It sounded like a great deal at the time. We were being offered a free boat, complete with outboard motor, and all we had to do was go to East Texas and listen to a short presentation on some lakeside real estate. We were a young married couple with a lot of free time on our hands, so we decided to make a Saturday of it. We accepted the offer, gassed up the car, and headed east with visions of carefree days on a local lake enjoying our new boat dancing in our heads. As I said, we were young, and youth is sometimes accompanied by an overabundance of naïveté. We were innocent and unaware of the dangers lurking in the piney woods just outside of Tyler, Texas. Our intention was to get our free boat and return home triumphant; ready to brag about our new-found treasure to anyone and everyone who would listen. The thought of actually buying lakefront property never crossed our minds because we didn’t have any money. So we were safe. Or so we thought.
When we finally arrived at our destination – the real estate development company’s sales office – it was nothing more than a series of trailers at the end of a remote dirt road in the middle of nowhere. There was no lake to be seen. But the parking lot was full of cars. That was a good sign. We were directed to one of the trailers and, upon entering, found ourselves in a small lobby ringed by folding chairs occupied by what looked like extras from the cast of the Dukes of Hazard TV show. There was an abundance of “gimme” caps, camouflage T-shirts, and work boots. And that was just the women. To say that we stuck out would have been an understatement. It was about this time that we started questioning the wisdom of our decision to come in the first place. But before we could change our minds, we were greeted by a burly looking man in polyester pants and a loud shirt. He introduced himself and informed us that he would be showing us around the property. We followed him outside where he sequestered us in his large, late-model Cadillac sedan – my wife in the back seat and me in the front riding “shotgun.” This guy was a piece of work. He was the stereotypical salesman who gives all salesmen a bad name. He was loud, obnoxious, and smoked a large, foul-smelling cigar. As he drove us around the property, he would make periodic sudden stops, jump out of the car and ask us to come look at a particular piece of land. He would call on his walkie-talkie and ask the sales office if this lot was still available, and they would inform him that it had just sold. Visibly disappointed, he would get back in the car and drive us to another location, while informing us that the best lots were all getting bought up, so if we wanted a deal, we had better act fast. He drove us from lot to lot, all the while regaling us with the wonderful attributes of the development and the life-changing nature of lake front property ownership. What was amazing was the lack of any homes on the property. It seems that people were buying, but no one was building.
This little adventure went on for more than an hour, and the entire time our host continued to puff away on his cigar. I was beginning to get irritated by his pressure tactics, but my wife was beginning to turn green from car sickness due to excess cigar smoke and the fact that she was several months pregnant.
I could tell it was time to call it quits, so I informed our host that we really needed to head back and that we would not be purchasing any property that day. We had just come to get our FREE boat. At that bit of news, his countenance visibly changed and his demeanor took a turn for the worst. He drove us back to the sales office in silence and, once there, ushered us into a small office and told us his boss would have to talk to us before we could get our prize. My wife and I were both exhausted from the steady barrage of sales propaganda. But we were one step closer to reaching our goal: a free boat. Then in stepped the sales manager. He was a younger man with a bright smile and a smooth delivery, and for the next 15 minutes he pulled out every trick in his arsenal in an effort to make us the proud owners of lakefront property. He cajoled, bargained, pleaded, and yes, even harassed us. He was determined to get us to sign on the dotted line. The fact that we couldn’t afford the land meant nothing to him. He was out to close a deal and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. But I finally convinced him otherwise. I had a pregnant wife on my hands who had run out of patience a long time ago, and if I didn’t get her out of there soon, the only way that land was going to be of value to me was as a burial plot. So he let us go. He was angry and gritted his teeth as he told us where to go to redeem our free gift. Our spirits were buoyed at the thought of finally getting our hands on our new boat. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to get it home. Our car didn’t have a trailer hitch. But that wasn’t going to be a problem. Because when we finally got our “free boat” it came in a cardboard box about the size of a small coffee table. There on the front of the box was a picture of our prize – a two-man rubber boat complete with a small electric motor (battery not included). We were surprised, disappointed, confused and angry. We had been taken for a ride –literally. We had been bamboozled, hoodwinked, hornswoggled, scammed and had had the wool pulled over our eyes.
So what’s the point? While it took us a while to get over the disappointment of not getting a boat, it didn’t take 30 minutes into our car ride home for us to begin to learn some valuable lessons. We had to confess that we had been motivated by greed. The idea of getting something for nothing had blinded us to the realities of life. We fell for the oldest marketing trick in the book, the promise of gain at no-cost. The old adage “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” isn’t just a quaint saying, it’s a truth of life that is learned through experience. We all discover that nothing is free in this world. Success comes at a price. Prosperity requires expenditure of energy. Intelligence demands hard work and study. Practice makes perfect. No pain, no gain. We inherently know that nothing is truly free. Including our freedom as a nation. We celebrate it every fourth of July with the understanding that our freedom came at a high price. And maintaining that freedom is just as costly.
But there is one thing we can have that really does cost us nothing: salvation. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our salvation didn’t come at a price, because it did. It cost Jesus everything and it cost God the Father the life of His own Son. But it cost us nothing. For those of us who have accepted this free gift, it came with no strings attached. There were no sales pitches to sit through, no high-pressure tactics to endure. It wasn’t some kind of bait-and-switch either. The gift wasn’t some kind of cheap enticement to get something more out of us. It was the most valuable, priceless treasure we could have ever received. Far better than any boat with an outboard motor. Paul tells us, “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT). And not only have we received a free gift, that gift provides us with freedom. Paul puts it this way, “So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Galatians 5:1 NLT). We’re free from having to live according to the law. We don’t have to try and adhere to some impossible set of standards in order to keep God pleased. We don’t have to endure some torturous sales presentation in order to earn our prize at the end. We’re free from that. It would have been like us having a 21-foot ski boat with a 185-horse power inboard/outboard motor delivered right to our driveway, without us having to do a single thing to deserve it or earn it. No trips to East Texas. No high-pressure sales tactics. No purchase necessary.
Christ has set us free from having to earn our own salvation or work out our own righteousness. He provided it all with His death. Our response to all this? I think Paul put it best. “Thank God for his Son – a gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NLT). We have received a free gift, and that gift has provided us with freedom. Freedom from having to earn salvation through keeping the law. Freedom from slavery to sin. Freedom from the punishment we deserved for our sins. But we are also free to obey and serve God willingly and gladly. Thank God for the free gift of His Son and the freedom He provides.
There are all kinds of offers for free stuff out there today. But most of them ring hollow. They either end up costing us more than we ever imagined or they fail to deliver as promised. Because in life there really is no free lunch. You really can’t get something for nothing. That is unless you’re talking about salvation in Christ. The most priceless gift any man or woman could ever receive. “So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free” (John 8:28 NLT).