Earn free gifts? How can this be, seeing that a gift, by definition, is already free? And how can a gift, or anything else free, be earned?
Honestly, I can’t say that this grouping of words baffled me, for it is yet another example of the way in which the meaning of words has been degraded. This is a process which has been going on for a long time and shows no sign of diminishing. And it certainly affects our ability to communicate with accuracy and precision.
But what is of much greater concern to those who love God and His Word is that so many of the words which He uses to communicate a knowledge of Himself and His ways are primary victims of this watering-down process. What becomes of sound doctrine and practice when the reader no longer recognizes the significance of God’s gift being a GIFT? If I can no longer distinguish between a gift (which is free) and a wage (which is earned), how will I ever appreciate the magnitude of what is now mine through Christ? And how will I ever be able to utilize it with confidence?
Another case in point is the word “grace.” To most, this word means little more than a temporary withholding of penalties for a debt which grows and grows and grows. Even for many Christians, grace is a concept which is, at best, partially understood.
God’s Word continually declares His grace at all times, but it particularly points to the age in which we are living as being a period in which grace would come into fulfillment. In fact, “grace” is even one of its names! What magnificent truth this name communicates.
Yet, to the few who are even familiar with this name, living in the administration of the grace of God often means nothing more than living in a time when I can “get away with” things. In some circles, grace has become little more than a “magic word” without meaning, a convenient talisman to help me avoid discomfort, a pill that I can take to assuage my guilt over mistakes I’ve made in the past (or plan on making in the future).
You may notice that this view of grace places all the emphasis on the actions of man. But the true emphasis of grace has little to do with man’s action or inaction—its great focus is upon what God has done.
And the great significance of the administration of God’s grace is that God is now able to do all that He has desired to do—for man, by grace.
He has justified us by grace.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
He has chosen us, made us holy, placed us as sons, made us accepted, redeemed us, and forgiven us by grace.
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children [placing as sons, by birth] by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted [literally, “graced”] in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
He has given us comfort and hope through grace.
II Thessalonians 2:16
Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.
He has given us membership in the one body, and individual functions to perform, by grace.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us […]
Certainly it is a comfort to be certain that as a born-again one I am now free from condemnation, that “my sins are blotted out, I know.” But the greater reality of this administration lies not in what I can now do, but in what God did for me, and what He continues to do for me by grace.
It is this recognition which causes one to be so thankful for having been born (and born again) in this age, and which leads one to the free-will decision of living for Him.
II Corinthians 4:15
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
Yes, grace is much more than something which I take out and blow the dust off of on days when I don’t feel like I’ve lived up to the feeble standards which man sets for himself. Indeed, even my best days are not so good that they place me beyond the need of God’s grace. But, praise God, neither are my worst days so bad that they place me beyond the reach of God’s grace.
1This teaching article is an excerpt from a book published by Scriptural Study Groups: Tom Burke, Holding Fast the Faithful Word, (Scriptural Study Groups, 2010) 49–52.