You can’t earn this gift

Published 9:54 pm Friday, January 9, 2015

This Tuesday morning, you may still be groggy from watching the college football national championship game on Monday night. Early January is always filled with lots of college football drama, but this year especially so, since it featured the first “Final Four” playoff.

As a sports fan, I love the fact that the final two teams were decided by head-to-head matchups, rather than by computers. The two winners are the two teams that deserve to play in the final game — they earned their way.

Lots of people think the same way about heaven. They think only the most deserving people will be there.

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But that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Bible actually teaches. What the Bible teaches is that none of us deserves God’s salvation, and that all of us are sinners who have fallen short of God’s glorious standards.

Romans 3:23-24 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Those verses teach that we are all sinners, completely unworthy of standing before a holy God who hates sin. But rather than giving us the judgment we deserve, God gave his Son, who paid our sin debt upon the cross and rose from the dead, so that we can receive the redemption he offers as a gift.

How do we receive this gift? By faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

You probably just received some gifts at Christmas, and I hope you are enjoying them. Let me ask you: “What distinguishes a gift?” The fact that it is unearned. What distinguishes wages? The fact that they are earned.

If God gave us what we earned, what would he give us, since we have all sinned? Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God offers rescue from our sins, complete forgiveness, the complete payment of our crushing debt of sin, and he offers it all as a gift. How? Because He so loved the world — so loved you — that he became a human being and went to cross in your place. And how do we know that Jesus Christ wasn’t just another martyr? Because he rose from the dead.

Now what could prevent you from receiving such a gift? Pride. Perhaps you feel that you have earned your way, that you deserve heaven, that you have merited eternal life. But that would directly conflict with what God says about you and about me. No, we are all sinners in need of a Savior, and deep down inside we know it.

That Savior has been provided as a gift to the world. We just celebrated this and sang about it at Christmas. We just received gifts. But do you realize that all those gifts are meant to point to the greatest One? Have you received Him?

Thurman Hayes is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.