“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Have you ever thought about what makes a gift a gift? How people relate to the idea of gifts is often revealing as to whether they understand what a gift really is or is not. On multiple occasions I have met folks who refuse to receive gifts, many who do not like giving them, and occasionally some who find far more joy in giving than receiving. Certainly plenty of folks do like receiving gifts, too. It’s important to comprehend what the Bible means when it says that God gives us gifts, first and foremost salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Failure to grasp the nature of God’s gifts will quickly transform into legalism or license; in fact, more than likely the foundation of either direction would essentially be misunderstanding God, why He gives gifts, or what God intends when He gives them. Is it possible to distrust His motives in giving? Absolutely, and it happens all the time, but not without harming our potential for closeness with Him. No one who misunderstands the gifts of God will evade distancing themselves from Him; it goes with the turf.
Let’s start today’s devotional by looking at Romans 6:23. Romans 6 speaks primarily towards the issue of how we should live; if we are free from the power of sin, why would we live any longer as though we were still lost in our sin? That’s the gist of Romans 6, which works it’s way down into v. 23, telling the reader that if sin is so great, then why would it’s outcome be death (and wrath)? If we believe sin to be an affront to God, and the path of those who remain in their sin to be death and judgment, why would we throw ourselves back into that lifestyle? Once again, if we fail to understand the gift of eternal life, we very well may start to not only entertain conclusions that are not true, but will inevitably see these thoughts trickle down into our choices and our character. The first half of Proverbs 23:7 states, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Romans 6:23 is a comparison-by-contrast verse intended to show us the consummation of either a life devoid of faith in Christ or a life submitted to God by faith in Christ. Paul reiterates in various ways the challenge to not let our thinking be tainted by temporal desires in a world filled with carnal ambitions and activities. The wages of sin is death; this is not referring to simply the death of the body, but rather, eternal separation from God. The just payment for sin without a Savior is eternal separation from God under the outpouring of His wrath. This speaks far more to the holiness of God than the corruption of man, for it is not that humans are as terrible as they possibly could be, but that God is holy and in His holiness, far holier than we could possibly imagine.
The gift of God is really the point of this devotional. The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. By nature of comparison, this is in part how we can tell that death is referring to eternal separation rather than the act of dying or being physically dead. Notice that the action of sin merits eternal death, whereas the grace of God freely bestows eternal life by faith in Christ. Eternal life is not earned and if not earned, then also cannot be lost through “demerit.”
The word for gift is “charisma” (from which the modern term “charismatic” is derived) and refers to “that which is freely and graciously given” (BDAG, Bibleworks). When we speak of spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:1, 14:1, 14:12), we are talking about God-given abilities within the confines of being spiritually alive and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, gifts which come not on the basis of merit but are given as God desires for His purposes. The gift of eternal life is also something that God gives freely by His choice and not our works. It is on this very issue where confusion gives people and denominations directional variance within Christianity. The two primary paths that are taken with false conclusions on the gifts of God would be legalism and licentiousness.
If a gift is given with merit attached, is it really a gift, or is it a wage? Biblically speaking, it is a wage and not a gift when someone must do something or be something in order to receive something. That may strike us funny, because as Christians we might say something to the effect of, “But I have to believe in order to receive eternal life,” and this is true. Nevertheless, believing itself is not a meritorious activity, and still many people have subtly subscribed to just that sort of thinking. It is the work of Christ on the cross that was the saving act, and believing on that act is the necessary response for a relationship with God and an eternal life in Heaven. Still, God is granting life freely on the basis of faith, not because His hands are tied by what we do.
Theoretically, we could believe on Jesus and still go to Hell because God is not obligated by what we do to honor our faith. Of course, this is not what God does! What does He do, then? Well, He honors His word to us when we believe. Hebrews 6:17-18 says, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Side-note: it is impossible for God to lie because everything that God says is true, for He is the source of truth; that will never change.
