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The Real Definition of “Free”

I remember someone saying years ago, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Right now, in our culture, we are experiencing a large number of events and decisions that involve benefits that are implied as “free.” We operate in a theological framework where we talk about grace, free from the hand of God. But none of these are “free” as we think of them. They all cost. They’re all paid for. They all must be covered by someone.

Years ago, when I was a kid, I broke something on a car that belonged to my friend’s dad. I was only 10 or 11 at the time. I confess that I ran. I didn’t walk up to the door and apologize. I didn’t go and ask for forgiveness. I ran. But my friend’s dad called and asked me to come to see him. I was caught, scared, and had no idea what to expect. It was an accident on my part, but it was still MY actions that caused the damage. So I rode my bike down the street to see him.

He asked to hear the details of what happened, so I told him. He then described the cost of the repair. It was overwhelming to me (not to him). But then he said something powerful: “I know you didn’t mean to break it, but you did. And I have a choice to make–either I make YOU pay for it, or I pay for it myself. But Bruce, SOMEONE is going to pay. If you pay, you will have made amends. But if I pay, I will have forgiven. Neither is free. It will cost someone–and I’ve decided that I will be that someone.”

He offered it freely to me, but that didn’t mean it was free. It just didn’t cost ME; it cost HIM. That conversation with Mr. Blackwell has punctuated my life often. Every time I see a broken promise or action, I remember that conversation. He took the cost that MY actions deserved, but it wasn’t free. So through all these years, I have held that man in my highest esteem. He didn’t just forgive; he forgave with clarity and purpose, teaching my younger self a life lesson.

Our forgiveness was COSTLY to Jesus. Every failure, mistake, or sin is costly. We want to pretend that it isn’t. But when we adopt that mindset, we actually CHEAPEN GRACE. Instead, will you recognize the cost as a sign of the GRAVITY of Jesus’ love for you? Will you see that that unmerited favor was still costly, but because of His love, HE chose to face that cost personally?

My wife calls her engagement ring her “tuna ring.” I was in my first year after college, in my first job, and I bit off a cost that I didn’t fully understand. I got myself into a pinch. So for the three months, I was paying for it and trying to dig out of the hole I had made for myself, I had to sacrifice my grocery budget. I ate tuna. A LOT. Lunch and dinner several days a week, I supplemented what little grocery budget I had. I hated it, but I embraced it because 180 miles away, there was a young college co-ed I loved with all my heart. I was determined to ask her to marry me, and I was not going to do that empty-handed. Only later did I confess my foolish mistake and the new attitude I had about debt. It wasn’t free–it was costly, and that cost deepened the expression of my affection in her eyes. Every once in a while, she’ll clean that ring and dry it, admiring the light that reflects in every facet. And consistently, she turns to me with a big smile and says, “Thank you for my tuna ring!”

Will you look upon your latest failure and turn to Jesus with the same kind of affection and relief? “Thank you, Jesus, for how greatly you loved and forgave me!”

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