But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
– Romans 3:21-25a
“The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service— I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
“We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God through our own efforts. We must either receive it as a gift or do without it. The greatest spiritual blessing we receive is when we come to the knowledge that we are destitute. Until we get there, our Lord is powerless. He can do nothing for us as long as we think we are sufficient in and of ourselves. We must enter into His kingdom through the door of destitution. As long as we are “rich,” particularly in the area of pride or independence, God can do nothing for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of the essential nature of God is placed and made effective in us by the Holy Spirit. He imparts to us the quickening life of Jesus, making us truly alive. He takes that which was “beyond” us and places it “within” us. And immediately, once “the beyond” has come “within,” it rises up to “the above,” and we are lifted into the kingdom where Jesus lives and reigns (see John 3:5).”
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Chambers’ first paragraph reminded me of some of the hard times in our lives. Our pastor during one of those down periods told us that it was hard for the folks that constantly do for others to be the receivers for a change.
The Scripture has always fueled my desire to help others. My feeling of independence was my greatest barrier in accepting God’s gift. Romans 3:24 says ‘justified freely by His grace.’ It is indeed free, but it comes at a cost, a cost of the independence that Chambers mentions in the second paragraph of the quote. It comes at the cost of admitting that we must receive a gift. We are not the giver. We are helpless, nothing to do, but receive.
The Apostle Paul is quoted in Acts 20:35 where he quotes Jesus in saying that it is better to give than receive. Oddly, this is the only quote from Jesus that is not in the Gospels. I do not doubt it to be true, but there is no Scriptural reference to back Paul up.
On Christmas morning, growing up, I like receiving. I got some very interesting things, a lot of toys, and sometimes what I wanted. I always got a jigsaw puzzle or two. Puzzle boxes were opened by the giver before wrapping to pad the pieces. I had a habit of shaking the presents and figuring out what I was going to get. One year, I was half right. I guessed the box contained socks. My mother had taken her usual gift, new socks, and used them to totally muffle the puzzle pieces. Besides, it was an unusually shaped puzzle box. Of course, my mother’s other present was going to be underwear.
I never had much money of my own growing up. Buying something that was a surprise, thoughtful, and something useful was nearly impossible. In those years, I found giving gifts frustrating. The first year my wife and I were married was the first year that I could really afford to do some serious shopping, but I can only remember one gift. We got my Dad a Meerschaum pipe, the pipe bowl carved to look like a pirate. He loved smoking the wild cherry flavored tobacco. Before we opened presents that year, my Dad made the announcement that he had quit smoking. Some great giver, I was.
But the pastor during our bad times earlier was talking about giving through service to others as well as giving to the needy. When you have given of your time and money, it becomes a way of life. Then you get laid off after only nine months of work since the previous lay off. Nearly everything is gone. You are at the kitchen table with your wife looking at the very small numbers in the check book. You have no idea when you will find work. Do we buy a Thanksgiving turkey or just do something simple for the holiday? That’s when there is a knock at the door. It is a deacon from the church with a basket of food. We had not put ourselves on any list or advertised the lay-off, but they figured it out. We thanked them, but we felt guilty. There were people who had less than we did, or so we thought. As we inventoried the basket, we found all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving meal except for the turkey in the basket. But there was an envelope in the basket with a coupon to be used at the grocery store near the church, specifically for ‘the biggest turkey you can find.’ I felt even more guilty. I had spent my adult life giving and serving. I did not need to receive. It was a skill I had no practice in performing.
Chambers talks about that in the quote above. “Let me do something, even die a martyr’s death, but I resist receiving a gift when others recognize my need. I am not a needy person.” That, sadly, includes salvation for so many.
Jesus loved us while we were sinners. He knew we needed the free gift. He also knew that it would be hard for us to give up control of our lives and accept God’s plan. That is why we need to read those verses from Romans 3 a few times. No one is exempt from the penalty of sin, unless he accepts the gift that God offers. We are all guilty of sin.
How did Jesus get me to that point where I needed to be? It was destitution. I hit rock bottom. I might have been the ‘good kid’, but I felt worthless. Jesus allowed me to see all the hidden sin in my life when I looked in the mirror. That destitution was a tremendous gift. It showed me that I was not the perfect ‘good kid’ everyone thought I was. Then when I surrendered my will and accepted God’s will, I got the Joy that was greater than all Christmases combined, the Peace that is every lasting, and the Hope of things that I cannot, in my mortal mind, even conceive.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.