The people who design grocery stores know what they’re doing.
Every time you go to check out, you find racks of very specific kinds of things lined up near the registers. Candy. Magazines. Big bins of $5 movies that you haven’t thought about in fifteen years. Those who design the layouts of grocery stores understand people, and they understand the Impulse Buy.
The Impulse Buy: when you pick up something you hadn’t planned on picking up, probably for short-term consumption, because you believe it will benefit you in some unforeseen way.
Case in point: those Eos lip balms. They are just like any other $1 chap stick that I already own, except they come in pretty colors and give me a quick flush of pleasure when I look at them. For some reason, the design package Eos comes in makes it more desirable; I finally picked one up in the checkout a few months back, after weeks of being tempted by it every time I went through the line. Do I use it all the time now? No. I wasn’t using any lip balm before; I’m still not using any. I bought it on impulse because it looked attractive to me in the moment.
To a human being, ‘impulse’ is usually not a word we think of positively. Why? Because generally, human impulses are self-serving and short-sighted. The things we do without trying, without thinking and planning—the things our impulses compel us to—are generally not loving things.
This is why it is so shocking to discover that God’s impulses are not our impulses.
God purchased us out of the force of his nature as well. God’s actions flow out of who he is and what he wants, like ours do. But here is where the similarities begin to diverge.
Here are three reasons why God’s purchase of us isn’t an “impulse buy”:
- His impulse is eternal, not short-sighted or short term, like ours.
When we say that he has the impulse to save, we can’t mean that he sees us sitting there one moment, and decides to pick us up the next. He acts through time, and he exists outside of it. His motive for saving us is, in fact, eternal. He decided to do it eons before the Eos was put into the grocery stores:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…” (Ephesians 3:3-4a)
- His impulse is an overflow of love, not an overflow of felt need like ours.
We buy a candy bar because we believe it will give us pleasure. He purchased us (at great cost) because he knew it would give him pleasure to do so. But his pleasures aren’t like our pleasures. He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18). He loved us with such great love that he offered up the most that he had, to make a purchase that he had no obligation to make. This ‘buy’ came out of the overflowing generosity of a nature that has existed in love for all of time.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
We pick up things in the checkout because we believe we’ll be benefited by the item in some way that we hadn’t thought about five minutes ago. God didn’t pick us up like a candy bar because he saw he’d get five minutes of pleasure out of us. He picked us up because his nature is one of joy spilling over, impelling him to purchase conduits who can participate in that joy.
- His purchase will last forever, and will never sink to the bottom of a purse like ours.
Let us read the rest of this run-on sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to see just how forever-permanent God’s ‘buy’ is:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
God didn’t simply pluck us from the shelf with some feeling that he’d find a use for us later. That kind of intention is the kind that sends a new lip balm to the shadowlands of the bottom drawer and the purse pocket.
He plucked us, one fine day, after an eternity of planning, based on the impetus of a nature that loves, for the purpose that he had meticulously and intently ordained. He bought you to be holy and blameless before him. He bought you to be his own son or daughter, fully intending to lavish riches of grace upon you. He bought you “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
His long-term purchase is the best thing that has ever or will ever happen to you. In a million years, you won’t be done thanking him for it.