Free*

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There are few things in this life that raise my suspicions as high as something marked “Free*.” It’s a word you’ll find all over the place. Phone companies use it, clothing retailers use it, internet service providers use it—the most charitable soup kitchen in the world staffed entirely by nuns who had all taken vows of poverty could use it and I would still raise my eyebrows in skepticism, because when you trace that asterisk to the bottom of the page, there’s always a War-and-Peace sized swath of text written in 6 pt. font that effectively condenses to: “*not really.”

Free (asterisk)And you know, before you even read the first word of all that legalese, that there will be a catch. There will always be a catch. That’s one of the dominant rules of our society: there is no free lunch. Someone, somewhere, is paying for it—and if a business is offering it to you, rest assured that they intend to have their hands in your wallet before the meal is over. Maybe it’s exorbitant shipping and handling fees. Maybe there’s a two-year contract, or it’s only after you purchase one of greater or equal value. Maybe it’s in exchange for your firstborn or your favorite limb. I don’t know; there are so many variables anymore. The point is this: if someone offers you something for Free*, then you’re going to be paying for it one way or another.

Not that the whole concept of Free* is anything new. It’s a dirty marketing trick, and it’s been around in some form or another for thousands of years. In fact, we can trace its earliest recorded use all the way back to a familiar scene featuring a woman, a garden, and a snake.

Devilish marketing

“You will not surely die.”

That’s the very first recorded lie of the Bible. Eve told the serpent that God had listed death as a consequence of eating from the forbidden tree, and the serpent responded, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).

“Hey, guess what,” Satan was telling Eve. “That forbidden fruit? God doesn’t want you to have it because He doesn’t want you to have all the wonderful benefits that come with it. He’s holding back, but all you have to do is reach out and take it. It’s Free*, after all.”

Eve bought the lie, bit the fruit, and found out the hard way about fine print. No, she didn’t surely die…right that second. But that act of rebellion against God did make death an inevitability by cutting her off from the tree of life. Satan convinced her to overlook an asterisk, and he’s been doing the same thing with the rest of the world since then.

Free* is never free

Satan operates on those little asterisks. He takes an ugly sin, rebrands it into something attractive, and then throws that little * into the corner, hoping you’ll be too distracted by the flash and the pomp to pay any attention—because, just like our modern-day advertisements, there will be a catch. There will always be a catch. The devil doesn’t offer us temptations because he wants us to enjoy life; he does it because it’s the easiest way to distract us from what God has to offer. It’s the easiest way to flood our lives with the spiritual and physical penalties of sin and ruin us without us even knowing.

There’s a reason God thundered the commandments from Mount Sinai, just as there’s a reason Christ spent time expounding on the letter and the spirit of the law. The instructions God gives us in His word are not, as Satan wanted Eve to believe, restrictions intended to limit our enjoyment of life. They exist to protect us from the damage caused by sin—the very damage Satan tries to hide under the rug when he offers us all the pleasures of the Free* things in life.

Take sex. How hard has our adversary worked to make premarital and extramarital sex appear fun? Desireable? Normal? All Satan wants us to see is how much Free* fun we’re missing out on—not the little asterisk that reminds us about STDs, broken relationships, shattered trust, and emotional pain. When all parties involved keep sex within the boundaries of God-defined marriage, those problems become a non-issue. That’s just one example among hundreds—you can compare for yourself the differences in how Satan and God approach things like lying, greed, theft, murder, and so on.

The narrow gate

In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ told the assembled multitudes, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Notice what He said about the pathway to destruction: many go in by it. There are many people ignoring and overlooking Satan’s asterisks because he makes Free* look so appealing—and how can something that makes us happy be bad for us, anyway? But the end of that path—the end of the path with the great big gate that screams FREE*—is destruction. No matter how attractive, no matter how alluring, that path is not going to end well.

And then there’s the narrow path. Christ said it’s a difficult way, meaning there are going to be challenges along the way. It’s not going to be a cakewalk like the broad path, but it does have something really great going for it: it doesn’t end in your destruction. And as if that alone isn’t enough, it’s also a path that leads to life. Is it going to be difficult to walk the way God says to walk and to make the choices God says to make? Absolutely. There’s no false advertising here: this path is going to be tough and you’re going to hit roadblocks. But it also leads to a much brighter future than…well, you know. Self-destruction.

As in all things, you can choose your path. Just know that Free* isn’t free, and it isn’t worth it.

Choose the narrow gate instead.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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