Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Salvation A "Free" Lunch?

I was recently reading Claire Russell's "Glimpses of the Church Fathers". The following from an Augustinian sermon caught my attention (Sermon 77).

"And be not much disquieted for a thing so great [i.e., salvation], because of the largeness of the price. Its price is no more than what you have. Now to procure any great and precious thing, you would get ready gold, or silver, or money, or any increase of cattle, or fruits, which might be produced in your possessions, to buy this I know not what great and excellent thing, whereby to live in this earth happily. Buy this too, if you will. Do not look for what you have, but for what you are. The price of this thing is yourself. Its price is what you are yourself. Give your own self, and you shall have it. Why are you troubled? why disquieted? What? Are you going to seek for your own self, or to buy yourself? Lo, give your own self as you are, such as you are to that thing, and you shall have it. But you will say, "I am wicked, and perhaps it will not accept me." By giving yourself to it, you will be good. The giving yourself to this faith and promise, this is to be good. (emphasis mine)"

While it is true that God's gift of grace is freely given (Mat. 10:8), it is also right to note that we have to give something up of ourselves as part of our Christian faith. The freedom of grace aside, Augustine tickled my American sentimentalities -- nothing can be "free"'. The economist's mantra that "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" affects my view of the economy of salvation.

I am reminded of the deeply indebted servant whose king forgave his tremendous debt (Mat. 18:23-35). Because of the king's pity, the servant got a "free lunch", freely given. Sadly, he then turned around and, failing to extend the favor, had his fellow servant thrown in debtor's prison (a notion also foreign to the American mentality).

What has bothered me as a law student (and here is a clear indication of how polluted my mind has become) is that the king had him incarcerated after the debt was cancelled. If there was no debt, how was the king acting justly by having him incarcerated? Could it be that the king incarcerated him for a new debt, and not for the cancelled debt? While the old debt of millions truly was cancelled, perhaps that freely received grace placed the servant under a new law, the law of grace. He was to forgive others as he had been forgiven. And if he violated this law, he would be under a burden equal to (or greater!) than that which was cancelled by the king.

Just a thought, that's all. But this view helps me embrace Augustine's sermon, to see that the "price" of my "freely" received salvation is a giving up of myself. The price here, the price of compliance with this new law of grace, is complete self-sacrifice (which is not to say that God's grace is not sufficient to make up for my deficiencies in conforming to this new law). As my father-in-law always says, "What a deal."

1 comment:

Jim said...

That's funny -- or perhaps it's sad -- but I've had the same thought about the "ex post" nature of the punishment in Mt 18.

I've pretty much resolved it in my own mind as a bit of liberty with the otherwise legal context of the passage: it is "unjust" that the slave who is forgiven much punishes the slave who owes so little. His ingratitude merits punishment, so that's what he receives.

Although, ancient executives often had a lot more authority to respond to the "equity" of the moment. Think, e.g., of Solomon's decision to slice the baby into two halves. It's a wise move in his context, but no one would take seriously a modern judge who proposed the same resolution.

I've also mused a bit about your broader topic -- the cost of uniting with Christ.

As Paul repeatedly points out, we are new men in Christ, and we must put the old man to death. So it is freely given, but at the cost of putting the old man to death.

The only way I understand it is also to consider it a move from insanity to sanity (Ecc 9.3, Ro 1.18, 21). The old man loved death and uncleanness. It was crazy, but that's what it was. In rescuing me from Satan's dominion, Jesus redeems my preferences so that, properly, I love life that is in God.