Is It Really Free?

Narrows in Grotto Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Narrows in Grotto Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California

On my blog, I have a tag called “free.”  It lists all of the places I’ve visited and blogged about that have no entrance fee.  Sometimes it’s not worth paying an employee to collect day-use fees, and other times the park is supported by other means (volunteer groups, local taxes, etc.).  I appreciate these places that offer access to everyone despite their current financial affluence (or lack of it).

There's no entrance fee to see this view in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
There’s no entrance fee to see this view in Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Most of the parks I visit are either free or covered by my national park pass.  It’s economical as much as anything (though I have been known to pay for state parks when I really want to visit the park).  Paying $25-35 for each park (not uncommon for the larger national parks) gets expensive quickly.

Grand Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Grand Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The problem is that, like many things in life, free is not really free.  I couldn’t use my park pass unless I pay the up-front $80 fee.  Even the free parks aren’t really free – they’re paid for through state, local, or federal taxes, donations, volunteer labor, and more.  There’s a cost to running a park, from upkeep to security to restrooms to garbage removal to printing trail maps.

Someone has to maintain the bridges... Highline Trail, Wyoming
Someone has to maintain the bridges… Highline Trail, Wyoming

There’s a sector of Christianity that highlights the fact that Christ’s gift of salvation is free to us.  They’re right: We can’t work or buy our way into heaven.  There’s nothing we can do to deserve salvation more, and there’s nothing we can do to earn it except to receive what Jesus did for us.  Accepting Christ is totally free for us.

Sea grass at Manchester State Beach, California
Seagrass at Manchester State Beach, California

But just like even free parks aren’t really free, so being a Christian isn’t entirely free.  Local taxpayers have funded Kootenai Falls County Park for years, but I get in free (unless I choose to give a donation – at which point it’s more like I’m giving a gift).  Jesus paid the cost, and I get into heaven free.  Salvation isn’t completely free.

The swinging bridge in Kootenai County Park, Montana
The swinging bridge in Kootenai County Park, Montana

When we hike trails with no entrance fee, we’re still not completely free.  We stay on the trail when the sign says to do so, we clean up after our dogs, we treat others with respect, and we leave no trace.  So yes, there’s no monetary fee to hike.  But you still have to pay the cost of burs in your sneakers, obeying the rules of the park, leaving no trace, and so on and so forth.

Hazards of the trail: dusty feet.  Nampaweap, Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, Arizona
Hazards of the trail: dusty feet. Nampaweap, Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, Arizona

The Christian life is similar.  Salvation is free of cost to us.  But walking through the Christian life, we find the cost of following Christ.  Surrender, obedience, choices – salvation may be monetarily free, but following after God and walking as His child costs us something.

Just like hiking is worth the cost to us – whether there’s an entrance fee or just the inherent cost of hiking – so we must find it worth the cost to follow Christ.  We may lose the entire world, but we will gain eternal life with Jesus.  It may be painful, but I know that He is worth the cost.