I’m from Wisconsin. I love the Green Bay Packers and I try to never miss a game.
But we live in North Carolina. The Packers aren’t always on television. So I have to be creative. I can go to a sports bar – I can make friends with those who have an NFL ticket – or I can sneak a peek through someone’s back window.
One time I was feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to go out. So I opened up my computer and I typed into Google, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” Sure enough – a link popped up right away with that exact phrase, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” I clicked on it.
I was taken to a “kind of shady" looking website where there wasn’t a lot of punctuation and every letter was lowercased, but right in the middle was a big flashing GREEN button that said, “WATCH FREE HERE!” Again – I clicked. This time an ad popped up, “Complete 2 of 3 offers for access to the game.” The offers? Sign up for two year subscription to a magazine; buy $20 of stuff at Home Depot OR take a 45 minute survey for a clinical trial.
FREE isn’t so FREE, is it?
That was for watching a Packer game. How much do you think heaven costs? How much do you think forgiveness costs? What about peace, eternal life, and victory for your soul?
I. Salvation Can’t Be Bought
Romans 2:6 says this, “God will repay each according to what he has done.” You get paid what you have earned. If you work 4 hours, you get paid for 4 hours. If you work 8 hours, you get paid for 8 hours. If you work on commission, you get paid for the work you did.
Romans is saying, “if you want salvation, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Ever heard of UBER? It’s a phone app that allows you to request a ride from just about anywhere. Only uber isn’t a taxi service, it simply alerts people who have signed up to be Uber drivers that you need to be picked up and moved from point A to point B.
Being an UBER driver sounds pretty sweet. You get paid for gas and for the time spent in the car driving person from A to B. Once more people use this service, I imagine you can live in and this becomes a full time job. But – if you live in the outskirts, Concord OR Rolesville – probably not a full time job. You probably aren’t as busy.
What does it take then to get heaven?
How much do you have to do to earn salvation?
How many hours do you have to put in?
Take a look at Romans 2:7 “Those who persist in doing good will be given eternal life.” Notice that word persist. That means “To continue in.” There’s no qualifier in this sentence. It doesn’t say, “Persist for a while.” “Persist for a week.” “Persist for a month.” Nope. It simply says, “Persist.”
As in, “All the time.”
Sound easy enough? Just do good, speak good, and think good all the time.
But, I gotta ask, do you even think you’ll persist in good until noon? As you’re leaving, will you fight over the radio? “I want Justin Bieber – but my NFL game is starting.” Will you argue over lunch? Swear at the first turnover during your football game? Lust as the cameras pans in on the cheerleaders? Or dream about the guy next door doing yard work with his shirt off? Yell at the kids, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they’re annoying you. Call up your mom to bad mouth your sister and have enough glasses of wine that the room starts to spin.
Honestly – we might not even persist in doing good the rest of this church service. We might see someone and start thinking about how much we hate them. We might ignore the sermon because we want to check out our fantasy stats. We might gossip with the person next to us during the sermon because, “Did you see how ornery those kids were?”
Let’s be honest. We haven’t persisted in doing good. We can’t persist in doing good. We don’t quality for receiving eternal life.
What then? What do we do if we haven’t done persistent good, but instead we’ve done sin? Romans 6:23 explains it very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s Halloween weekend. Did you see anything scary? Miniature witches? An exorbitant amount of spider webs? My neighbors have a scarecrow that’s motion censored and moves when you get close. (I didn’t get scared at all. I promise.)
But Halloween’s not that scary. Afterall, it’s pretend. That Romans passage? It is. It mentions death. It talks about eternal separation. It mentions the hellfire wrath of God against sin.
I can understand if you don’t want to believe it. It’s a terrifying thing to be true. But just because it’s terrifying, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Sin is scary and the wages of in is scary.
Ask Martin Luther. He was a 16th century monk. Martin Luther was terrified of God. He understood sin. He understood that a Good God MUST hate sin; therefore, Martin would try to soothe God’s anger. He would lock himself in a dark tower. He’d beat himself. He’d starve himself. He’d pay money to the priests earn forgiveness.
Yet he knew it wasn’t working. He knew he was still persisting in bad. He knew he was earning death.
Then, Martin got to studying the Bible for himself. He learned Greek and Hebrew so that he could read the Bible in its original languages. When he did, what he found shocked him.
