October 28, 2013

Heart and Soul: Theology

Jayden could not contain himself. He had discovered something worth celebrating, and nobody would hold him back. Jayden and Carol had come to the restaurant because they were hungry. But now Jayden had an even more compelling reason for being there. “Look, Mom,” he said, pointing to the flyer on the table, “Kids eat free! It says kids eat free!”

Now Jayden was hungry again. This time he had Christian for company. Maybe they could go to a restaurant. “Dad, can we go to the restaurant where kids eat free?” 

“Well,” Christian replied, “we’ll see what we can do.” Christian shared nothing of Jayden’s allegiance to the kids-eat-free destination. “You’re not paying for any of it anyway,” he said to Jayden. “So I don’t understand why you’re so excited about it.” 

But Jayden was excited. By the time they’d gotten to the restaurant he had found a reason to sing his song some 20 times or more: “Kids eat free,” he chanted, “kids eat free.” Once in the restaurant, he was no less ecstatic: “Kids eat free, Daddy, kids eat free!”

God’s Free Gifts

Not everyone is as excited about God’s free food as Jayden was about the restaurant’s. In fact, it has never been possible to properly enumerate God’s free gifts to His kids. Perhaps because of their sheer abundance and consistency, humanity, even Christian humanity, may take them too much for granted. The constant daily giving of our gracious God (Ps. 68:19), who blesses with His sun the evil and the good, and bathes with His showers the just and unjust (Matt. 5:45), all flows out from the one boundlessly immeasurable resource of His omnipotence, the blessed sacrifice of His only-begotten Son. The waves of that all-encompassing gift roar and rush and flow and flood all the banks of human existence so “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The gifts of God’s ocean of love are pleasures forevermore even now (Ps. 16:11), and endless exultation in the presence of His glory in the hereafter (1 Peter 4:13; Jude 24). God’s giving empowers the persecuted sufferer for Christ to boast of abuse and laugh at personal infirmity; it gives them the capacity to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” They can do this, not because they are masochistic, but because God’s gifts include such insight into the nature of the conflict between good and evil that while others wring hands, swear fire, and bang heads against walls in thorough frustration, they understand that through the gift of God’s grace, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). So it is with God’s glorious, gracious giving. Kids eat free!

Gifts Have Their Price

But gifts are not worthless because there is no cost to the receiver. Jayden’s thrill at a free restaurant meal or two should not faintly reflect the depth of awe we feel at the cost to God of His gifts to us. God’s gifts of life have their price. Paul’s boasts of infirmity and his confidence in persecution have their price. Our pleasure at God’s right hand costs something. Heaven’s streets of gold have their price. Without His payment the gifts would never become ours, would never ever be accessible. The blessings come at an astonishing exchange rate. It is trash for cash, our garbage for His gold: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4-6). “God made him who had no sin to be sinfor us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

It is because Jesus became sin that we may reign in glory, reside in heavenly mansions, and walk on gold. It was no ordinary deal. Nor was it simple. In Gethsemane Christ faced down Satan in a conflict for which the devil had been preparing throughout Christ’s ministry.1 And knowing what he reserved as his masterstroke increases my own shame of self and wonder at my God and Savior. For Satan’s intended coup de grâce was me, incessant taunts about how useless—indeed, how counterintuitive—it was to do anything redemptive for people such as me: “Satan pressed the situation upon the Redeemer: The people who claim to be above all others in temporal and spiritual advantages have rejected You. . . . One of Your own disciples . . . will betray You. One of Your most zealous followers will deny You. All will forsake You.”2

We all eat free because the grace that gives us life is the gift of God.

How Shrewd Was Satan’s Ploy?

And did it work? God be praised that it did not. God be glorified that Satan failed. Note simply that Satan did not fail because he miscalculated. He hadn’t been wasting his time planning and preparing. The trivia with which he routinely conquers us—sensualities to stir the flesh; gaudy, skin-deep visions to awaken craving through the eyes; the temptation to be number one, or simply in the top 5 or 10 percent, or just the top half of the ordered sequence of humans, or, at the very least, ahead of someone else, listings that would justify stupid pride in our personal life—these would not work with the Lord of glory.

