December 11, 2006

One gift not boxed up under a Christmas tree

From boxes of cereal to promotions for computers, the words “free gift” are bandied about as if being redundant will make them more appealing. The dictionary says “free” is not under the control of another, available without charge. “Gift” is something given willingly and without any payment.

Besides the redundancy and the sales pitch, everyone knows that you still have to buy the product to get the “free” prize or come-on that goes with it. This perk is not a gift, nor is it free. A free gift is when my neighbor pops over with a pie, totally unexpected, made it “just because,” and tells me I can keep the pan too. Of course, I have to reach out and take it before this gift becomes mine, but that is another part of the definition.

Today’s reading is from Ephesians 2 and is about the greatest gift: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

Anyone familiar with this passage knows that it goes on to say that we cannot earn forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life by being good, doing religion, or chalking up points with God or a church. It is something that God does. We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus . . . .”

The sentence structure also indicates that “gift” refers to both faith and grace. Faith is believing; I cannot believe God without His help, without Him giving me the capacity. Sin is such that I not only resist trusting God but simply cannot put my faith in Him.

Grace is a little harder to define. In the original language of Scripture, the word means a favor or blessing, but more specifically, “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”

In other words, grace is a revelation of Christ to my heart that changes me to be more like He is. Obviously, that has to be a gift; I could never manufacture a transformation like that all by myself, and sin says ‘no’ to it anyway.

Further, it is a gift that is bestowed without any action on my part. I cannot earn it; my sin says I don’t deserve it. My sinful resistance against everything concerning Jesus Christ even keeps me from reaching out and receiving such a gift.

Grace is something that God does totally. He not only bakes the pie, but puts it in my kitchen, and even feeds it to my hungry heart. All I do is thank Him for blessing me, and then respond in total gratitude for every delicious morsel.

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