Hope Restored: Stop Trying to Earn Your Gifts.

This week, we have our first guest post! I asked my wife to add her thoughts and and experiences to this blog and she came through with a great post on Romans 6:23.

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My parents didn’t buy me a lot of the Christian stuff that other Christian kids’ parents did. Other kids got things like Veggie Tales videos, creepy Precious Moments dolls, and Jump5 and Mercy Me CDs. One of the few things my parents did get was a series of cassette tapes called GT and the Halo Express. GT and the Halo Express put Bible verses to song for easy memorization for kids. My family listened to those tapes every time we got in the car to go somewhere.

I had forgotten about good ole GT until recently when I started to actively memorize and bring to mind Scripture. I found that a lot of the verses I remembered were the ones I sang along to in my mom’s car! The one that stood out to me the most was “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It would get stuck in my head for HOURS, like American Pie or the Song That Doesn’t End (thanks Lamp Chop). But until last year, I had never really understood what the verse itself meant.

I always understood the second part about the gift of God being eternal life, but the first part about wages and death… geez, who talks like that? It wasn’t until I really started breaking down what the verse meant that I understood the gravity of the statement and how the sum of the gospel is held in the juxtaposition of its two simple phrases.

“For the wages of sin is death”

When you hear the word wages, it’s always in relation to how much money someone is paid, like the federal minimum wage. A wage is something you earn – you’ve spent the time, you did the work, you earned your payment.

In the context of this verse, the work we’re putting in is sin. The bad news is that sin isn’t just the bad things that we do. Sin is what separates us from God and includes anything against the moral character of God. By being human, we all have sin in our very nature. We can’t help but be separated from God and do things that continue to separate us from God.

We are paid a wage for the work we do against God, and that payment comes in death. It reminds me of Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are in the garden and God tells them they can eat from any tree except that one.

Then they go and hang out by that tree (bad idea) and the serpent comes along and is just like, “why aren’t you eating from the tree? it’s soooooooooo good.”

Eve is all like, “no we can’t, cause God said we would die if we did,”

Then the serpent is just like, “you won’t DIE! Just do it. You know you want to…”

Eve ate from the tree and gave it to Adam and he did too. But the serpent is a LIAR because they did die.

A bunch of other stuff happened first, like getting kicked out of Eden and God committing the first sacrifice (which is an altogether different story that’s super cool) and clothing them and getting them set up on some land. But then they died. Adam and Eve aren’t walking around now, are they? And everyone else that came after them died and everyone that’s alive now will die and everyone that is born in the future will die. I will die. You will die. We will all die, and it’s because of sin.

But we were not created to die. We were created to live in the garden in perfect communion with God, walking with him, talking with him, having a relationship with him. But because of Adam’s and Eve’s departure from God in their sin, they died. Now we, who are separated from God in our sin, will also die.

This is bad news.

“but”

It’s so sweet that there’s a but at the end of the bad news statement. That God loves us so much that he added a “but” and made a plan to rescue us. Because he’s God, and, again, he did not create us to die. He did not create us to be separated from him. In our present state, though, we were separated and we were going to die and continue to be separated from him. In his infinite goodness and love for us, he added a “but.”

“the gift of God is eternal life”

Gifts are not earned. They are not deserved. They are given freely and out of affection for a loved one. Even though, in our American culture, we put together birthday and Christmas lists so people can get us what we want, gifts can’t really be assumed or expected to be received because they were not earned. If you worked for it, you were really just paid a wage. If you didn’t, you were rewarded with a gift.

The gift we receive is from God. He crossed the chasm of sin that separated us from him and offered us rescue. Only he has the power to offer it to us. Again, it’s a gift. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it.

Eternal life is the gift that God gives us. Our bodies, because they are in their very nature sinful, will still pass away, but our souls, our inmost beings, will live forever in communion with God. This is GOOD NEWS! Death is not the end for us! We do not have to live forever in the shame, sadness, or darkness that comes from being separated from our creator! The feeling that’s within each one of us, the one that says something isn’t quite right and this isn’t the way things are supposed to be, will go away because everything will be put right. We will return to the way they were created to be. Eternal life means freedom, restoration, and regeneration.

“in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s important to note, though, that gifts can be given but not accepted.

For example, let’s say you’re hanging out at your apartment and it’s Saturday morning and you’re laying in bed not wanting to get up for the day. It’s a nice day and you can see the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and it’d be the perfect day to go for a drive. Only thing is that you have a super crappy car. Like, such a beater that you’re not sure you can even get it to the Walmart down the street later to get some groceries and even if you did you’re so embarrassed by the car cancer on top you don’t even want to!

Now for a bit of dramatic irony: your friend just won the Powerball. They took the lump sum and paid their taxes and built an offshore shell account and did everything responsible they were supposed to do first. Now they’re giving people stuff because they’re flush with cash, and they’re very loving.

Knowing your crappy car situation, your newly rich friend went out and bought you a brand new, shiny, fully-loaded vehicle and have it parked outside your apartment building now ready to give to you! But you don’t know this because you’re in bed feeling sorry for yourself. You get a text from them saying to come outside.

You’re like “nah I’m in bed ugh.”

They text you back and say, “for real, come outside I have something for you.”

And you’re like, “I’m not getting out of bed for anything right now.”

And they text you back and call you and start to get really urgent but you will not come outside. They come and knock on your door and call out to you but you just ignore them and finally send them a “new phone who dis” text.

So they got you a gift – but you never came out to accept it. If you don’t come out to receive your gift, you never get to enjoy the benefits of it.

Accepting the gift of eternal life comes through believing that Jesus, who is God’s son, ultimately paid the price for that gift with his own life. Jesus was both God and man. He was perfect and sinless as well as subject to the same sinful nature you and I have. Because of this, his death was the only death that could be the final payment for the death that we have all earned. He took death on for himself so that we don’t have to. He destroyed the power it held over us when he came back to life three days later. He broke the chains that bind all of us so we can live in freedom.

This is truly good news! That we could believe that God gave his son, Jesus, to take away the sins of the world to live in relationship with us. We cannot earn this relationship and we do not deserve to receive the gift of eternal life, but we can receive it when we accept it. Come out from the darkness of the pit of despair and shame you’re living in, and accept the gift of light and life fully restored to God.

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