As December arrives and we’ve finally burned off those extra calories from Thanksgiving (okay, maybe we haven’t), it’s official: Christmas is upon us. As followers of Christ, we recognize the absolute meaning of this season as a time of reflection and rejoicing for the birth of our Savior. It also is a time we frequently host and attend family gatherings, share meals with loved ones, and sometimes participate in gift-giving. Gifts for children, spouses, mail carriers, and teachers. Gifts for friends, parents, neighbors, and siblings. Truth be told, I really love to give gifts, but I’m typically uncomfortable with receiving them.
As I grew into adulthood, I grew into the uncomfortable awareness that receiving a gift felt, well, awkward for me. I’m always worried my reaction won’t match how truly grateful I am, or worse yet, the gift-giver will somehow know that I don’t feel worthy of the gift or the attention. Quite simply, I’d much rather be the one giving the gift than receiving it.
And so what, you might think? I know that the uncomfortable feeling I get while opening a gift is fleeting and it’s something I’ve learned to deal with, but I’ve found that the way I feel about receiving physical gifts is directly related to how I feel about receiving gifts from God, and that is far more important and worthy of diving into.
I grew up in a church that focused heavily on “works”. It was understood that salvation was from God alone, but much time on Sundays was given to focusing on what we must do first, before He gives it. This belief insinuates that our salvation is predicated on what we do to earn it.
When I became a teenager and my self-awareness matured, I quickly realized this was an uphill battle. It felt impossible for me to ever do enough to earn God’s favor and His gift of salvation. In a single day, I could do ten “right” things, but innumerably more “wrong” things. I became anxious and worried whether or not I had actually received salvation, even though I believed in Jesus.
Much like receiving physical gifts, I was sure I hadn’t done enough to earn the attention of God or His gift of salvation. It was a strange, complex, and heavy burden to carry. I had friends who went to other churches who spoke so freely about salvation. “How?!,” I wondered, how were they so sure they had done enough?
It wasn’t until I began college at Penn State and attended a non-denominational church that I began to uncover how others were so sure. I had been incredibly flawed in my understanding of the gift of salvation, fed by teaching that amplified the wrong message. It was the kind of teaching that magnified the gift-receiver rather than the gift-Giver; the kind of teaching that leaves enough room for the Enemy to whisper lies about your eternal inheritance and your place in God’s kingdom.
I was so focused on doing and earning, that I missed the sacredness of the gift itself. I had unintentionally watered-down the power of Jesus’ finished work on the cross– my lack of understanding had me living like Jesus needed a little more help from me to seal the deal. I can laugh at that now, but when I was stuck in that belief pattern, it was truly toxic. Instead of doing good works to honor God for the incredible gift of Jesus and salvation, I was performing works to earn something that had already been paid in full.
As I began to hear a new message which focused on the faithfulness of God to restore His people to Himself, by grace and through faith, I was overwhelmed and undeniably uncomfortable. It took me many years to undo what I had believed for so long, but the Holy Spirit has been faithful to renew my understanding.
I still have days where old lies and misconceptions creep in, but He quickly reminds me “it is finished”. And as I’ve grown to understand the fullness of what Jesus did on the cross, my relationship and love for Him have radically changed as well.
To be so loved and to do nothing to earn it has filled me with a desire to live differently. It’s what drives me each day to be better and what calls me each night into a place of humility and repentance. Ultimately, it changes the why and the how behind the things I do. Before, I did works and confessed my sins from a place of guilt and shame in a futile attempt to earn something from God. Now I do good works and repent of my sins because of the magnitude of Jesus’ love flowing in me. Receiving the gift of salvation means that I’ve stopped focusing on me and shifted my focus to Him.
If you’ve ever struggled with your worth in relationship to eternal salvation, I encourage you to meditate on Titus 3: 4-7:
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
To question our worth of receiving the gift of salvation is to question why Jesus died on the cross. To question how we earn salvation is to question what Jesus did on the cross. We must shift the focus off of ourselves and onto our Savior. He performed the greatest act of love this world has ever known and gave it freely to every single one of us.
We are worthy because of Him, made righteous by His sacrifice. We have salvation by God’s grace, through our faith in Christ and the finished work of the cross. So if there is ever a time you struggle with your worth in receiving this immeasurable gift, instead magnify the goodness, kindness, and love of God. I have faith that your understanding, like mine, will change.
Thank you, God, for Your kindness and grace. Thank you for Your Son, Jesus, our Savior. Thank you for the gift of eternal life with You, something we could never achieve on our own, but You so freely gave to us. We welcome it and receive it in Jesus’ name. Amen.