Neither would those promises of greatness once proffered in the wilderness now serve any purpose. Offers of wealth, tests of Jesus’ insecurity, of His trust in the Father’s protection and the angels’ loyal intervention on His behalf—all these had been tried and had failed. Now, in his last and fiercest assault, he was harnessing his shrewdest ploys, hurling his best deceptions or the worst evils that he could muster at Jesus. He failed only because Jesus’ grasp of faith in His Father was firmer and stronger and more unshakable than Satan’s strongest pull. Be not deceived, though. “Christ’s whole being abhorred the thought” that the devil spoke to His soul. “That those whom He had undertaken to save, those whom He loved so much, should unite in the plots of Satan, this pierced His soul. The conflict was terrible.”3 Satan’s on-target jibes about what the local elder was really good for, about what the Sabbath school superintendent was actually up to, about the youth leader’s consistent Saturday-night activities—all these hooked barbs kept tearing the flesh out of Jesus’ heart.

“Just desserts” was the devil’s awful argument. He knows what sinners deserve. And Jesus does too. But He chose to be treated as He knew the treasurer and I deserved, that we might be treated as we know He deserves: “He was condemned for our [arrogance and pretense, our dishonesty and indulgence], in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. “With His stripes we are healed.”4 Beware, dear Christian: we do not eat free because we deserve it, or because the service is easy, or because the food is cheap.

Atheists Should Be Grateful

Nor does the atheist. Atheist kids eat free too, whatever their explanations about the evolution of restaurants, or their theories on the sources of their meals, atheists enjoy their eating because of the same sacrifice that believers do. Jesus’ cross is stamped on all their exotic loaves of 15-grain bread; and its reflection swims in the bowls of their thinnest Communist soup. “Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ.”5 Atheists too owe their brain cells and their power to theorize to the same source that their believing sisters and brothers do. Fantastically enough, this includes their genius deployed against Jesus’ existence, or the faux nobility that mocks its deity with the impractical explanation that He was quite nice but very misguided. I have known a man to claim that he was Aaron the high priest and be dismissed by me and my fellow villagers as addle-brained. If I did not know the Scriptures, I might be able to believe that a person claiming to be their total fulfillment, to be truth’s incarnation, and the only source of life for all humans, was different from that drug-deluded madman who once walked the streets of my village many years ago on the island of St. Vincent. The wonder of God’s gifts is that healing is still available to the insane soul, and forgiveness to the brilliant blasphemer. We all eat free because the grace that gives us life is the gift of God.

A Final Bestowal

Jesus is not yet finished with His giving. Sure, He has already fought and won against the devil. He has already announced to the universe, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It is indeed finished, though the dragon’s tail still thrashes; though much havoc still disrupts earth’s order; though deathless immortality is yet to crown our brows. But the faith He has given that overcomes the world
(1 John 5:4) is ours to assist Him in mopping up operations. With that gift of faith we cooperate in the work of the victorious army. In the spiritual warfare that engages us, final operations involve us at least as much as they do our adversaries. For even as we continue to liberate prisoners of war from the devil’s camps our own maturation by grace continues. The God who commissions us to beseech others, as Christ’s ambassadors, to be reconciled to Him (2 Cor. 5:20) continues working in us, by the same token, “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

We may not have to endure the stripes by which Jesus healed us, or be stoned to death, or sawn in two. Others have been and still suffer that way. “They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:37, 38).

And yet, despite their pride in being called to suffer for Jesus, none would argue that her stoning or his being sawn in two had earned them anything from God. They know, as we should, that living godly goes against the grain of this world. It is the choice we make for Jesus’ sake. For Paul, as for every other grateful recipient of grace, whatever would otherwise be gain counts as loss for the sake of Christ. “What is more,” he continues, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7, 8).

Gaining Christ in time is all there is to gain. And so is gaining Him for eternity. There is no difference.

“Kids eat free” is not just 6-year-old Jayden’s excitement. It is, in time, the honor of every last, finally lost, oblivious human. And glory be to God, it is, for now and forever, the incomparable privilege of my saved-by-purchase soul, bought and washed by the blood of the Lamb, and fed and sustained through time and eternity by the material and spiritual nourishment of undeserved, free grace. n

  1. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), pp. 686, 687.
  2. Ibid., p. 687.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p. 25.
  5. Ibid., p. 660.