What is the cost of a gift? When presented with the Gospel invitation, many people respond with the knee-jerk reaction of “but what will it cost me?” That’s how Greg, 45, responded when I presented the Gospel to him recently during a sidewalk outreach conversation.
It seems like a good question. After all, so many people eagerly take the gift without considering the cost, only to discard it later when the next big thing comes along. They become like the pigs Jesus spoke of that trample pearls in the mud.
Shouldn’t people “count the cost” to become a Christian? After all, nothing is free in life, right? There has to be a cost to everything, even the Gospel. But in the parable of Luke 14, didn’t Jesus say the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet, free for all those he invites? True, he did tell how many people rejected the invitation in favor of their worldly pursuits. But then the invitation is extended as his servants “went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
But the parable doesn’t end there. Jesus went on with a very troubling end to his story. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
But what about grace? What about the free gift? Are there really strings attached? Greg seemed to be considering the Gospel invitation I was offering him not with the eyes of a child-like faith, but with the seasoned eyes of a savvy adult, looking for the strings that surely must be attached, even to the Gospel.
There is a paradox here. Yes, the Gospel is a gift. But no, it is not free. Greg was right in considering the cost of the Gospel. We all should, every day. But Greg was asking the wrong question. He had asked “What will it cost me?” He should have asked, “What did it cost Him?”