Monday, January 27, 2020

When a Gift Ceases to Be a Gift

By now, Christmas has become a distant memory. What were those gifts we received, anyway? Some of us have moved on, already starting to compile a new list of wants for next Christmas. We all enjoy receiving gifts, don’t we? The more the merrier!

But have you ever considered what a gift really is? Or what could possibly happen so that a gift would cease to be a gift?

Some TV talk show hosts, like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and others, are known for being gift givers. Recipients might be people confronting difficult circumstances; their gifts intended to help them overcome their adversity. Others receiving gifts might be folks engaged in noble causes, working with limited resources to assist people in need. And sometimes, the studio audiences are the beneficiaries, receiving free books, cosmetics, small appliances and, on rare occasions, more extravagant gifts.

But what if an intended recipient, for whatever reason, declined or refused to accept the gift? Would it still be a gift?

One thing is certain: If not accepted, the intent of the gift will never be fulfilled. Why is this important? Because the Scriptures repeatedly refer to salvation – which includes receiving forgiveness for sins and gaining the assurance of eternal life – as a “gift.” 

Case in point: After presenting the bad news, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), the apostle Paul provides the good news: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

After explaining how what the Bible calls our “sin nature” became a universal part of mankind’s spiritual heredity because of Adam’s disobedience, Paul writes about the impact of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection: “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow for the many!” (Romans 5:15).

And writing to believers in ancient Corinth, reminding them about “the surpassing grace God has given…,” Paul enthusiastically declares, Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:14-15).

Other passages speak more about this gift, but two truths about gifts must be recognized, especially God’s gift of eternal life: First, a gift isn’t earned; it’s given freely, not based on merit or performance. As Titus 3:5 states, “[Jesus] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy….” And second, the gift must be received. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

Even the most well-known verse in the Bible affirms this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This passage doesn’t say that everyone is guaranteed eternal life, even though God “gave.” It makes clear this gift applies to “whoever believes in [Christ].” In other words, for those who don’t believe – or refuse to believe – the gift is null and void.

Does this sound exclusive? Perhaps. But consider who is doing the “excluding.” A TV talk show guest, or a member of the studio audience, might correctly state he or she didn’t go home with a gift from the show. But that would only be because they chose not to accept – or receive – the gift. They determined to exclude themselves from the gift.

As I understand it, this is true as well for the ultimate gift – that of eternal life. The gift has been offered, but it still must be received. So the question we must all ask ourselves – or should ask ourselves – is, “Have I received this gift? And if not, why not?”

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