Free is costly. There’s an aspect of my faith that I realized as I was finishing up Prodigal God by Tim Keller that I grossly misunderstand on a daily basis. That is the matter of grace and the disillusionment I have with its affiliation to free. See, grace is given freely to all who will accept and so in my head, grace must not cost. However, what I’ve come to realize is that free is not the extreme of cheap, that grace is not cheap.
What is grace? Without delving too deep, it is a gift whose recipient is undeserving. The giver expects nothing in return and the receiver has not done something to merit and so must choose to accept the gift. The giver gives for the sake of giving and it is not an exchange, but a unidirectional act of kindness.
What is free? Free is without charge. It means to give away without asking anything in return. Free is as cheap as it gets. Free is the cheapest of the cheap. It has so little a cost, that cost is represented by the number 0.
How did grace become free? I think we all know that nothing is free. Everything costs, whether it’s time, effort, materials, money, goods, services. For grace to become free, God had to give up His only Son and sacrifice Him. The penalty for sin, treason against God, is death and the only way that could be paid for was Jesus. See, a person could not give up their own life and be forgiven as they’d already died in the first part of the transaction and could not themselves be saved.
Grace is costly. God paid the price of His Son’s life so that grace could be free for us. That is a huge price to pay. God gave up the most valuable thing He had, so that we could receive this gift. Likewise, grace requires the giver to accept the consequences of others and give them better than they have earned or could earn on their own. Grace becomes free because the giver has paid the gift’s price.
“Grace is God giving up His most valuable possession, His Son, so that we could be reconciled to Him and everyday Him continuing to give still more.”
Grace has implications. First and foremost, grace means that we are priceless to God. God went through the painstaking effort not to sacrifice Himself, but even His only Son. There is no greater love than this. Secondly, grace, while appearing free, is far from cheap. Showing grace to others means paying the cost ourselves as the givers and this sometimes hurts. Finally, grace dictates that all are valuable, as the Giver gave so much and yet He continues to give, the Gift that was enough for everyone, ourselves who were deemed recipients of such a gift and those around us who were deemed likewise.
I think most of us understand the terms free and grace. However, putting the two together creates a disconnect from the reality, cheapening grace as an unwanted good that could not sell. Grace is free to the recipient, but expensive to the giver. The key is that the gift is not merited by the recipient, but lavished by the giver. We are all just as undeserving as the next person, but will we today choose to give the gift of grace knowing full well that free is costly?