Thursday, February 20, 2020

Mice, Mousetraps and Free Cheese

Who doesn’t like free stuff? Every week I scan through the local grocery store flyers for the “buy one, get one free” deals. If what I’m looking for isn’t among the store’s offers this week, I usually wait until it’s available on the two-for-one sale.

Of course, it’s not really “free.” The store had to pay for the extra item I receive, and its cost is absorbed by profits generated by the regular-priced other items they hope I’ll buy during my grocery store visit.

We’re often told “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” but during my business career there have been numerous times I received a free lunch. But it wasn’t completely free, because someone else paid for it. It might have been a friend, or my host while I was traveling. A restaurant might have offered free lunches to customers as a promotion, but at minimum, they had to cover the cost of the entrée, side items and my beverage. Free to me, yes, but not completely free.

I try to avoid getting political in my posts, because my mission when I write is solely to exalt my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and communicate the practical relevance of the Scriptures for everyday life. But I have to admit to getting annoyed when I hear elected officials debating “free stuff.”

For instance, Social Security and Medicare benefits are often regarded as “entitlements,” when in fact most Social Security beneficiaries and Medicare recipients have had funds deducted from each paycheck for years and years. We’ve even gotten annual statements to report just how much we have paid into those Federally controlled accounts. The benefits we receive aren’t free and never have been. If they’re entitlements, it’s because we’re truly entitled to get back what we’ve paid in.

Yet we still hear about “free” college, “free” healthcare, and lots of other freebies. Payday everyday – and no work on payday. (Okay, I made up that last one, but don’t be surprised if someone proposes it. Maybe during the Presidential election campaign.)

Recently, I came across an anonymous quote that illustrated the “free stuff” myth that so pervades our society today: “Mice die in mousetraps because they don’t understand why the cheese is free. Same applies to socialism.” Chew on that for a few moments – that’s what the mice did.

Lest this be perceived as a political rant, I’d like to shift gears to consider the “free stuff” we’re promised in the Bible. Because the Scriptures do use the term “free” a lot. One of the most foundational passages, Romans 6:23, informs us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

In another context, we’re also told, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). This freedom is referring to becoming freed from the tyranny of sin, but even in this case, the freedom did not come to us without a price. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

Incredibly, it’s easy to take the gift of eternal life for granted, almost as if it’s an entitlement. Doesn’t John 3:16 say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life”? Yes, God loved us – and still does. And He wanted us to experience eternal life – and still does. But it came at a cost: Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death on the cross. Dare we not underestimate that cost.

The humbling part of this is we couldn’t pay it even if we wanted to. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In case we missed that, another passage affirms this truth: “…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purity for himself a people that are his very own…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 2:13,14, 3:5).

So the next time someone offers you something free – a lunch, a vacation trip, a college education, health care…or eternal life – remember: Nothing is free. Someone must cover the cost. It just might not be you or me. 

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