For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
– Ephesians 2:8-9
Not long ago Paula and I were driving through Illinois on the way home from Indiana and we experienced what I can only describe as old fashioned “nickle-n-diming.” From the southeast side of Chicago to Rockford we had to go through five or six toll booths and spent something like $8. All for the privilege of driving on terrible roads. I’m not sure what the State of Illinois is going to do with our $8, but based on the condition of the roads we drove on, I’m pretty confident they aren’t going to spend it on roads. Who knows, maybe some politicians in Springfield or Chicago have backyard pools or fancy cobblestone driveways because of our contributions at the toll booths. I’m just saying……..
You’ve heard the adage, “you get what you pay for.” Well, when it comes to Illinois roads, you certainly do not get what you pay for. That’s true in Illinois, and it is true in religion. You do not get what you pay for in religion.
Romans 6:23 says – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Free. Apparently, “free” is one of the hardest words in the Bible to believe because our churches are filled with people trying to pay their way to salvation. There is nothing – not one thing – you can do to merit God’s gracious and perfect salvation. There is not one thing you can do to cover over your sin and convince God you are worthy of salvation. There is not one thing you can do to buy your way to heaven. You can’t put enough money in the offering plate; you can’t pray enough; you can’t attend church enough; you can’t read the Bible enough; you can’t selflessly serve others enough to buy your way to heaven. Religious activities will do nothing to save you. You do not get what you pay for in religion. If you’re hoping to pay your way to salvation, you will never find it.
Jesus said – I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (John 11:25). And he said – Abide in me, and I in you (John 15:4). And – If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). Pretty simple. If you believe in Jesus, if you love him, you will keep his commandments. And you will realize the only thing that makes heaven desirable is the fact that Jesus is there. Most people in our churches who are trying to pay their way to heaven through various religious rituals and activities are trying to hide what is missing from their hearts – love for Jesus. They think God will overlook their lack of love if they just pay enough. But he won’t. The more you pay, the more you lose. When it comes to salvation in Christ Jesus, you do not get what you pay for.
If this is you (and to some degree, it is all of us), stop covering over a lack of love with religious ritual. Stop paying. Just like the Illinois toll roads, you will not get what you pay for. That’s the bad news. The good news is that God loves you so much that he will help you love his Son. Confess your lack of love. Turn again to Jesus. See in him God’s perfect, eternal, and free salvation. Recognize that whatever you love more than Jesus right now will never satisfy you like Jesus will.
Jesus is not cheap. His forgiveness, his salvation, his kingdom, are of infinite worth and value. He is not cheap; but he is free. And unlike those Illinois toll roads, the road you walk with Jesus will be neither toilsome nor burdensome. Rather than taking something of value from you like the Illinois Department of Transportation does, Jesus will share his entire eternal inheritance with you.
The State of Illinois gave Paula and me two hours of drive time on its roads for $8. Jesus will give you eternity for nothing, if you but believe and abide in him. What a glorious thought: we do not get what we pay for, yet we get for free what we could never afford.
Thanks for nothing, Illinois. And thanks for everything, my good and gracious God.