- A FREE GIFT
- A GIFT WE MUST ACCEPT IN ORDER TO HAVE IT
- A GIFT GOD PAID FOR IN FULL!
A FREE GIFT
WHAT IS A GIFT?
We are told of this great gift of God’s love in a very familiar passage from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son , that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The legal definition of a gift involves three necessary parts. These elements are as follows:
- Someone must offer it
- Someone must accept it
- The one who accepts it does not pay for it
A gift is something that has been freely offered and accepted without any thought of payment.
WE CANNOT EARN IT
A gift is something that is freely offered. No payment can be involved or the “gift” becomes a “purchase” – something which has been bought. God’s gift of salvation was freely given. He doesn’t offer us something we have to buy -He offers us a gift.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). But in the very next verse he gives us the Good News that all who accept God’s gift of salvation are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 4:24).
Some don’t fully understand that God’s gift of salvation was freely given. They will try, therefore, to turn the gift into a purchase by trying to earn their way into God’s favor.
In Southeast Asia there is a group of people who have taken their efforts to a tragic extreme. They are called “flagellists”. On the Good Friday before Easter, they beat their backs bloody with whips. Some go so far as to have nails driven through their hands on a cross.
Why would people do such awful things in the name of Christianity? It is because they do not understand that their salvation is a gift. Eternal life is a gift from God!
There is nothing we can do to earn or work our way into God’s favor. We are saved by grace, not by “works” – or else we could boast in our efforts (Eph 2:8,9).
Our salvation was “paid in full” at Calvary. When Jesus was dying on that cross He said, “It is finished.” Our faith, then, is totally in the finished work of Christ upon the cross.
Now these people in Southeast Asia are sincere. But they are ignorant. They do not know or understand the greatness of God’s salvation. They are seeking to be saved, but are going about it in their own way. They are indeed very zealous but zeal and sincerity will not save us. We can be sincere and wrong at the same time.
Paul refers to such religious zeal in his letter to the Romans: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:2-4).
What can we conclude? Are such people sincere? Yes. Zealous? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Lost? Yes – through ignorance!
There is no way we can obtain right standing with God by our own efforts or works. That is not God’s way to eternal life. Salvation is a gift, not a purchase. It cannot be bought by anything we can do. The work of salvation has already been done by Christ upon the cross. Our part is to receive the gift which has been so freely given. There is no other way.
Many people have accepted Christ as their Savior and have eternal life. There are those, however, who feel that somehow they must add something to the finished work of Christ upon the cross. They wouldn’t physically beat their bodies, but they often punish themselves in other ways. They work hard to gain God’s approval, but never feel folly accepted. They are always striving to reach greater goals, but forever falling short. They then harshly punish themselves with feelings of guilt and condemnation. Sincere? Yes. Zealous? Yes. Wrong? Yes. Lost? Yes. They have not lost their salvation, but they have lost the joy of their salvation – through ignorance!
A GIFT WE MUST ACCEPT IN ORDER TO HAVE IT
CAN ANYONE ACCEPT IT?
God made His offer when He gave His Son. However, His offer is not “legally” a gift until it is accepted. You recall that “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Because the Jews living in Jesus’ time did not accept Him – they did not receive the benefit and blessing of God’s offer. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
Billy Graham, the great evangelist, once shocked many people by saying, “One of the great mysteries of redemption is this: While many bad men will go to heaven, many good men will go the hell!”
Why will many bad men go to heaven? Because they accepted God’s gift of eternal life. You will recall the one thief on the cross next to Jesus. In his dying moment he said, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” Jesus’ response was immediate: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
That simple prayer of the thief was filled with faith. It contained all the elements of saving faith. What are these?
- He believed Jesus was King (Lord)
- He believed the King would have a Kingdom
- He asked to be included in that Kingdom
Jesus responded, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus accepted the thief because the thief believed on Him as Savior and King.
Why will many good men go to hell? Because they refused God’s gift and trusted in their own “good works”.
Jesus put the same truth in this way to the Pharisees – who were very religious, but very lost: “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31).
Why would such sinners enter the Kingdom and the Pharisees be left out? The Pharisees were very religious men who went to the Temple, prayed and paid tithes; they had fast days and feast days, and kept the Sabbath.
Why would Pharisees go to hell, and harlots go to heaven? Because the harlots received God’s gift, and the Pharisees would not. Instead, they sought to secure their salvation by their own works of righteousness. The Divine Way to eternal life stood right before them, but they chose to take their own path.
Romans 10:3 includes the phrase “submitted to the righteousness of God”. It refers to accepting God’s gift of salvation that comes only through faith in Christ Jesus.
