A month or so ago the College Group went to a lower-income neighborhood and took over a laundromat. This was purely a ministry to the community. A chance to show the love of Christ to the people around us. People generously gave the money to pay for the soap, for the fabric softener sheets, the quarters for the machines... this was a chance to show people what being the Church is all about.
We were warned before we went that people would try and abuse our generosity. Not that we weren't willing to wash whatever clothes they brought. We were in it to serve people. What people would abuse was that this was there chance to use as much soap as they could.
One woman in particular was fixed on getting "enough" soap for her clothes. We poured in the proper amount. Then, at her insistence, we poured in another cap full of soap. This wasn't enough though and before we knew it she was pouring half of the bottle into the machine. Before we got to the point of giving her the bottle I was standing next to her and she complained that "I'm going to have to wash these again. You guys aren't putting enough in."
In this woman's mind, there had to be a catch to our generosity. We couldn't be there focused on providing her with clean laundry. We must be there to do a half-way job of doing the laundry. We must be there to cut corners. We must be there to save our soap for later. She would rather put in so much soap that her clothes come out dingy than trust that we were there for her good.
This might seem a little ridiculous. The truth is that we go through life looking for "the catch" to things that seem to good to be true. And we're usually right. A free year worth of Chick-fil-a for being one of the first 100 people in a new store? More like 52 coupons for the #1 meal. Still really generous but at about 20 coupons in, I'm really tired of always eating the #1 meal. The Original Chick-fil-a sandwich is great but I'd like to branch out! (Others somehow get other meals with their coupons but I just don't have that level of charm.)
We look for the "catch" when it comes to the gift that God gives us who trust in Him: grace. We take the good idea that those who love Christ will keep His commandments and we twist it into a catch. We twist it into a need to do things to earn that grace. We make sure that we always go to church (especially on vacation). We make sure that we listen to the right music, we read the right books, we vote the right way. None of these things are wrong... but they become wrong when we're doing it to gain God's approval.
Grace is getting the things that we don't deserve. We don't deserve the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. We don't deserve the blessing of fellowship of other believers. We don't deserve eternal life. These are the the big things. We don't even deserve the small blessings that God gives us. James 1:17 says that every good gift comes from above.
Every good gift comes from God.
And He doesn't come with catches.
He gives gifts out of love. His desired will is for you to enter into relationship with him but He isn't like the kid on the playground that gives things to gain allegiance and then takes it away when he doesn't get what he wants.
So let's stop looking for the "catch" to grace. Let's stop trying to earn it and instead live a life where we are free to serve Christ out of love, not a need for approval. When we live lives seeking approval we end up painting a picture to the people around us that's not much different than the lady who wants more soap.
And that's not a picture that gives people a very good idea of the love of Christ.