits to His benefits. On the other hand, the more generous we are toward Him, the more generous and liberal He will be toward us, even in this life.”

“Help me reach that glory which I must win through God’s grace and my own efforts and which will be proportioned to the fervor of those efforts.”

Imitation of Mary by Alexander De Rouville

Jesse December 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm

This shouldn’t be an argument. A Christian will do works of some sort. He can’t help himself. The love of Christ compells him. Is the disagreement really about the order of events? Faith and works, then salvation? Or, faith and salvation, then works? God doesn’t see things on a timeline the same way we do. Just a thought. I love the way we Catholic and non – Catholic Christians seem to “keep each other honest”.

Steve Hopper December 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Does a tree come first, or its fruit?

Of course God sees things in a timeline. Just look at how His plan for the world is unfolding. There is a timeline for everything in life: Birth comes after pregnancy, which in turn comes after conception; otherwise, God would just create fully born babies in the first place.

Back to the point: It’s clear that works can happen without faith. This is evident with many atheist friends of mine, who are “good people.” But true faith cannot exist without works, which are fruits of the spirit. Faith without works is dead.

Jesse December 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm

My point that, “God doesn’t see things on a timeline the same way we do”, would perhaps have been more clearly stated, ” He doesn’t see things from within the timeline the way we do.” This is how He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). I’m sure you would agree that He already knows the works we will do. (Ephesians 2:10)

I’m merely trying to find a way to make peace within the body of Christ. If we fail to do that, I believe the enemy will continue to laugh and non – believers will continue to scoff. (John 17:21) Grace and peace to you.

Steve Hopper December 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Amen to your clarified point, Jesse. I agree that God supersedes time, but he uses time to suit his will.

Regarding finding a way to make peace within the body of Christ, brothers and sisters in Christ can respectfully disagree on issues in a way that is acceptable to God. For example, my wife and I are one in God’s eyes, but we still don’t always agree on everything. And the New Testament tells us that Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways over a disagreement, yet there is no evidence that either one of them sinned in doing so. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, iron sharpens iron! So if anything, the enemy should be concerned that we believers take the time to make each other sharp as we follow Christ!

Sage July 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm

This post is old and didn’t excite that much comment when it was new! But I just have to add: nice story about your son and you telling him to put away his toys. If you were G-d you would have to kick him out of the house when he didn’t do it right! Then you’d have to punish him forever and ever with hard labor, and then throw him into eternal fire when he died. You are a better father than Yahweh!

Matthew Warner July 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I appreciate the kind words about me, but of course the compliment misunderstands the entire nature of our loving, forgiving, infinitely merciful God. God only allows us to choose hell for ourselves. He doesn’t send us there as much as we send ourselves by our own choice. And at any and every point, God is asking us to choose Him, always forgiving at every opportunity. Giving us as many 2nd chances as this life allows.

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