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You Cannot Earn a Gift

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Salvation is a gift you receive, not a paycheck you earn. Don’t underestimate the significance of this biblical truth. If you get it wrong—and it is incredibly easy to get it wrong—you’ve missed Heaven.

I’m not overstating the case. If you lean on your own merits, your religious fervor, the sincerity of your motives, or the goodness of your overall behavior, you will remain in your sins, under the wrath of God. Friends, I am convinced that a great many people who go to church regularly are going to be shocked one day when they are driven from the presence of God forever.

In the opening verses of Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul writes about the true condition of every human apart from Christ. Left to ourselves, we are all sinners, enslaved to spiritual forces that are hell-bent to give us just enough of whatever it takes to get us to drift through this life without ever seriously considering our need of the Savior, who is Christ Jesus. The picture is a hopeless one. We are dead toward God, dominated by the devil, and destined for Hell. By nature and by choice, we are an offense to the God of the universe. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). That is why verses 4–9 contain such good news!

On His own initiative, God has acted on our behalf. We were objects of His wrath, but God, because of the great love with which He loved us, had mercy upon us. We were dead, but God made us alive together with Christ. We were slaves, powerless and punishable, but God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places. All by Himself, God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin. In a word, God has done everything, everything necessary to save sinners.

Why? What impulse moved Him to have anything at all to do with us? The heart has trouble accepting such overtures on face value. Why did God come for me, for you? Paul takes pains in our passage to make it clear that God was not motivated by anything He saw in us. Instead, the compelling reasons are all found in God Himself. Paul uses several words to speak of the origins of God’s saving movement toward us. We read of His rich mercy, His great love, and His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. But the single most powerful word to describe why God did for us what He did, the word that explains why a dead sinner on his way to Hell can suddenly respond to the good news of the gospel is the word grace.

Salvation Is the Free Gift of God

That’s the whole point of the word grace. Grace is the unmerited free favor of God expressed toward guilty and unworthy sinners. It is love that doesn’t make sense. To drive this home, Paul comes right out and says that our salvation is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.

Get this straight: God’s salvation comes only to those who are at the end of themselves. They come with no merits of their own, no bragging points, no negotiations. They realize that their only hope is found, not in anything they have done, but in what He has already accomplished for them.

God Gives the Capacity To Receive His Gift

Dead in sins, we are unable to even respond to His loving word to us, which is why He not only sends His Son to atone for our sins, not only sends someone to tell us that good news, but gives us the gift of faith so that we might trust Him. The part of verse 8 that reads “it is the gift of God” refers to the grace and the salvation and the faith. Which is why I heard the gospel many times before it hit me one day.

All the Glory Is God’s

If it’s not by my achievements, nor a reward for any good or religious or generous deeds I have done, I have nothing I can boast in except the Lord. Most religions spell righteousness with God “D-O.” I have to earn it—compel God by my good life and religious activity and philanthropy to overlook my sins, which are minor in my own eyes. The Bible spells righteousness with God “D-O-N-E.” It lays out God’s prognosis of our condition and makes it clear that our only hope lies outside ourselves. We need a Savior who secures forgiveness of sin and righteousness with God on our behalf. And then we need Him to open our eyes to see our need and His provision, because without His intervention we are blind to His glory, deaf to His loving call, incapable of any movement toward Him. Salvation is a gift to be received, not a paycheck we earn.

—Lloyd Stilley, adapted