Here for instance. Read the entirety of Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
Every birthday party – there are always some gifts you look forward to and others that you can do without, right? Grandmas’ gifts? Awesome. She’d give you a Nintendo game or a sweet book. Mom? She always knew exactly what you wanted. Crazy Aunt sally? She'd knit two pairs of socks that didn’t match because she ran out of the color yarn she was using.
Look at who is giving a gift in Romans 6. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t run out of yarn. He owns all things. He has an unlimted supply of everything.
What he gave – is even better than one of those cards with cash in it – God give something that lasts forever. He gifted us eternal life in Christ Jesus.
This wasn’t cheap for God. Notice he gave us eternal life in Christ Jesus. Eternal life was so costly, so expensive, that God had to give up the life of his one and only, persisting in doing good, never sinned once, holy in every way Son.
And this was hard. Jesus endured nails through his hands. He endured thorns pressed into his head. He endured a slow painful death on a cross.
But he stayed up there. He stayed up there because he loved you too much. He stayed up there to save you. He stayed up there, because you couldn’t pay for salvation. He stayed up there because he could. He stayed up there because salvation MUST BE A GIFT!
Three day later, what happened to him? He came back to life. He rose from the dead. He didn’t die trying to win you a gift, but he came back to life triumphant because he had had!
Look at the result. Romans 3:24 says this, “We are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” Justified is a courtroom term. It’s legal speak. It means, “Not guilty,” or, “Innocent.” “Forgiven.”
It means that when God is judging you, God remembers Jesus. He says, “This one persisted in doing good, give him eternal life!”
The devil objects, “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you watch this person’s life? The porn use. The time he cheated on his wife. The time he stole money at work. The lies. The guilt. The greed. The anger. God – it’s all over this person. Don’t you see how sinful they are?!”
And God? “No.”
This is grace. It’s a gift – an eternal, incredible, divine gift from God to you!
But, here’s the thing. The devil didn’t convince God that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough; so the devil will try to convince you. “That Pastor is foolish. Grace might work for that Wally Cleaver over there, but not you. Jesus isn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. You need to do better. You need to earn your salvation. You need to get better – which you’ll never do – so you might as well give up!”
Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, then it is not by works; for it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
In the back of church, there are a bunch of free Bibles. Guests, please take one. If anyone else wants one to take to a friend or coworker, go for it.
Now, if we had someone back by the Bible with a cash register and one of those little card swiper thingies who said, “That’ll be $5.” Then, we can’t say “Come get your gift.” It’s not a gift. Even if the Bibles cost a penny OR sign up to be a member in our church, then it wouldn’t be a gift.
Same thing with salvation. It is a gift. It’s yours by faith. It’s yours without having to earn it. It’s your by grace alone.
Now what? Believe it. Don’t leave this gift behind. Experience its benefits.
Like the Philippian Jailer. Do you know that story?
There had just been an earthquake. As the dust settled and the landscape calmed, the insides of the jailer became a jumbled mess. “Shoot. Did the prisoners get out? Are they getting away? If they do, where should I go? The Romans will kill me. If they do, who will look after my family? Who will pay for their food? How much longer do I have to live? When I die, where will I go? How will I face God? Will it be peaceful? Or will I be punished?"
The jailer ran to the cell. Hoping – praying that they were still closed. Hoping – praying that the men were still in them. Hoping – praying that he would get to keep his life.
As he turned the corner, his heart dropped. He saw a cell door – wide open.
With tears streaming his face, the flickering light of the one remaining candlestand revealed that all of the cell doors had been busted open. His shook his head in disbelief. This was a disaster. There was no reason to remain. No reason to face his employers. No reason to live.
He unsheathed his sword. He took a deep breath….and…
“Don’t do it!” A voice shouted, “We are all here.”
The jailer opened his eyes. He followed the voice. There he saw the man called Paul in the corner. He was some sort of religious guy. He had the others prisoners gathered around him in prayer. He had been singing praises to God. He was smiling.
The jailer didn’t know a lot about him, but right now…right now that didn’t matter. His life had just flashed before his eyes and he hated what he saw. Now only one question went through his mind:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting some incredible answer. Maybe he was expecting “Increase your giving to the temple.” Maybe he was expecting, “Improve your morality.” Maybe he was expecting, “You can’t; it costs too much.”
But that wasn’t what he heard. It wasn’t what Jesus taught. Paul replied, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized.”
In other words: “Trust in God’s grace. Receive his gracious promises." God did it all!
You do the same. We are saved by grace alone. Amen.