March 16, 1999
Have you every bought yourself a gift? I did it once, for Christmas. It seemed like a silly thing to do but at least I didn’t have to exchange it. However, I did miss being surprised when I opened it. Besides, I had to work to pay for it. In the true sense of the word, it wasn’t a gift.
Gifts should not bring an expense to the recipient. One time, someone gave me a gift certificate for a spa. I am not a spa person. It took me a year to redeem it. Then I agonized during the two hour session. Do I tip the girl who pampered me? And how much? This treatment seemed such a frivolity. A suitable tip would actually be more than what I thought the treatment should cost. Besides, having to pay anything would make this gift seem less like a gift.
Gifts should be free. At least that is what the promoters claim. Send for their product and receive a “free gift.” Sometimes, they say if you don’t like their product, just return it and keep the “free gift.”
When I was younger, I sent for whatever it was, just to get the gift. After a while, I realized I didn’t like being on mailing lists. I also realized keeping the gifts made certain whoever sent them took my name off their list. Obviously, their so-called ‘free’ giveaways were not their actual intention.
Personal gifts can come with a price tag too. Most givers do not expect to be paid for their gift, but they often expect something in return, anything from a simple thank you to an equally priced gift.
When I became a Christian, someone told me that God’s salvation is a free gift. They explained I could do nothing to earn it and showed me verses like Ephesians 2:8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Even though I believed this was so, it was years before the idea of earning things from God became foolishness to me. Somehow, I thought I could earn His approval or at least prove that God gave this gift to a worthy recipient.
Now I know why I cannot earn His grace. I failed to understand God’s standard. To spend eternity with Him, I must be perfect. No matter how hard I try, that is beyond me. Besides, if anyone could earn eternal life or somehow pay for it, what would be the cost? Can we offer our goodness and expect Him to ignore the other stuff? Isn’t that like serving an omelet with 12 good eggs and a few rotten ones?
God is perfect and our goodness is like filthy rags compared to His (Isaiah 64:6). It is to that standard that the Bible says we fall short, like arrows that cannot make it to the target.
So God’s eternal life is a gift, but is it free? Are there no strings attached? Don’t we have to do something to get it? Be good? Or at least go to church?
Soldiers in training lined up in front of their sergeant. Two of them had lost their rifles. The sergeant had two rifles slung over his shoulders. He called one of the men forward and barked, “You lost your weapon. How can you be a soldier? What should happen to you?”
The trembling soldier listed a string of what he thought were suitable consequences and soon found himself running laps full tilt with his rifle held high over his head. This is work.
The sergeant called the other soldier and asked the same questions. The man replied, “I cannot be a soldier without my weapon, Sir. I simply need it, Sir.” The sergeant handed him his rifle and told him to rejoin the ranks. This is grace.
God’s gift is wrapped in a Person and set before us. Grace means that our part is simply realizing that we cannot have eternal life without Him.