Ours is a world whose entire infrastructure is built upon the system of the transaction. You do this for me, and I will do that for you. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours, so to speak. Our societal language is constructed by a labyrinthine network of buying and trading and earning and purchasing and rewarding. These are the inescapable laws of the land. The only hope afforded, then, comes when you learn how get better at the exchanges happening all around. You might say that life is all about being a better negotiator. So long as we can come out on top, we will win life’s transactions. So the logic runs.
Similarly, we employ this same logic of transactions (and negotiations) with God. We do righteous things in order to get favor from him. To experience more of his blessings. We practice virtue in exchange for grace, all in the hopes of and for the means of winning a spot in heaven. But this is more than faulty. It’s unchristian. So says 1517 author and speaker Chad Bird in a resounding article, entitled, “Unchristianity: Putting Jesus on the Unemployment Line” — he writes:
Where we get it all wrong is when we assume that . . . Jesus is an if/then, transactional Lord. A transactional understanding of God is the great heresy of Unchristianity. It follows a simple creed: If we do this, then God will do that. If we work hard for Him, then He will work hard for us. If we give Him a little of ourselves, then He will give us a little of Himself.
God helps those who helps themselves, makes righteous those who work toward righteousness, blesses those who make themselves worthy of a blessing.
Far from being a Savior, the god of Unchristianity is a coach who whips us into moral shape, inspires us to be better people, serves as our example. If we get good enough, then we don’t really need Jesus anymore. We’ve put Him out of a job.
The ugly, unspoken goal of Unchristianity is this: to be so virtuous, so god-fearing, so free of sin, that we don’t need Jesus anymore. The transaction is complete.
The fundamental flaw in transactionalism is this: we’re too late. Way before there was even an “if,” ages before we could even attempt to bargain with God, He had already wrapped everything up. From all eternity, we were the apple of His eye. The Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world — including our own sin-smeared “goodness” — was slain from the foundation of the world. Divine love, forgiveness, righteousness, the whole shebang is a done deal in Jesus.
Far from us putting Christ out of His job as savior, He’s put us out of a job as grace-earners. There’s no if/then: if we do this, then God will do that. There’s only because/therefore: because Jesus has done this, therefore we are righteous.
This is the good news that transfigures the fundamental fabric of the Christian faith. This is what makes “amazing grace” so amazing. That is, at the center of the God’s gospel of mankind’s salvation is, indeed, a transaction but it’s one-way. You can’t buy God’s favor with all the good works accomplished in a million lifetimes. His favor is bestowed forever as only and purely a gift. For free. Gratis. The salvation equation only has one participant and his name is the Lord Jesus Christ. The One who took all your sin in exchange for all his righteousness. He swallowed all your filth and imparted you with the faith of the Father so that you might stand before him with boldness. The solution to the salvation equation is the unilateral love of God in Christ.