Every follower of Jesus is offered the gifts of grace without any strings (or ribbons) attached. All of us have full access to these gifts. Paul writes that we are brought into right relationship with God entirely as a gift of His radical and amazing love.
When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. Titus 3:5-7, NLT
Grace is the best deal ever offered and yet we often resist accepting the gift of our Lord. We can’t believe it is true. We fear it can’t be possible that we can be loved, accepted, and adopted even when we know our behavior doesn’t deserve such love.
But that is the miracle of grace.
A recent Christmas song gives a humorous clue to the mindset that helps make it so hard to open the gift of Grace.
The song “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ for Christmas” sums up the lie that Satan sells to every seeker of Jesus that your rewards are tied directly to behavior.
I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas
Mommy and daddy are mad
I’m getting nuttin’ for Christmas
‘Cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad
That seems about right to our performance based mindset. I have not done what I should have. God has to be disappointed and maybe even a little ticked off at me so I don’t deserve this grace. I will buck up and try harder and THEN I will earn God’s love. What a sad misunderstanding of how God wants to relate to His children.
The Christian life is a life of grace from beginning to end and it is all based on what Jesus has done for us and not on anything we have done for Him. We enter it this journey with Jesus by grace, live it by grace, and enter God’s eternal presence by grace.
We learn as children that we get good things and receive love when we are good and do good things. Santa is pleased (and we later substitute God) when we obey. So we learn early that we had better be good. Or least fool everyone around us to think that we are being good.
I remember (vaguely) the tension of the Santa Claus years. I knew I hadn’t really changed much. I tried to modify my behavior for a week or two leading up to Christmas but I knew I had failed to really be good. I learned a couple of things early. I learned how hard it is to change behavior by sheer willpower and I believed that I could fool Santa by living a lie.
Isn’t that too often how we view God? We need to behave better. I don’t deserve forgiveness. I know my heart. Just like Santa we think that Jesus is making a list and He is checking it not once or twice but every moment of every day. God knows if you’ve been bad or good so if you want to be blessed and loved you had better be good or you will get nuttin’. .
Satan sells the lie so convincingly. And we buy it for months and years and even decades. I did.
But God and Santa are very different in their approach. God does not keep a list. He is not impressed by our hernia inducing straining to control sin.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)
Jesus offers us so many gifts. But the one we seem to have the hardest time unwrapping is this gift of grace. The stunning radicality of grace is that what seems to be too good to be true is more true than we can imagine. This unconditional love from God is unrelated to the emotions, expectations and desires that taint our human love. I am choosing to believe that truth this Christmas. I am going to allow God to love me and not attempt to earn that love. I am not going to remind myself why I am not worthy. I am going to open my arms and my heart to His love. My feelings ebb and flow. God’s feelings for me are a consistent fountain of grace so I am going to jump in the fountain today and splash around.
Don’t buy into the bad theology that God’s gifts are performance based. Receiving this gift is based simply on coming to Him in humble need. Go straight to the gift of grace that Jesus left under the Cross. Open it. And clothe yourself in His salvation, acceptance and love. It may be the best gift you have ever given yourself. Unwrap it without guilt this Christmas. It was left there just for you.