That’s what many people feel when they learn that eternal life is free. They hear that good news and ask, “But don’t I have to do something?”
Your whole life was oriented towards earning things. If you wanted something, the most natural thing to ask is, “What do I need to do?” You set a goal, made a plan, and worked to earn it. That’s what you do—what you always do for everything.
Naturally, most people take the same approach to salvation. “What do I have to do?” If you asked that question to a pastor in a legalistic church, he’d give you exactly what you’d expect: a to-do list. The Christian life becomes one of having to do certain things to make sure you go to heaven when you die. In that scheme, your life at least has a clear direction: no goodness, no heaven.
But then grace throws you a curveball or changes the game. God gives you eternal life for free, through simple faith in Jesus. Instead of trying to get to the finish line, it turns out that’s where you start. In that case, “Don’t I have to do something?” is no longer the right question to ask about your Christian life.
So what is?
Here’s how Gerhard Forde put it:
“For you see, that question—don’t we have to do something?—is not the question at all any longer. The question now is, what are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything? It is an entirely new ball game, for the grace of God has come. Jesus has been raised from the dead!” (Forde, We Preach Christ Crucified, p. 49).
You don’t have to do anything. At least, not for your salvation. The believer already has everlasting life (John 3:16) and has already passed from death to life (John 5:24). So if you have believed, it’s a done deal. You don’t have to do anything because Jesus already did everything.
So now what?
Now that grace has flipped the script and removed the main motive that most of Christendom has had for living the Christian life, what do you do next?
Grace frees you to begin asking a different set of questions, such as: “What do I do to help my struggling neighbor?”
Or, “What do I do to help more people learn about Jesus?”
Or, “What can I do to be a functioning member of my local church?”
In other words, instead of asking, “What do I need to do to win the game?” the believer asks, “What do I do, now that the game is already won?”
Thought for the day: When you stop working for your salvation, then you can start working for the Lord.