I asked him what he meant by “kicker.” My friend explained that a “kicker” was a hidden agenda. “Sometimes,” he said, “I get the feeling that the only reason Christians even talk to me is to get me to become a Christian. When you said that you were sorry for what Christians called me, I’ve heard it before but always with something else…a kicker.”

I’ve thought a lot about what my friend said since then…

What follows is a course in kickers, Kickers 101.

Before we get stated, it is important to define terms. A kicker is the “essence” of the motion that causes the pain…as in a foot being applied to the posterior with force. A “kicker” is the one who administers the kicker. A “kickee” is the one being kicked. Frankly, I have been both a kicker and a kickee so I am an expert on this subject.

There are three basic types of kickers.

There are covert kickers.

This is what my friend was talking about when he thanked me for not having a kicker. In its pagan variety, you will find this under “bait and switch” schemes as in, “Sorry, we just sold out of the more affordable Mercedes, but let me show you some of the other fine automobiles we offer.” Or as in, “I wouldn’t bury my dog in that casket. Let me show you some caskets that are befitting the dignity of your departed loved one.” Or as in, “You’ve got to be kidding? I, of course, will sell you that suit but you don’t have the suspenders to match it. Let me show you a more popular and current style.”

One doesn’t expect that from Christians. That is why, when we do it, it is such a surprise…and works so well.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold…But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 3:12 & 4:2).

When friendship evangelism has more to do with evangelism than friendship, we can lose both. When we love people because of what they can do for us, it isn’t love; it’s manipulation. When we feed the hungry only because, once fed, they will listen to the Gospel presentation, we betray the very teaching of the One who had compassion on people because…well…just because he was compassionate.

There are pompous kickers.

These are the folks whose self-righteousness makes you feel guilty. It’s the same feeling you get after a formal afternoon tea for the Queen of England…then look into a mirror only to discover a piece of spinach in your teeth. These are the kinds of people who make you feel guilty for just living.

This is subtle, but real. You will find this among the Pharisees who talk about God a lot, pray (often with tears), and are very, very serious about religion. I have always been drawn to that kind of person; but to be honest, I never liked him or her very much. I admitted that to Jesus and he told me that he didn’t like them much either. Luke tells us that when the Pharisees came to Jesus looking very religious and pious, Jesus “perceived their craftiness” (Luke 20:23).

The kicker, of course, is that they’re faking it. They are not nearly as spiritual as they look. They really aren’t the one exception to the doctrine of radical and pervasive depravity. There is a limit of one Messiah to each universe and they certainly aren’t it.

There are fraudulent kickers.

These are the folks who give it with one hand and take it away with the other. Its pagan variety is often found in a strip joint, in a shopping mall, or on a pornographic website. There are all kinds of promises--happiness, freedom from restraint, riches, etc.--but those promises never deliver.

The Christian kicker is also a promise without fulfillment. Good stuff is given with one hand and taken away with the other: “You are saved and kept by God’s unconditional grace…but don’t overdo it.” (If you can overdo it, it’s not grace.) “God loves you…but don’t let it go to your head.” (If you can’t let it go to your head, it’s not love.) “You’re accepted and forgiven without condition…but don’t try God’s patience.” (If you can try God’s patience, his acceptance and forgiveness aren’t unconditional.) “You’re free…but free only to be obedient.” (If I’m free only to be obedient, then I’m not free.)

Paul wrote, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).

Following Christ is living your life in a fallen world without a kicker. God lived his life in the world—for us—without a kicker.

Christians don’t have to have a kicker. We are loved without condition, forgiven without exception, and free without any bonds except those of love. We don’t have to protect anything, sell anything, or force anything. We don’t have to be right. We don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what we are…redeemed sinners who are loved without condition.

Following Christ is living your life in a fallen world without a kicker.

Do I live my life without a kicker? Are you crazy? I can think of a dozen places off the top of my head where I’ve added a kicker. In fact, I’m probably one of the best kickers you’ve ever met. But Jesus is still quite fond of me, and I’m getting better the more I hang out with him.

And I’m also getting better about not being a kickee. I’m learning to kick back.

Luther put it this way: “There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins…use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious, that their law and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.”

In other words, “Don’t let them do it to you.”