Enjoying an evening to ourselves last week, James and I ventured onto Yelp! to see if we could find an unexpectedly fabulous restaurant in a nearby small town. Rave reviews for the Cozy Grape in Montgomery, Texas, with its whopping population of 659 (as of 2012), convinced us to give it a try.

Braving the unknown, we found ourselves seated at a table just inside the front door of a packed, quaint little bistro. We watched the flow of diners steadily fill every available seat as we enjoyed a delicious meal in a delightful atmosphere. It was perfect!

Having deemed the evening a smashing success, it got even better when our waitress informed us that our check had been taken care of! Talk about delightfully surprised! Completely unbeknownst to us, in secret from their table, a couple we do business with who happened to be dining at the Cozy Grape that night bought our dinner.

We could have had appetizers, dinner salads, the most expensive entrées, desserts, coffees, and if we were drinkers, a bottle or few of wine, and it wouldn’t have mattered. It was paid in full without questions or conditions.

I’m sure our faces bore a look of stunned amusement as we sat astounded for a moment, shocked to be the recipient of such spontaneous generosity. Gathering ourselves to leave, we thanked them for their touching gesture and recounted the blessing of their kindness as we walked to our car.

We felt important. Valued. Special.

Still processing their thoughtfulness the next morning (really, I’m still not over it!), it occurred to me that Jesus did the exact same thing for us!

We all have a tab. Every single one of us, no exceptions, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every sin – big, small, single, habitual, and even those we don’t even consider to be sin by the world’s estimation – is added to our bill.

Thus, we are dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:5), “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, but there’s more, so keep reading).

Yet, because God is rich in mercy and because of His great love for us, even as we amass a running tab, ordering whatever looks good to us, Jesus has already paid the balance before the server can even bring our check.

(photo from news.bbc.co.uk)

(photo from news.bbc.co.uk)

It is the truth of Romans 5:8: “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

It is the free gift of God: eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (the rest of Romans 6:23).

But the transaction of God’s free gift extended isn’t complete until it’s accepted.

Will we refuse His generosity? His goodness? His love and rescue offered to us at no cost to us but our pride, control, and desire to do and have things our way?

Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

If we receive God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, there will be nothing on our tab. The blood of Jesus washes it clean. All of it. No matter what.

And that’s the only way our slate will be clean.

I’ve heard the analogy that no matter how hard you try, you can’t reach a northern city by traveling on an east-west interstate. In Texas, you can’t get to Dallas on I-10. You might want I-10 to be the answer, you might believe with all your heart that I-10 will get you there, and other people might be traveling I-10, convinced they’ll end up in Dallas, but if you travel on I-10, you will never get to Dallas. Ever.

The same is true for heaven. If you try to get there any other way than by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible says you won’t get there: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Do you see the tenderness of a merciful, forgiving, faithful God extending this gift to all who will receive it? Are you sitting at the table of life racking up a bill you won’t be able to pay when the day of judgment comes because you refused God’s offer of salvation and forgiveness?

We have a loving God who cares enough about us to make a way in the first place, and then He gives us very specific instructions in His word for how to receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life in heaven:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confessed and is saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Eternity is a high price to pay for a runaway tab.

If God’s holy influence is at work on your heart, you know.

Respond today.

And then share this with someone who needs to know about God’s free gift.

Thank You, Jesus, for paying the bill for our sin. Lord, thank You for Your grace that turns our hearts to Jesus and continues to work in us to will and do according to Your good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) so we can become more wholly Yours.