Romans 3:22-24 - The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
If you're a parent, you teach your children to be responsible. You preach to them that if they want something, they must earn it. With this idea ingrained in our minds from our youth, is it any wonder there are misunderstandings about salvation, justification, and eternal life? The work-to-earn-benefits mentality is so pervasive, that when we consider the Gospel, it sounds so foreign, so unlikely, so totally unbelievable.
That being said, Romans 3:22-24 is clear: salvation is a "gift." But how can that be? Something like salvation can't come easy. There has to be some effort; we've got to work for it to earn it, right? Such was the thinking during the Reformation. The institutional church was teaching—and people were believing—that getting to heaven required our effort: saying a certain number of prayers, doing religious and social duties, etc.
By using Scripture, Martin Luther and other reformers demonstrated what the Bible had been saying all along. You can't earn God's forgiveness and eternal life. It's free! God loves you. And He gives it to you because of Jesus. We haven't been good enough. Jesus has. We don't do well enough. Jesus did. We can't work hard enough. Jesus could. It's not our effort that saves us. It's the work of Jesus, and Jesus alone.
On the cross Jesus took our sins, all of them, on Himself. He took the punishment we deserved. He took our burden, and He died in our place to earn our forgiveness. When Jesus said, "It is finished" (see John 19:30), He meant it. Mission accomplished! And when He rose from the dead, the Father put His seal on His Son's work of redemption. Now, eternal life is offered to all who believe in Him—as a gift!
So now when you're teaching your kids to work hard for what they want in this life, you can do so with a clear conscience. This is how the world works. It's how society functions. But the most important lesson for them (and us) is that this isn't how God operates. We can't earn His favor. There's nothing we can do because there's nothing we could do.
God's forgiveness of our sins and the gift of eternal salvation have been purchased on our behalf by Jesus. They are freely given to all who we trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. It may not fit our thinking of how things work in this world, but that shouldn't surprise us. God is in the business of doing things we wouldn't expect, saving us in a way that runs contrary to the world's thinking.
"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart'" (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).
THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank You for the underserved gift of Your Son Jesus. In His Name we pray. Amen.
Adapted from the message, "When Free Means Free," by Rev. Dr. Kurt Taylor, director of the Director of Church Ministries program at Concordia University Wisconsin.
1. Do you have a hard time accepting something from someone without the urge to give them something back?
2. Have you ever tried to "earn" God's love and forgiveness? What did you do to do that?
3. How do you explain to someone that God's love is free and available to all?
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