God is fully committed to His glory and holds Himself accountable to the promises that He makes, and we should be glad for that. His offer of salvation is tied to His promises, and He is not a God who lies; it is not in His nature to do so, and therefore, what He says is true and trustworthy and as good as done. The New Testament is full of words in the doctrinal parts that speak of believers as glorified (see Romans 8:29-30, for instance) using past tense verbs for a future tense reality. Translation: good as done. What would our lives looked like if we were fully convinced of the things the Bible said were true of us? That’s a huge element of sanctification right there!
We must be so careful that our faith is not in our faith, but in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross for sin, as well as in trusting God to keep His word. If the gift of God is contingent upon our keeping some sort of moral arrangement with Him, please understand that it is not a gift, but a contract if that’s how we relate to it. This is exactly why some strongly believe against any form of eternal security; unknowingly, they have actually bought more into a soteriology (theology of salvation) of contract than a theology of grace. A contractual paradigm of Christianity is the fastest way to inevitably turn the Christian life from humble awe over God’s grace towards us into legalistic perfectionism with our focus far more on keeping ourselves in good graces than what Jesus already accomplished. If the gift of salvation is nothing more than a veneer of contractual obligation with the potential for the contract to be completely abolished, count me out, and I hope you would feel the same if you have grasped grace for what it is: unmerited favor.
Given that Romans 6:23 came from a passage more on license than legalism, we might ask then how the gift of God can come with any sense of responsibility, accountability, and obligation to obey? Let me say this: salvation is a transformative happening. It is offered freely and it comes with no strings attached. Yes, in some sense, you could live however you wanted and not lose your salvation. The problem, though, is that if salvation has truly taken root in your heart, the gift begins to flourish, much like a seed planted in good ground.
A view of salvation that makes Christianity of no effect in the life of a “believer” is a Holy Spirit-absent view of salvation, and thus it is not salvation at all. The problem, therefore, is not that there are folks who were saved but then completely abandoned it, but rather that they were never truly saved to begin with. (This very issue has haunted many evangelical churches over the years in attempting to make sense of people who seemed on board who completely jumped ship). 1 John 2:19 states, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
There is no such thing as Christianity without conformity, one of the strongest reasons being that the Spirit within is on a mission of spiritual transformation. Living however we please with no conviction while constantly reminding ourselves we’re forgiven nonetheless is a fool’s remedy for the appropriate guilt and self-doubt that should accompany such activity. To paraphrase John MacArthur from a sermon I once heard him preach, “Confidence in our salvation is a gift for the obedient.” The simple point was that there will be doubt over our salvation if we do not walk with God, no matter how much we might try to rehearse truths we had been taught.
Salvation does not mean immediate moral perfection but it also does not mean moral indifference. We live for Christ, submitted to Him and pursuant of Him, because the gift of grace is growing within. This does not mean that we earned the gift of salvation, nor that we maintained our morality enough to keep our salvation. What it does mean, rather, is that truly regenerate people will never be the same again upon salvation and though they may stumble along the way, the anchor of their souls that keeps them from completely abandoning submission to God is the Holy Spirit within.
Salvation theology (the thirty-cent word is soteriology, pronounced sew-teer-ee-ology) is a Christmas gift to you and to me. There is nothing more precious and important to be reminded of in the season of gift-giving than the gift of eternal life. The giving of Jesus Christ by God the Father to this world was absolutely unmerited but completely necessary. The death of Jesus on the cross to pay for sin was absolutely unmerited, too and without His sacrifice there would be no hope beyond the grave. Salvation is not just something to claim, but also to continually learn that we might appreciate it more and proclaim it better. When Christmas comes (this was written on Wednesday, 12/23/20), take a moment to ponder not only the gifts you may give or receive on that day, but if you are a believer, remember the greatest gift of all: the righteousness of Christ credited to our account on the basis of faith in Him.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Merry Christmas and may God bless you-
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.