Ask a person that believes in the afterlife where they will go when they die, most will say heaven. Ask them why and the majority of the answers will relate to their religious activities or good works. In other words, “salvation” is something that is earned by them.
The thinking goes like this: if there is a judgment, hopefully my good will outweigh my bad and I will make it into heaven. Besides, I have been baptized, attend church, am a member of a religious organization, give to charity, etc. Even for the non-religious person, there is the idea that being “a good person” is enough to earn salvation.
But what if salvation is not something that is earned at all? In fact, the New Testament describes salvation as something that can’t be earned; it is called a gift.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added).
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, emphasis added).
Let’s define the word gift: “A present; any thing given or bestowed; any thing the property of which is voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation; a donation [Emphasis added].”
The key phrase here is “without compensation”; the gift may be costly to the giver, but the recipient receives it without providing anything to the giver.
Let me give a simple illustration. Suppose I had a very expensive watch that I decided to give to you. Let’s assume that the watch was worth about 50,000 US dollars. I made arrangements to get the watch to you, but at the last minute required that you give me one dollar in exchange for the watch. What would you do? If you are the least bit rational, you would gladly give me one dollar in exchange for the $50,000 watch.
However, something critical has changed in our transaction: by definition, the watch is no longer a gift but a purchase. You may argue that you got a phenomenal, once-in-a-lifetime deal—and that certainly would be true—but you didn’t get the watch “without compensation” so it wasn’t a gift.
While salvation is a gift is free to the recipient, it was very costly to the Giver. The cost was the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. “For God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Many people tend to resist the truth that salvation is a gift and there are several reasons why:
1. Most good things in life come through hard work and effort and it seems counter-intuitive that something like salvation wouldn’t also be “earned” through hard work. There is no such thing as a free lunch, right?
2. Some people have a lot of time, money, and effort vested in their religion and nearly every religion teaches that salvation is through rituals and human effort. People don’t like to admit that their religion is wrong about salvation.
3. For many people, the thought of their eternal destiny is not that important. Religion to them is kind of like fire insurance; you hope you never need it, but in case you do, you have it.
However, the fact that salvation is a gift is clearly good news for us and makes much more sense than relying on religious affiliation or good works. It is available for anyone regardless of race, religion, nationality, or social status.
Think of it this way: if your children come home for Christmas from far away, you don’t stop them and ask for their membership credentials or list of works; you welcome them home because they are related to you. When you receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, you become a child of God and part of His family.
The Bible refers to salvation in the present tense and something we can know we have. Not because the saved are better than others or aren’t sinners, but because salvation is a gift and they have received that gift. Look at the language that Paul and John used:
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, emphasis added).
“He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:12, 13, emphasis added).
Salvation is quite amazing in its simplicity. It is a gift. But you are going to have to think outside the religious box that makes things more complicated than they have to be.
Think of it another way: suppose you were in the window of a burning building and a firefighter was right there ready to pull you to safety. All you had to do was reach out and receive his help. But you said, No thank you, I will find my own way out of the building. Not very smart any way you look at it.
It will be much worse leaving this life trusting your own religion and works while ignoring the gift that God has so generously and lovingly provided. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Hebrews 2:3).
“But as many as received him [Jesus Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12, emphasis added).
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