Thoughts on Matthew 8:18-22
Many times over many years, the “free gift” of salvation through Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins has been pitched as just that – free. Sadly, and to the destruction of many people’s faith, the nature of the “freeness” of the gift is often misrepresented. Preachers and evangelists are quick to emphasize the word “free” because, who doesn’t like free stuff? And what’s more is that if we quickly raise our hands “while every head is bowed and every eye closed” and “ask Jesus into our hearts,” we receive affirmation from the preacher that we’re now undoubtedly saved and can rest easy in our “eternal security” no matter what happens or how much we backslide or live in a way that contradicts the faith we claim to possess.
What’s wrong with this salvation sales pitch is that it doesn’t take into account the whole Bible, or what we see in history and in the present day – that following Jesus costs us something. For some, following Jesus costs them their lives; for others it’s their jobs, their money, their reputations, their comfort, their freedom, or their time. In every era and every place where people commit themselves to live for Christ, it costs them.
In this passage in Matthew, Jesus tells the people who proclaimed their desire to follow him that he didn’t have a place to call home where he could host them, that following him completely and immediately was more important than even honoring the death of a family member, and, in the Lukean parallel, that anyone who says they want to follow Jesus but turns back is not “fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus made it very clear throughout his time here that following him was costly, and that has not changed. What else has not changed is that there are people who want to follow Jesus for what they think they can get from him (health, wealth and prosperity), but, as the parable of the sower illustrates, will fall away as soon as hardship or persecution arises on account of Jesus.
When Paul calls Christ’s sacrifice and eternal life “the free gift” in Romans chapters five and six, he’s juxtaposing it with death through the “trespass” of Adam and the seeking of righteousness by means of the Law. The word translated “free gift” is the word “charisma” in Greek, and means, “A favor with which one receives without any merit of his own,” “The gift of divine grace,” or, “The gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue.” Paul is basically saying that salvation from sin and eternal death is given by God to people who don’t deserve it, who cannot earn it, and who must receive it as it is – an unmeasurably valuable gift without which we remain slaves to sin and death.
God is not a slick salesman trying to trick us into accepting a free gift that turns into an expensive money pit. He’s not a deceitful Messiah who lures us in with an offer of peace and salvation that instead results in our suffering and death. Rather, what Jesus offers us – the truly free gift eternal salvation from sin and death – is so valuable that the accompanying suffering and persecution (that Jesus also promised) is nothing compared to the greatness of what we receive. It’s that reality that solves the paradox of the free gift that may cost us everything.
Conclusion: The Bible does not contradict itself. Rather, false and/or poor teachers of it misrepresent what “the free gift” of salvation means. What the Bible teaches is that although you may not live what seems like “Your Best Life Now” in this short and temporary existence, those who “persevere to the end” will obtain true, eternal life later.