The Amazing Gift
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 12 August 2000
This morning whilst asking the Lord what subject I should speak about I saw a vision of a gift-wrapped package which had just been opened. I tried to look inside the box to see what the gift was but strain as I may I just could not make it out. Never mind, I know what was inside.
Some of my friends, and especially my family, know that I can be quite a tease. I'm sure you've had a trick played on you where, for instance, you were given something tiny in a huge box which you eagerly unpacked hoping to find something equally as big. Or perhaps you've been subject to the Russian-doll trick of a package within a package within a package within a package. We can either have a good laugh or, depending on your temprement, be highly annoyed.
But let us suppose for a moment that I'm not out to play a trick but am dead serious. Let's imagine that I come to you and say, "Oh, Freddy, I have a gift for you." Freddy is, like most of us, interested, for there are few people who don't not like to receive a gift. I hand him 10 cents. Well, he'll probably be very disappointed or think that I'm just teasing him and laugh. I give him another 10 cents, saying, "Don't worry, Freddy, it's a free gift". "So what?" he thinks to himself. I give him another 10 cents and say, "It's OK, it's free". As Freddy is about to go away rather bored with the whole joke, I say, "Oh, Freddy, here's $10,000" as I stuff ten $1,000 bills into his hands. Now Freddy's eyes open wide in amazement and perhaps some unbelief. His heart is beginning to race: "Wow, ten thousand dollars!" he begins to think to himself, and probably thinks it's a big joke. What do you think his reaction will be if I then add another 90 $1,000 bills making it $100,000? He will probably be completely confused by this time and be just waiting for me to take the money back and say, "Aha! had you fooled!" or something like that. But what do you imagine Freddy will be thinking if I then say goodbye and walk off leaving his hands crammed full of money?
If you're a normal human being you will probably get over the shock and then be filled with joy. Not only will you go and tell someone your good luck but you'll probably tell the story of how you were given $100,000 by a complete stranger again and again. Of course, no-one will believe you because such things just don't happen. They'll probably think you're either lying, exaggerating, or that you're mentally unsound. But you'll know because that money was put into the bank and you bought yourself some pretty expensive things with it. Oh yes, you'll know for sure that it wasn't a dream.
Of course, people react differently according to their circumstances. If I had given that $100,000 to a millionnaire he wouldn't be half as grateful as a poor, desperate man whose family is starving and who is about to be evicted from his home, and who has been pleading with God in prayer for help. When a person who thinks he has everything he needs is given something the reaction is often indifference. But can you imagine a more tragic scene than any of these, of a poor man who is on the edge of bankruptcy and starvation who refuses a gift of $100,000? Well, you may ask yourself whether someone in their right mind would ever do such a thing? And the answer, sadly, is "yes" - people are refusing such wonderful gifts and opportunities all the time. And their reasons are many and varied. Here are some of them.
Firstly, there's the self-sufficient person who says: "No thanks, I'll manage on my own.I'm going to make my own fortune and I don't need your or anybody else's help."
Secondly, there's the person who just can't believe anyone would ever give such an expensive gift, so they refuse to take it, thinking it's a joke and they're going to be the end of someone's joke. And if they're been tricked before, their reaction is to some extent understandable.
Thirdly, there's the person who's sure there's a catch somewhere. They think to themselves: "Nothing's free in this world. I bet I have to do something I don't like in order to get this money."
Fourthly, there's the person who is interested but unsure, and wants to pospone. "I'll think about it," he says, but when he comes back tomorrow it's too late. The gift and the gift-bearer have gone.
And so all four refuse. The first is too proud, the second lacks faith, the third simply doesn't believe in free gifts, and the fourth is a procrastinator.
So along comes Yah'shua (Jesus) and tells the world: "I'm offering you a free gift called salvation. You don't have to do anything to receive it. All you have to do is take it. This gift is worth far more than $100,000 - it's your ticket to eternal happiness. And the person who possesses it, when he dies, goes straight to heaven to be with God and his loved ones. But the person who doesn't have it goes straight to hell and eternal, lonely torment."
This is the message of Christianity. It's that simple. Trouble is, most people either can't or won't accept it. And their reaction is not very different from the person suddenly offered a gift of $100,000, only this gift is worth your whole life.
Most people have this idea that salvation is something you get only if you have earned it. They imagine that when they die and face God's judgment that He will be standing with a giant pair of scales and that into one scale all our good deeds will be piled and into the other all our bad deeds. If the good deeds outweigh the evil ones, they suppose, they will be admitted into heaven.
Needless to say that is absolutely not what the Bible teaches about salvation. This is what religion teaches, that is, everything else but Christianity. If you're relying on your own good deeds top get you into heaven you will get an enormous shock when you die. The apostle Paul absolutely refutes such a religious teaching when he says: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate'" (1 Cor.1:18-19, NIV).
