Where’s the Payoff, Here?

At home, I have a tablet that I use.  Being bright and larger than my phone (or the print in a typical print Bible), I can read my devotions on it easily, and even use it at church to review Bible passages that the minister is referencing.  With regards to this web site, I can capture ideas and Bible verses for future articles, as well as keep up with reading other authors’ articles.

In addition to more “spiritual” uses, though, I also play games on this tablet.  While I don’t mind paying for a good game (especially on my laptop or a gaming console), I tend to play mostly free games on the tablet.  (My phone doesn’t have a lot of free space at the moment, so the number of games on it are limited.)  This means a lot of watching (or at least playing) advertisements, though.

It struck me as interesting the other day, while playing a free-to-play game, that one of the ads was for another free-to-play game.  Think about that for a minute: I wasn’t paying anything to play one game, but someone was willing to pay for advertising about another free game.  That made me wonder: why spend money to advertise something else that was free?

Now, I realize that a lot of these games have in-game purchases (allowing one to buy virtual gold or hints), but for a purely ad-driven environment, nobody – other than maybe the advertising service – makes money until a consumer actually spends money to purchase a product.  The same is true for all sorts of other advertisements, whether on web pages, TV, or radio: companies can pass around advertising funds from one party to another party all they want, but until someone outside of that “loop” gives up their hard-earned money to make a purchase or donation, there’s no real benefit to them in paying for advertising.

In (sort of) the same way, there is no benefit to hearing about God’s plan for us – salvation, purpose, and fulfillment through Jesus Christ – if we don’t do anything about it.  We can listen to sermons, read the Bible (and other books that teach us its principles), and go to church every week, but if we have only an academic knowledge or a rote claim of faith, it is just “advertising”.

Now, unlike advertisers, God isn’t trying to get your money.  He created the universe, so He doesn’t need anything from you or me.  In fact, He is perfect, holy, and self-sufficient, so He doesn’t even need for people to like Him in order for Him to be complete and fulfilled.  Having said that, He loves us so much that He wants us to be on good terms with Him.  He knows that if we walk and talk with Him, having been restored to His family (through accepting Jesus’ payment for our sins), that this will be the best for us.  And, what more could anyone – including God – want for those that they love, than for them to be in a happy relationship with the Author of all that is good, and for us to have the best lives possible?

In an effort to reach all humankind with this opportunity, God has commissioned His followers to share this good news with others.  God also speaks directly to individuals sometimes, and has given us the Bible to tell us about Himself and His plan for us, yet – for His own reasons – God also chose the church to share that good news.

When the message of Jesus Christ stays in the church, and no one is changed, though, we are like app developers advertising to each other, without actually making money.  We are unlike the following illustrations of success that Jesus spoke about:

And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Mark 4:20 NLT

When the message of Jesus Christ goes out to those outside of God’s family – to those who have strayed away (see Luke 15:11-32) – but no one who hears it does anything about it, this is also like advertising that is broadcast but has no effects.

That is, the gospel (“good news”) about Jesus can change lives, but only if its hearers do something about it.

In the early church, the book of Acts records a crowd of people hearing about Jesus, and asking what they should do in return.  The answer of Peter (an apostle of Jesus) included this summary:

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts of the Apostles 2:38 NLT

(See also Romans 10:9)

Again, there’s no product being sold here, but when those who are shown a truly better way (not just a marketing spin on a product’s supposed benefits) don’t act upon that knowledge, this is truly a lost opportunity.  Regrettably, it is far worse than missing out on a hot stock tip, and watching that stock grow and grow in value.  Instead, choosing to skip out on God’s invitation has external consequences.  That is, when a perfect and holy God – the eternal source of all good – offers us a short path back to Himself, and we choose to remain separated from Him, what can we expect from what is left?

So, don’t just hear or read the good news about Jesus, and His perfect teachings.  Wherever you are with respect to God today, take a step closer to Him, and celebrate the joy of His love for you.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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