For many of us it is difficult to “submit” to anything. Something within us rebels against any kind of authority -even that of a wise and loving God.
A GIFT GOD PAID FOR – IN FULL!
There is a beautiful story in the Old Testament that clearly illustrates God’s Father-heart of love. In this story, God reveals Himself not only as a Father-Creator, but also as a Father-Redeemer.
Isaiah the prophet saw this two fold revelation of God’s character: “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine”‘ (Isa 43:1).
The God Who creates also redeems to buy and bring man back into God’s purpose would cost the father the life of His only Son. His life was given -as a sacrificial lamb -to buy us back -to redeem us.
ABRAHAM AND ISAAC: A PROPHETIC PICTURE OF REDEEMING LOVE
“Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’
“And He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ “So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
“Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar of.
“And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’
”So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.
“But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ And he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'” (Gen 22:1-7).
At this point in our story, we might wonder why God would ask a man to kill his only son. Isaac (which means “laughter”) was a miracle baby when he was born. Both Abraham and Sarah were well beyond the age of having children.
However, God had promised Abraham a son, and He had kept His word. Abraham had waited twenty-five years for that promise to be fulfilled, and was overjoyed when Isaac was born. Now, God tells Abraham to kill his only son. Would God really do such a thing, and if so, why? There is a divine purpose for this story being in the Bible. The purpose is to reveal an important truth. The story is a prophetic picture of God’s plan of redemption. God wants us to clearly understand the roles which the Father and the Son must play in obtaining our salvation.
We know that Isaac, as an obedient son, is a type (prophetic picture) of the Lord Jesus. The wood for the burnt offering was laid upon Isaac’s back, as they climbed the mountain. Two thousand years later, God’s only Son would carry a wooden cross upon His back as another mountain was climbed – Mount Calvary!
This story of Abraham and Isaac takes place in the hills of Moriah. These are the same hills outside Jerusalem upon which Christ, God’s only Son, was sacrificed as our substitute.
We sometimes overlook the fact that Abraham is a type of God the Father. One can only wonder at the pain that must have been in Abraham’s heart as he carried in his hand the knife and the fire. God had promised Abraham that through Isaac would come a family as large in number as the stars in the sky. How could such a promise be fulfilled if Isaac should die – unless there was the hope of a resurrection! (Heb 11:17-19).
THE STEADY STEPS OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
There is a very tender touch to our story when we read “and the two of them went together”. Side by side they walked in silence: a loving father with his son, and a loving son with his father.
Father Abraham moves with the steady steps of faith and obedience, but there is a great ache in his heart. It is softened only by the hope which he has in God’s promise. Finally the quiet is broken by a question from the lips of Isaac: “Where is the lamb?”
Hidden in the answer is a beautiful prophetic picture of God’s great redeeming love: “And Abraham said, ‘My Son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’ So the two of them went together” (Gen 22:8).
The word “together” appears the second time in the record and is filled with great meaning. It speaks of their love for one another; it also speaks of their faith and obedience to God.
Abraham must have told Isaac of God’s will for his death – and God’s promise for his life. Both of them are willing to submit to the Word of the Lord. Isaac was a strong young man and easily could have resisted his elderly father.
What a prophetic revelation of God’s love this is: a father willing to sacrifice his beloved son -a son willing to submit to that sacrifice. We can only watch in silent amazement.
We know the ending to our story, of course. At the last moment God did provide a sacrifice in the form of a ram which was caught in a nearby bush. Isaac’s life was spared, and God renewed His promise to Abraham. Through Isaac would come a people who were destined to bless all the nations of the earth.
GOD PROVIDES A LAMB FOR US
Two thousand years later we see the same story unfold. Only this time there is no last-minute rescue of the One Who submits His life for sacrifice. We are speaking of God’s Son Who gave Himself as the “Lamb of God.” Abraham and Isaac are a beautiful type of the Father-Son relationship within the Godhead.
The first time an important word or concept appears in Scripture sets a pattern for its further usage. The setting in which that word is found, therefore, carries very special meaning.
With this in mind, it is interesting to discover that the word “love” first occurs in reference to the love of a father for a son. More specifically, it was the love of Abraham for Isaac. “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love” (Gen 22:2).
The word “love” in the New Testament first occurs in the Synoptic Gospels in this notable phrase: “You are My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased!” (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). If Abraham loved his only son, how much more is God’s love for His one and only Son!
John’s Gospel is the Gospel of God’s love. What is the first reference to God’s great love in this special book? When we see what it is, we are moved to much wonder and humble amazement:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Yes, the Father has ever loved His Son -from all eternity past He has loved Him (John 17:24). Indeed, how much they loved One Another. But we are included in that love too. Jesus tells us that the Father loves us as He loves His Own Son (John 17:23).