The idea that you only get something if you work for it is he way the world works, and on this plane of existence that is absolutely correct. Because of his disobedience in the Garden of Eden Adam was was told by Yahweh: "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you...Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life" (Gen.3:17, NIV). And so everyone, except the lazy and the cheats, must work hard in order to earn their daily bread. And so people assume that in order to get into heaven they must do the same thing. However, they forget that the Garden of Eden, which is a type of heaven, operated on very different laws. There was no curse there and everything Adam and Eve needed was provided for them completely free. They had only to go up to a fruit tree and help themselves to all they wanted.
Paul said to those who have received this free gift of salvation: "It is because of [Yahweh] that you are in Christ Jesus (Yah'shua the Messiah)" (1 Cor.1:30, NIV). The only way that we can be in Christ and be saved is because of the free gift of God to those who will take it.
At this point it is not uncommon, and is indeed quite natural, to ask the question: What does one mean by the word "salvation"? Well, it's quite a big word that encompasses many ideas so I will spend a brief minute ot two explaining it to you. In its simplest sense, to be saved means to be delivered from a harmful or lethal situation. Thus when Aslaug and Gunnar had their car accident two years ago, they were saved from going over a cliff by a bush that prevented their wrecked car from going down into the fjord, and they were saved by the paramedics who got them to hospital before they could die. And in the more general sense, they were saved by God viâ these two circumstances, in a physical sense, that is. Salvation has, one one level, to do from being saved from death. Without Christ, when we die, we go to a place which, horrible and unpleasant though it may sound, is nonetheless a reality. It's called hell. There those souls who have refused God's free gift find themselves utterly alone and in full consciousness of their sins which wll torment them like a person who is filled with guilt and remorse for something that they have done seriously wrong, knowing that they cannot be forgiven because they have refused that forgiveness. Salvation, therefore, involves both resue from spiritual death as well as the forgiveness of sins.
But it's more than that. Salvation is not simply delivery from something that is awful, but is also something precious that the believer receives. The gift of salvation is eternal life. That includes not only the resurrection of the physical body and all the senses we have enjoyed in mortality, but also the gift of being perfectly whole, free of sickness and pain, and a capacity to love, and be loved, to the fullness. As sinners we are not complete people but rather like a mirror that has been shattered into a thousand pieces by tragedy, sickness, and mistakes we have made in life. Though we may be able to put some of the pieces together again, it usually takes a very long time, and as we know, a mirror that has been repaired isn't the most beautiful thing. No one is particularly impressed by a cracked mirror. For one thing, it distorts your image because the pieces aren't quite all flat. The salvation of God offers not only reintegration of your personality but also smooths all the cracks away too. So not only will the saved person receive a perfect, immortal resurrected physical body, but his whole personality and character will be perfectly healed and integrated.
But....can Christ really do this for me? That is the question the doubting Thomases of this world ask themselves when they are offered God's free gift of salvation. They have a big struggle understanding that something to fantastic can be free. They know that the things which are supposedly "free" in this world have a catch to them, and they are suspicious that if they receive this gift that maybe they'll have to do something to keep the gift. Well, they're partly right. Nothing is completely and absolutely free in the absolute sense. If I accept the gift of $100,000 I could make myself a slave by buying drugs, for instance. Or I might go chasing women and living a promiscuous life until I die of AIDS or get killed by a jealous husband. It is possible to turn any gift into a curse. The gift is only ultimately a gift if you use it right.
I'll not pretend that receiving the gift of eternal life means that you can just sit back and wait for your taxi to heaven. If that's your attitude then the chances are pretty high that you haven't received the gift at all and are living a life of illusion. You see, when you receive the gift of eternal life in Christ it changes you forever. You're never the same person again. It's like being in a serious traffic accident and being completely mutilated to wake up in hospital to find yourself all mended. The gift of eternal life changes you. It isn't something you do yourself - it just happens. It causes you to see things different, to feel differently, to think differently. That which was previously beautiful appears ugly, and what was previously ugly appears beautiful. You find yourself repelled by things that once attracted you, and vice versa. In short, you get a new life, which is the life of Christ. You become, as the Bible describes it, "a new creature". It may not happen all at once - for some people there are dramatic changes, for others it is gradual. The most important thing is that you are changing and you are holding the most precious document that you'll ever get in your hands - your admission ticket to heaven.
Somebody once said that salvation is like joining a select club: "the admission ticket is free but the annual subscription will cost you everything". Religion - or false teachings about salvation - give you an entirely different message. They teach that the admission ticket costs you everything but the annual subscription is free! So you never get into the club and you won't know if you have until you die and God weighs all your deeds up on those imaginary scales. So you must live your entire life unsure whether you've made it or not. And when you've died, well, of course, it's too late then. Your life is over. Oh, they may teach you that you'll be born again - be reincarnated - and have another chance, but God says this is a lie: ... man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.." (Heb.9:27, NIV). Mark that - there's only one life and one judgment, after that, everthing is decided permanently.
