The Gift

In my last few years of being young enough for VBS (Vacation Bible School), I got to go to a simply incredible program offered by one of our local churches.  The church transformed a large empty lot into “Jerusalem”.  The lot was dotted with tents and stations and costumed actors.

We were divided into small groups, and we each had a teacher who brought us into a huge assembly in the morning.  There, we would sing songs and see actors perform Biblical events.  Those same actors would walk around outside in “Jerusalem” throughout the day, adding a masterful realism.  I was in awe.  I am ever so grateful for the work this church placed into presenting the Word of God to children.

The most profound moment for me, however, was something of extraordinary simplicity.  It is to this day a radical shaping of how I have come to understand salvation.  And I can say that even about twenty years later, I still haven’t delved the depths nor mined all the jewels from what I was taught that day.

Our teacher had tiny presents, each lovingly wrapped.  She had us gathered on a quiet side of the camp, and she said something like this,

“Jesus gives us salvation as a free gift.  There’s nothing you can do to earn it.  It’s a present.  He wants to give this gift to everyone.  There is only one thing you have to do to receive His gift.  You have to take it.”

She showed us her basket of little presents.

“I have a present for each of you,” she said.  “I’m going to ask you if you want to receive it.  If you do, it is your gift to have.”

I remember that she came to each of us, intentionally.

“T.J., would you like this gift?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

She gave me the little present.

I was almost trembling.  I had been afraid of myself, afraid I would say no.  I opened the present with nervous fingers.  I was absolutely delighted–and a little surprised–to receive the gift.

I think back on that time, and I realize how close I have stayed to needing that message my whole life.

For most of my life, I have gone through long stages of feeling inadequate to receive salvation.  I have struggled for months and years at a time with wondering if I have ever been saved, or have lost my salvation.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me any gift at all, much less the most priceless gift in all the world.  I’ve wondered if God would really give me His Son.

Are you like me?

Do you doubt that God could ever love you?  That He really meant you in John 3:16?  That He really wants to just give you something without prerequisites, conditions, and qualifiers?  Do you struggle with wondering if you’ve done enough since you were saved to somehow earn “keeping” your salvation?

So do I.

And yet . . the clues are already in place to lead me to a different conclusion than endless self-inspection and despair.

After all, God gave me an undeserved gift when He sent me to that VBS.  He gave me another undeserved gift when He sent me to my teacher, who would make the Good News so clear that day.  And He gave me another undeserved gift when He had my teacher prepare that object lesson for us.

I already have proof in my life that God gives undeserved gifts.  So do you.  If you want to know what God is like, read Jesus’ description (and Jesus would know, since He is God) in Matthew 5:43-45.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (NLT)

I spend much of my life wondering whether God would give me His gracious gift of salvation.  But I haven’t been thinking about how many gracious gifts God has given me already that show His willingness to love me and offer me mercy!  These gifts reveal God’s nature to me and give me confidence that He would really give me the most awesome gift of His Son.

 . . And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. (Romans 5:16, NLT).

Salvation is really a free gift.  We don’t earn salvation.  We can’t “keep” salvation by doing good things.  We can simply receive salvation from Jesus.

All the complications and constructs of trying to somehow be worthy are demo’d by these two words: free gift.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NLT)

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on June 7, 2014 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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