Gift or Loan? Repost from Oct. 2006

I wrote this back in October of 2006.  I think it bears repeating. 

On Sunday, I heard a pastor say that because Christ has died for us and saved us from Hell, we owe Him a huge debt and all He asks or requires of us now is that we live holy lives. I don’t know that he intended to, but he strongly implied that we have to live holy lives to sort of repay that debt to Christ.

I became physically uncomfortable listening to that. That didn’t sound right to me. Now that I’ve thought about it more, I still disagree — probably even more strongly.

The huge debt we owed God was because of our sin. God is holy and our sin separated us from Him. The Bible says the wages of that sin, the debt for that sin, is death. Complete separation from God. Christ died. He paid the wages of sin for us. Now we don’t have to be separated from God. That was our debt to God, and it has been paid already. We just have to authorize that payment, in a sense — declare that we were sinners and deserved to be separated from God, deserved to die, and accept that the debt has been paid on our behalf by Jesus.

Now that my debt has been paid, what do I owe God? Nothing. Quite simply — nothing. If I say that I owe Him something now, then I am saying that Christ’s payment wasn’t enough.

Do I really think I should spend the rest of my life trying to pay Jesus back? As if His payment for my sins was a loan.

No. No. No. The GIFT of God is eternal life! It’s a gift, and I cannot pay Him back for it. Nor does He expect me to. That’s Grace.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be living holy lives and all that, but I’m saying that we shouldn’t see that as our obligation to Jesus in order to pay Him back for saving us. And I do think a lot of us live our lives that way. We try to exercise self-discipline and make ourselves live righteous lives because we’re saved now and this is what God expects of us and because we owe it to Him.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that this isn’t how it works. Are we really capable of making ourselves be good and holy? Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure can’t. I’ve tried. Every time, I mess up. Some days I barely make it past breakfast. And those are my good days!

Chapter 7 in _Blue Like Jazz_ is called “Grace.” I was reading it over my cup of coffee this morning, and Donald Miller put a lot of my thoughts into words. He writes about how difficult, even foreign, it is for us to wrap our minds around the concept that we cannot pay God back. That we truly are charity cases. That we are not above receiving charity from God. It’s humbling. Our attempts to pay God back for saving us are really evidence of our PRIDE.

Donald Miller writes about how frustrating this whole approach to Christianity can be. We think we have to pay God back for saving us by living holy lives. But we can’t. We mess up. Then we feel horrible. We feel like God’s going to stop loving us because we can’t live up to our end of the bargain. Donald Miller calls it “something like torture.” And I think he’s right.

Finally, he writes that our “role in the relationship with God [is] to humbly receive God’s unconditional love.” Tha’ts it! Just receive God’s love. Donald Miller goes on to explain exactly what God has been teaching me in the past year or two. When we receive God’s love, we will love Him back.

Miller writes, “[I]f I cannot accept God’s love, I cannot love Him in return, and I cannot obey Him. Self-discipline will never make us feel righteous or clean; accepting God’s love will. The ability to accept God’s unconditional grace and ferocious love is all the fuel we need to obey Him in return. . . . In exchange for our humility and willingness to accept the charity of God, we are given a kingdom. And a beggar’s kingdom is better than a proud man’s delusion.”

I like that. Can you imagine what a revival there would be in the Church if every believer would simply stop and receive God’s unconditional, passionate love? If we basked in that love? If we truly received this love that is unlike any love we’ve ever known? We would be transformed! And it would be so much better than what most of us are doing now — trying to make ourselves act the way we think good Christians ought to act, trying to pay God back for all He’s done for us.

Now, imagine God — all He wants is for us to receive His love. All He wants is for us to be still and let Him love on us. Instead, we’re racing around trying to be good, trying to please God with our self-discipline and our good choices. I imagine Him, the lover of my soul, shaking His head in sadness and pleading with me to just sit still and be with Him and let Him love me, knowing that if I receive His love, I will begin to truly love Him back, and then His goodness will rub off on me — sort of the same way couples who have been married for years start to look like each other. I think He wants me to stop treating Him like a loan officer or a strict master and start treating Him like the Ultimate Husband.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Gift or Loan? Repost from Oct. 2006

  1. The holiness we are charged to wear has two aspects which bear mention.

    1. that our testimony among men be as solid as we can muster. That we receive the gifts of God in this regard and make they a part of our every moment. We live as testimonies of the transforming power of Christ. It would be good for our Lord’s testimony if we appropriate every possible strength from Him that He is willing to give.

    2. We are receiving the inheritance as sons of the Most High God through Jesus’ sacrifice. And what we will be is not revealed for now. Yet He grooms us for service in a place more Holy than our minds can comprehend. Thus, every aspect of His Holiness that we can learn to become, is not taken from us on the day of His appearing. This learning and becoming is to our credit in our standing before the Most High God.

    It is not our duty to become holy so that we can be saved. It is our reasonable service to He who calls us from His Holy Throne. And we accept this service joyfully. What is it to us that we should disgard every unholy thing for the Love He has shown us? And to work the work of a conversion to a holy life becomes an act of love for His Great Gift of promised Life. And God cannot lie.

    By His Grace.

  2. Hiwaychristian, good morning. Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that it’s not our duty to become holy so that we can be saved. I would also say that it’s not our duty to become holy at all. It is not our work to make ourselves holy or to accept some act of service of making ourselves have a good testimony. The law could not save us, and the law cannot sanctify us. We do not come to God by a list of do’s and don’ts, and we cannot draw closer to Him or become more pleasing to Him or become more holy by some list of do’s and don’ts. As I come into His presence and receive His love, I will love Him and become more like Him. His presence in me sanctifies me. My focus must be on Him, not on doing something or obeying some rules. Because if my focus is on obeying rules and mustering up the self-discipline to behave in a way that I think is honoring to Him or that I think makes for a good testimony, I will fail. I will live in discouragement. Because the law, the list of do’s and don’ts, is designed to show me how I fail; it is designed to point out my weakness. When my focus is on being with God, learning more about Him through His Word and basking in His presence in prayer, then I will not be discouraged, I will be empowered and transformed, little by little. My testimony, my sanctification is not my work and should not be my focus. It is His work within me, so He must be my focus.

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