We’re often told that salvation is a gift. I beg to differ, just a little bit.
When we say it that way, we want to emphasize that salvation is free, that we can’t do anything to earn it. And that, of course, is entirely true. If you grew up conservative evangelical, you probably memorized more than one verse about that—
- 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph 2.8-9).
- Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3.5).
- For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6.23).
It’s free. You don’t have to pay for it. It’s a gift.
So far, so good.
But the great emphasis of the New Testament is not on the idea that God has given us a gift. God is generous, gracious, lavish; he gives abundantly, pressed down and running over (Lk 6.38). He gives gifts. Plural.
And salvation is presented not as one thing, but as a bundle of a great many things, given to us over time.
Salvation isn’t a gift. It’s a whole pile of gifts, a pile that will take us a lifetime to open.
I’d like to take a few posts to rummage through the pile. So the next several weeks will be Christmas, and we’ll open 2 presents a week until the whole house is knee deep in crumpled wrapping paper.
How to proceed?
There are several ways to organize all these gifts. In Ephesians 1, Paul runs through a list of about a dozen of the gifts, and he organizes them around the Trinity: what the Father has given us (Eph 1.3-6), what the Son has given us (Eph 1.4-7), then more from the Father (Eph 1.8-10), then more from the Son (Eph 1.11-12), then some from the Spirit (Eph 1.13-14). That approach helps us notice that the Godhead is working together, deftly interacting in the common goal of rescuing and enriching us. That’s a delightful approach.
Or we could organize them chronologically. God was working on us and in us before we even realized it. Then in an instant, the moment we call “getting saved,” he did a whole bunch of things simultaneously. Then he began a lifelong process of conforming us to the image of his Son, a process that will culminate in another instant, one of perfect conformity. That’s a great approach too, but there’s a difficulty: because a bunch of items in the list happen simultaneously, we have trouble deciding what order to put them in.
A third approach is to organize the whole list around its central idea. In that one instant, we are “converted.” What does that mean? Converting is simply turning, changing, exchanging. In physical terms, we are facing in one direction—toward our sin, which we love—when our attitude changes, and we no longer see our sin with the delight that we once did. We turn away from it in rejection, and in doing so, we turn simultaneously toward something—someone—else: Christ. Conversion, then, is two actions in one: turning from our sin (repentance) and turning toward Christ (faith). It makes sense, I think, to organize the gifts, or the elements of salvation, around these two ideas: the change in our relationship to sin, and the change in our relationship to Christ.
That’s the approach I’m going to take in this series.
We’ll start where our experience started—our relationship with sin. Next time, we’ll consider how the Spirit of God began working in us even while we were still his enemies, dead in sin and yet loving it.