Being a pastor for nearly four decades, I have not owned a home. For the last 20 years, it has been my pleasure to live rent free in a parsonage. But prior to that I always paid rent.
Renting is a collateral contract; that is, both parties have to perform. I have to pay and in return the landlord must allow me to live in his house. If I cannot pay, then out I go – evicted. During tight times (and there have been plenty of those) it was somewhat scary to think of being ‘tossed out’, family and all.
A unilateral contract, on the other hand, is one where only one party in the agreement must perform. It is not equal – one controls the entire contract. There is a worrying nature to this sort of arrangement because one party is at the mercy of the other. And given the peculiar nature of people, one is never secure in the knowledge that the agreement will hold firm.
Maybe you can see where I am going, but let me draw it out a bit more.
The contract I have with my Saviour and Lord is a unilateral one. It must be this way because I cannot perform under the terms of the contract. Why not? Because the contract demands sinless perfection.
One little breach of a collateral contract, whether minor or major, is enough to nullify the entire agreement and subject me to penalties. However I might try to meet the requirements, I will at some point fail. And frankly, I fail inevitably and quickly.
But here is the good news. My Lord Jesus performs constantly, did perform completely, and will perform for ever. He satisfies the contract on my behalf. Therefore, I have no fear of failure at all.
This faithfulness on my Saviour’s part inspires me to please him and honour him. When I consider how unworthy I am and how worthy he is, the amazing nature of it all sometimes overwhelms me.
How desperate it would be if I had to perform – either to enter into the contract in the first place or keep it alive. Indeed, how hopeless is any form of collateral contract with God, where the downside is eternal separation from him in hell. Yet, this is exactly the kind of contract that so many believe in and desire.
These are told that God’s performance in Christ is good and powerful, but something more is required of them to fulfil the contract. They are told they canfulfil it, shouldfulfil it, and mustfulfil it – since if they fail to do so at any point they stand in danger of losing everything.
But those who believe such things are greatly mistaken. The gospel is unilateral in nature. It must be because I am unable to meet the requirements of a holy God. I have broken God’s holy ordinances repeatedly because I have a fallen nature which propels me into law-breaking.
God acts alone
As a believer in Jesus Christ, and one born of the Spirit, I have the Spirit of Christ within me, helping my infirmities. That means that I can yield the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ which pleases God – love, joy, peace, patience and so much else (Galatians 5:22-23). But the point is that I also retain my old sinful nature, so that I cannot obey God with the perfection and consistency that he requires to justify and accept me in my own right.
That is why God must act alone to meet the requirements of the contract. He imputes to me Christ’s perfectrighteousness, removes the penalties of my violations, and gifts me with eternal life.
And thiscontract, controlled completely by God, is not scary – because I know I am loved by him. Its very purpose is that I might be ‘holy and without blame before him in love’ (Ephesians 1:4). He will never reject me despite my repeated, though regrettable, failures.
I refuse to sign any collateral contract with God – and will make no effort to ask others to do so either.