I am working on a project for work that has plunged me back into my favorite topic when I was in law school – contracts. I love the whole idea of an offer and an acceptance between two people that forms a contract, and all the ways that simple formula can go awry and make determining what the contract is a little messy. One problem arises when the person hearing the offer adds something to it or changes it somehow when attempting to accept. In this case, there is no valid contract because what the second person has done is not accept the offer, but made a counteroffer. There is no binding contract until the original offeror accepts the counteroffer.
As I worked on this project, it occurred to me that the legal rules of offer and acceptance for the formation of a contract apply just as much to our salvation as they do to contracts between humans.
At Calvary, God made an offer of salvation to all people. “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30 (NIV). The offer was made to pay for the sins of all mankind, for the sins of each individual human being on earth. Jesus had already told us what our part of the bargain was when He said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24 (NIV). All that is required to accept the offer is to believe. For God’s part, He also promises He will send His Holy Spirit to seal us and guide us when we believe.
It’s a wonderful offer, and I always marvel that there are those who don’t accept it outright. My hope is that such people simply don’t understand the depth and simplicity of the offer, and in time they will know and accept.
But in thinking about the law of contracts I realized there is, in some ways, a more dangerous response to the offer than the outright rejection. That is the intended acceptance that is in fact a counteroffer.
Instead of just accepting God’s offer as is, we add to it or change it just a little. We say, “I believe, and I’ll do these good deeds to pay for my salvation.” Or we say, “I believe, and I’ll attend this correct denomination of the faith every Sunday.” Or maybe, “I believe, and know I must read only this one translation of the Bible.” Still others say, “I believe, but I haven’t followed all the rules and need to accept the punishment for my transgressions.”
But none of these responses is an acceptance; they are all counteroffers. The danger of the counteroffer is that we might think we’ve accepted the offer and have created a binding contract between us and God. But in reality there is no binding contract at all if we add anything to the original offer, unless, of course, God accepts our counteroffer.
And I suppose He could, and maybe He does, accept all the counteroffers that at least start with “I believe.” But why take that chance when the original offer is so perfect, so full of grace and love? It’s so simple – just accept that all we need to do is believe in Jesus and we will have eternal life now and for eternity, and we get the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit as a bonus. Why, oh why, do we so often insist on making an unnecessary counteroffer?