Totally Free At A High Cost

Common sense would seem to tell us that a thing cannot be both costly and free at the same time. If I must pay a high price for something, then it is not free; if it is free, then I am not required to pay for it. This commonsensical observation, however, leads to a theological puzzle: do the promises of the gospel come to us for free or at great cost? The Bible uses both kinds of language. Costly and free—the gospel is both.

Salvation is totally free in one sense and highly costly in another, and we must understand both senses in order to understand the Christian life. Salvation is free in that we can do nothing—we can pay nothing—to earn our acceptance from God. We are evil, but God accepts us anyway, without reservation. We are guilty before the court of God’s justice, yet He frees us from paying what we owe. God is not waiting to accept us until we meet some standard; we do not meet the standard, and yet He blesses us now. If we do not understand how freely and graciously God is acting toward us, then we can fall into self-righteousness and/or despair: self-righteousness because we have forgotten that we do not deserve God’s kindness; despair because we have forgotten how freely willing God is to overlook our guilt.

Yet, salvation is also costly, and we must understand that as well. By its very nature, to believe the gospel is a huge shift in our lives. To believe that Jesus died for our sins costs us our self-satisfied belief that we are good people. To believe that God is willing to forgive us costs us our bitter unwillingness to forgive others. To believe that the true riches are found in the kingdom of God costs us our delusion that money matters. To ask Jesus to be on our side may cost us the approval of others. If our faith is genuine, then it cannot help but confront us with some hard truths and hard choices. This confrontation is not optional; what Jesus offers is not what the world offers, and to have them both is impossible. To deny this is to distort our picture of faith itself.

[This edited excerpt is from “Costly and Free” by Ron Julian. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]


Prepared for the Wilderness

Just before Jesus went into the desert, he was baptized by John the Baptist, at which time the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and a voice out of heaven said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This event must have been on Jesus’ mind when he went into the desert.

The Gospel of Matthew contains a description of Jesus’ temptations by the devil at the end of Jesus’ stay in the desert. Much has been written about this incident, but a particular aspect of Matthew’s account is intriguing. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus was doing for the forty days that he spent in the desert before he was tempted. Since the account does not tell us what he was doing, we can only speculate. Several clues, however, suggest a probable answer.

At the end of Jesus’ forty-day stay in the desert, the devil made three attempts to coax Jesus into sinning. Jesus responded to each temptation by quoting an Old Testament passage—all from just a few chapters in the book of Deuteronomy. This suggests that Jesus had a fresh recollection of this small section of text, that he had spent at least some of his time in the desert reflecting on the meaning and significance of these few chapters.

What did Jesus learn from his reflection on the book of Deuteronomy? His answers to the devil are from the first section of the book that encourages the people of Israel to obey God’s commandments.

The encouragement to obey God is anchored in God’s history with the people of Israel as they made their way through the wilderness. Throughout their forty years of wandering, God was looking after his people. He guided them, provided them with food and water. But theirs was not an easy or carefree life. The hard times were designed to test and develop their faith. By learning to cling to God in good times and bad, they would learn to rely on God as the only firm anchor-point in life. Through this process, the Israelites were to learn that a meaningful and fulfilling life can only come through obedience to and faith in God. This is what Jesus learned by reading Deuteronomy, and this instruction served him well.

[This edited excerpt is from “What Would Jesus Read?” by David Crabtree. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]


The Fundamental Purpose of Life

Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life (PDL) is  a publishing phenomenon by anyone’s standards. Publishers Weekly called it “the bestselling hardback in American History.” I have a mixed reaction, however, to its popularity. Some of the ideas in PDL are very good. However, in my mind the book’s serious flaws outweigh the good things; when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.


PDL throws a blizzard of verses at its readers, mostly drawn from a variety of broad paraphrases like the Message Bible and the Living Bible. The cumulative effect of this proof-texting approach is ultimately misleading and harmful. Let me illustrate how this approach can go terribly wrong. Imagine that a verse in the Bible speaks of a “great battle.” A modern paraphrase wants to jazz it up and make it more powerful, so it translates the phrase “great battle” as “the mother of all battles.” Now imagine an author comes along and quotes the translation: “The Bible often uses the imagery of motherhood, as for example in the verse which speaks of ‘the mother of all battles.’” Do you see the problem? This fictional author quotes “the Bible” by quoting this paraphrase and then makes his argument based on the part the translator added for effect.

PDL, through the use of misleading proof-texting, does a great disservice to the millions of Christians reading the book. Even worse, though, is the theological confusion that permeates the book. PDL often shifts the emphasis from choosing eternal life to improving my experience here and now—not “I will find eternal life” but “I will find my true self and how to really live”; not “I will be justified before God and be saved” but “I will make God happy.” The Purpose-Driven Life has some good things to say, but it has not said the most important thing: that the fundamental purpose of my life in this world is to choose life over death. At stake in how I live my life is not whether I have a more or less fulfilling experience as a Christian but whether, in spite of my weaknesses and sin, I persevere in being a disciple of Jesus and so find eternal life.