Now the idea of the annual subscription fee costing a person everything might, and does, turn alot of people away, but what they don't understand is that when a person receives that new life - eternal life - their one single consuming desire is to give their lives to their Saviour. It's something that comes naturally and doesn't need to be coerced. The only people who have problems with this are those who believe they are saved but really haven't made that life committment. For them it is just an intellectual proposition -- an idea in their head which hasn't touched their hearts. To be saved you must yield your whole life to Christ, not just a part, even though a part is better than nothing.
"But what about all the rewards for obedience that we get? Surely this is evidence that we are saved by what we do?" you may ask. No, not quite. People are not rewarded in heaven for what they do. Believers - the saved - are rewarded in heaven for what they do. Once we are saved - once we have given our lives to Christ and have received eternal life - we then have the option of serving half-heartedly or whole-heartedly. There are many different rewards for good service. But that service must be motivated by love and not be an expectation of what we shall receive. Those who have eternal life aren't keeping a list of all their good deeds with which to remind God of all the things He owes them. We are told by Christ that we aren't supposed to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, that we are not to publish our good deeds to the world, but to do them silently without expecting praise. We are told that God is balancing the books for us in heaven and will rewad us justly. Christ said that there were those who worked for fix pay and those who worked trusting their master to pay them justly. Finally, we are told in Scripture that in the same way that we aren't supposed to be keeping lists of all the good things we have done we should not be keeping lists of all the bad things people have done to us: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Cor.13:4-7, NIV).
The gift of salvation - the gift of eternal life - brings with it a changed heart. The heart that is saved begins to love as Christ loved. That is the greatest and most important sign that a person has received the gift of eternal life - he suddenly finds he has the capacity to love in a way that he has not loved before. From being self-serving, he starts desiring to serve others. Gone is the quick temper, impatience, boasting, and pride. It doesn't hold grudges against people who have done evil to them. It forgives, and it forgives freely.
Love is one of the free gifts that Christ gives us. Not worldly, sensual and selfish love, but Christ-like, giving love.This love isn't something we can boast of, saying, "Hey, I earned this!" It's not something we can boast about because this love doesn't even know how to boast. You could work all your life and never get it - it's a free gift that comes from God through believing.
Now, when you receive a gift of $100,000 you're excited. When you receive Christ's free gift of pardon for wrong-doing, the heavenly capacity to love, and the promise of heaven, you ought to be excited too! That's another sign that a person has been born again - he gets really excited about what he's received and wants everyone else to have that free gift too. And so he is led by love to share the message of salvation with others. He knows that not everybody will receive it, and that will sadden, him, but he feels impelled to share it anyway. Whether he is motivated by the desire that they should share in the joy of salvation, or by genuine concern for those who will not receive it because of the fate that is waiting them, it really makes little difference, for ultimately we are concerned about that person's happiness and welfare.
Finally, a word of caution: we are not saved by love, but by Christ. Love is a fruit of being saved by Christ. Love is not salvation itself. Once we claim that we are saved by love, we are in fact saying that we are saved by ourselves, that is, by our own capacity to love. That is like saying that the $100,000 is the giver of the gift as well as the gift itself. That is like saying that the universe created itself, as the evolutionists teach, instead of God. To claim that love saves is a slap in the face of Christ - it is taking credit for Christ's work of atonement and is a terrible blasphemy. Love is not self-creating - it has a source, and that source is Christ. Love is a part of life, and as Paul reminded us, it is from God that we have our life though Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) (1 Cor.1:30).
Today I have talked about the first and most important step of salvation, that is, getting our membership card for heaven. There is, of course, living the Christian life itself once one has obtained this but that is for another time. What I'm most concerned about is those who have not made that critical step of faith. It's an entirely personal step between a man or woman and his or her God and though it's the most important, it's not the end. But as that wise Chinese Hawaiian detective once said: "Journey of 1,000 miles begins with first step", let us begin with the first step. There are many who try to skip this step and continue the journey without it. They are doomed to fail, and we are warned in the Bible not to try and seek a short-cut to salvation by looking for an alternative entrance to the Christian life. There is none.
Yah'shua (Jesus) said: "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber" (Jn.10:1, NIV). If you are trying to save yourself and get into heaven by being good or doing good things, you are counted as a thief and a robber by God, because it is impossible to get into heaven by your own works of righteousness. Your motive is all wrong. The only entrance to heaven is through surrendering sovereignty of your life to Christ and trusting Him to save you. If you do this, the good works will follow naturally, and be your reward later. But first comes salvation, and there is nothing you can do to earn it. It is God's free gift to you. Amen.
This page was created on 5 February 2001
Last updated on 5 February 2001
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