Recently my two older boys attended a youth group event at our church. Before enjoying pizza and a Packers game (two quintessential youth group activities in Wisconsin), the kids headed to a local convenience store to hand out warm gloves with an invite to our church’s Christmas services tucked inside each pair. My boys are stat keepers—if you want to know how many yards Jerry Rice got in 1987, they’re your guys—so they of course kept track of how many pairs of gloves they offered and how many people actually took the gloves. My oldest was shocked at how many people (12 out of 18 to be precise) refused his free gloves. And it was not a warm day. There was even one woman who had just taken her kids sledding, and while refusing the free gloves, kept her frozen hands tucked into her armpits for warmth. My son was flabbergasted.
These free gloves—no catch, no downside—made me think of God’s free gift of salvation. In a cold and dark world, God’s gift of his Son is even more needed than a pair of gloves in the frozen tundra. But just as my son couldn’t force those free gloves onto anyone’s hands, God won’t force his salvation onto our hearts. God wants so badly to have a relationship with us, but he will respect our choices; love by its very definition cannot be forced. God created human beings with free will. Some might ask, “Why does God allow such evil in the world?” or “Why did God create us if he knew that we would sin and turn against him?” C.S. Lewis said: “Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.” Well said, Clive.
In other words, God didn’t make us robots. We didn’t come prewired to serve him and obey his commands. In the Garden of Eden, there was a certain tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for that tree. Why did God plant that tree there? It seems like a temptation, like putting a plate of cookies on the table and telling your small children that they can’t eat them. So . . . why? To answer this we need to look at what we know about God and his nature.
- God did not create anything evil (Genesis 1:31).
- God does not tempt us (James 1:13).
- God is love (1 John 4:8).
We know these things to be true about God. We can therefore conclude with confidence that God did this out of pure love for mankind, and he wanted mankind to freely love him in return. He did it to dignify his people with a will. He did it to give them a chance to show God their love by obeying him.
The fact that man chose poorly does not mean that God’s plan failed. And when man fell into sin, God sprang into action with the next part of his plan. In his infinite love, God sent his Son into the world. Jesus kept the law perfectly and died in our place so that we might experience the joys of heaven and be able to stand in the presence of God and his love forever.
My son wanted to give those gloves away to people with cold hands. But even more important was the message inside the gloves, inviting them to hear a message about their Savior. God wants to give his salvation to those with frostbitten hearts. He says, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). So often we are not willing, or if we are, we find we are too weak to use our free will to make anything but bad choices. And that’s when we are overcome by the free gift of God’s grace. We can’t out-sin grace. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Wow. That’s even better than free gloves.