The Best Things in Life Aren’t Free

When my wife and I had our first child, we, like so many young, idealistic parents, had high expectations. Would he be the next genius? We bought several of those Baby Einstein toys in hopes that he would. Would he be the next Hank Aaron? When he accidentally hit his first pitched plastic baseball with a big red plastic baseball bat, my imagination ran wild. How would our little boy be special?

I remember reading in a book that children with high intellects would be able to delay gratification so much so that if you offered them one cookie now or two cookies later, they would choose the second option. I was crushed the first time I tried it. Our little boy wanted one cookie immediately, and he also demanded two cookies later. What did that say about his intellectual abilities?

We have a cultural saying for people who want it all. They are those who like to have their cake and eat it too. In short, human beings have a tendency of expecting to have it all. We want what we want, and we don’t want to have to give anything in return. The Bible calls this sin. It’s the fatal flaw of our existence. It’s the false supposition that the self is the axis around which all of reality is expected to revolve.

The primary example of sin is found in Genesis 3—the familiar story of sin’s first entrance into the world through the temptation of Eve. A closer look at that scene shows us that Satan promised Eve that she could have her cake (fruit?) and eat it too. In contradiction to God’s warning that death would enter the world upon disobedience, Satan told her that, by rebelling, she would be “like God” without having to face the consequence of death.

Human beings have been operating on the same assumption ever since. We want it all. We want to live our lives ignoring God, and then we don’t want to have to face any consequences. That’s true in the big picture, but it’s also true in all kinds of small ways.

I recently read an online article that attacks a phrase I’ve heard so often in ministry that I’ve never even questioned it. When I ask visitors to church what they’re looking for in a church, more times than not, I get some version of this answer: “We’re really just hoping to find community.” The article powerfully demonstrates the folly of such a search.

You don’t discover community; you have to build it. Building community—particularly Christian fellowship—requires a lot of things. First, it requires that Christ be the cornerstone upon which you build. We share him in common, which means we don’t have to share so many other things that communities are typically built upon. We don’t, for example, have to share race or social class or hobbies or preferences.

But, second, building community requires commitment. It costs us something. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. If we bail the first time that we experience discomfort, we shouldn’t be surprised that we lack genuine friendships and community. Community requires love, and love requires sacrifice. Jesus shows us that.

My point here is simply this: the best things in life, the things that God wants his children to have and enjoy, don’t usually come easily. While we never grow tired of affirming that salvation cannot be earned, we also recognize that in another sense it costs us everything. Didn’t Jesus say that those who wanted to be his disciples had to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him (Matt. 16:24)? He also said that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can, however, lose your cake now and get something so much better in the future. If you want eternal life, give your temporal life to Jesus. If you want resurrection, you first have to die. If you want genuine community, follow him by sacrificially loving others in the church. If you want to grow, be willing to labor. That’s the way of Jesus.

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