[This edited excerpt is from “Examining the Purpose-Driven Life” by Ron Julian. To read the original article, click here. More about Gutenberg College here. Or check us out on Facebook.]


Believers Must Get in the Education Business

In my recent paper, “How to Follow Jesus When You Cannot Kill the Beast,” the topic of Gutenberg’s 2013 Summer Institute, I highlighted the need for believers to begin to develop an alternative educational infrastructure. A friend recently sent me an interesting article from an Australian newspaper. It is about some predictions being made by a Christian philosopher there. Of interest to me, in the fourth paragraph of the article he makes a similar suggestion to that in my paper. If there is to be any antidote to the collapse of Western culture, believers must get in the education business and provide some truly biblical alternatives to educating the next generation.

Here’s a link to the article:


Losing Sight of the Essentials

My good friend Allen forwarded me an article, “Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Soldiers Under Fire,” from the Wall Street Journal (August 9, 2013).

I confess that I am not an expert on Israeli culture or on the practices and convictions of contemporary Israeli Judaism, but I find that I am quite interested in the ultra-Orthodox community (the Haredim) in Israel. My interest is primarily because of the conflict going on in that country and in that community right now about the role and privileges of the Haredim. When the nation of Israel was reconstituted, the Haredim, very small in number at that time, were given a very special place in society. They were exempted from military service (which was quite a sacrifice on the part of a nation under constant attack), and they were supported wholly by the state because it was thought that the ultra-Orthodox could maintain the religious studies and the religious culture that would provide a small measure of balance in what was in fact the very secular nation of Israel. That special treatment worked well in the beginning when it involved fewer than a thousand people. Today, however, there are closer to a million Haredim, and they are increasingly viewed as a burden on Israeli society rather than a blessing. Thus a movement is underway to revoke many of their special protections and to change their societal status to something much closer to that of the rest of Israelis in the country.

An interesting development over the last few years has been the tremendous leadership that a small group of ultra-Orthodox Israelis have shown in the military in that oft-besieged country. I would imagine that has been an encouragement to most Israelis, but in their own community, amongst the Haredim, those soldiers are despised and attacked—even physically, according to the article my friend sent me—because their involvement in the secular society is seen as a betrayal of their commitment to the study of the religious writings.

It struck me that there are unfortunate parallels between their experience and that which is seen so often in our conservative Christian communities. Too often a culture, with all of its extra-Biblical beliefs and traditions and practices, takes on a life of its own that supersedes and even supplants the original plans and purposes of God.

After reading the article my friend Allen sent me, I responded with a few comments. Here is the gist of what I told him:

I am very interested in the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel and especially the changes over the last several years. Obviously I am speaking largely in ignorance of contemporary Israeli Judaism but with at least a little bit of awareness of historical Judaism as expressed in the Tanakh.

My most basic theology is this: God’s work in the world is all of one piece from creation until now. I believe that His consideration has always been for those who recognize that God is, acknowledge their own failings, and cry out to God for mercy. He will respond with grace to those who cry out for mercy. And He will judge those who shake their fist at Him in rebellion. Originally that relationship was expressed primarily to the Jews, but it was not limited to the Jews. Gentiles who cried out for mercy received mercy, and Jews who shook their fist at God were judged accordingly. That this was true for Gentiles as well as for Jews was clarified with Jesus, but the basic “rules” remained the same: mercy for those who cry out to God and judgment for those who turn away from God. That is my context.

From that context, it seems to me that the actions of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in attacking ultra-Orthodox soldiers are puzzling. I would guess that the attackers consider the commands of God to be clear on the issue of being separate from the affairs of the state, but my take on it would be different. Since my authority is with the written Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) and not with commentaries on the Scriptures (either rabbinic or Christian), I would be hard pressed to make the case that the Haredim would use to justify violence against these ultra-Orthodox soldiers. The Haredim don’t seem to be arguing that the soldiers are behaving unrighteously in fulfilling their soldierly responsibilities but rather that they have involved themselves in the secular culture as opposed to standing apart from it. That is where the religious cultural issues come into play. For the Haredim, complete separation from the secular Israeli society is so important that they will beat those soldiers who have engaged with that secular society.

It is just so very easy for us to lose sight of the essentials of what true righteousness and pursuit of God is all about and to focus time and emotional energy on those things which not only are not constructive but which are often contrary to the plans and purposes of God—all in the name of maintaining our own particular system of orthodoxy.


May we send you...?

Choose your subscriptions to our newsletter and/or email updates.


If this ministry is helpful to you, please consider supporting it as you are able. Even small donations help. Thank you.

Donate online