It is almost beyond our understanding, but the Father and the Son planned in love for our redemption before the world was even created. They “walked together” in that love for you and me. More than that, they “worked it out together” on the cross.
THE AWFUL PRICE
Many of us have had the false idea that the Father was strangely apart from His Own Son during that horrible hour in which He was “forsaken.” It is true; a Holy God cannot look upon sin. And Christ took our sin upon Himself on the cross. “For He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).
But that does not mean that the Father felt any less pain than the Son did in His agony upon the cross. When the clean, pure, sinless Son of God took our sin upon Himself, something terrible happened. For the first time in all eternity, His fellowship with the Father was broken!
Sin separates. Spiritual death is separation from God. As the “Son of Man” (a prophetic title Jesus used -Matt 8:20; 17:12, 22, etc.), Jesus paid in full the penalty for our sin -alone upon a cross.
But the Father felt the pain of that penalty in full measure as well. When fellowship is broken, both parties share in the awful hurt. They walked that painful road together –· to the end. Just as Abraham’s heart was grieved by the possible sacrifice of his son Isaac, so God’s heart was grieved by the actual sacrifice of His only Son for our sin.
Paul is reaching into the meaning of this awful yet wonderful truth in these words to the Corinthian church: “God [the Father) was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor 5:19). This is a part of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Jesus said, “I am in the Father and the Father in Me” (John 14:10,11).
When Jesus was born of the virgin, we are told in Matthew 1:23 that “They shall call His name ‘Immanuel’, which is translated, ‘God with us’.” John the Baptist, upon seeing Jesus, declared: “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
We recall that Abraham told Isaac, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen 22:8). These prophetic words present a beautiful picture of God’s personal love for us. God will provide a sacrificial Lamb for our sin. He made Himself responsible to provide the necessary means through which we can be saved.
THE FREE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE
A holy and righteous God declared, ‘The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4). And with that, the Judge of the entire earth doomed the whole human race to death. It was the only thing that justice could do.
However, the mighty Creator of the universe and the Judge of all mankind is also a Father-Redeemer. He looks with love and mercy upon a sinful world and makes a most wonderful -yet terrible decision: “I will die in their place. I will pay the penalty that justice demands that they might live. I love them that much!”
And that is what God did. He was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. In His Son He gathered up the whole human race and died on a cross. Now this passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans becomes alive with much meaning: “Therefore, as through one man’s [Adam’s] offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s [Christ’s] righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the Law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:18-21). In this passage, Paul sums up God’s plan of redemption and salvation. We have two representative heads: Adam, representing the whole human race; and Christ, representing all those people who would believe in Him for salvation (see also 1 Corinthians 15:22). This means that we are represented in Adam by natural birth, but we are, in Christ by faith.
When Adam deliberately disobeyed a specific verbal command of God (see Genesis 2:17; 3:6,17), he sinned. Through Adam, sin entered the world with the accompanying judgment of death. Thus sin and death spread to all mankind because all sinned (Rom 5:12). Mankind would hopelessly die, in this life and for all eternity, unless someone came to his rescue!
God did this in Christ, by having the sinless “Lamb of God” pay for humanity’s sins by sacrificing Himself on the cross (Rom 5:6-11).
In Adam, by our natural human birth, we are condemned to die as sinners. But because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we can be justified and live, it we are in Him by faith (Rom 5:18,19). In other words, we need to be “born; again” in to a new “family ” by experiencing a spiritual birth from above (John 3:1-6).
NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION
Now this does not mean that all men are saved without personally coming to Christ for His gift of salvation. We recall that a gift is not a gift until it has been accepted.
We are told in Romans 5:17 that we must personally “receive” God’s gracious gift of life in Christ Jesus. If it isn’t received, it doesn’t do us any good. The offer has already been made, but it must be accepted. Only those who receive the Lord Jesus as their Savior will enjoy everlasting life.
”Behold, NOW is the acceptable time; behold, NOW is the day of Salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).
God calls you today to do only one thing: Receive His Son as your Savior. Nothing else really matters.
Charles Wesley wrote the beautiful hymn, “Nothing in my hand l bring, only to Thy cross cling.” And he said it all.
Andrew Murray put it this way: “Every human being should put all of their sins in one pile, and all of their good works in another. Then they should flee from them both to Jesus!”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the [free] gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord ” (Rom 6:23). “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11,12).
“IT IS FINISHED!”
We cannot earn this precious gift of eternal life -·and we don’t need to. It costs us nothing. When Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross, the price of our salvation was paid – IN FULL!