What is the greatest gift you could ever receive? Deep friendships? Perfect health? Unimaginable wealth? Peace of mind? Absolute power? Long life? Beauty? A brilliant intellect? Worldwide fame?
At first blush each of those gifts might sound fantastic. But they all suffer from the same shortcoming. They cease to exist upon your death, at which time you no longer enjoy their benefits. At best, you might have them for a hundred years. Likely, you would experience them for a much shorter period of time. Worse than that, such gifts only satisfy emotional, physical, or carnal cravings but never address the deeper longings of the soul.
The ultimate gift, in contrast to those above, satisfies your spiritual hunger, gives your life meaning and purpose, provides you with the hope and strength needed to persevere through difficult circumstances, and reveals God’s immeasurable love for you. Best of all, the ultimate gift lasts forever.
This ultimate gift is available to everyone. Regardless of your ethnicity, your economic status, your gender, your physical attributes, your moral failures, your religious upbringing, your popularity, your political affiliation, your social strata, or your intelligence, you can receive this gift. No matter how desperate your condition, how much society rejects you, how ugly you view yourself, how unworthy you feel, how poor you are, how heinous a crime you committed, how hopeless you feel, how unsuccessful you are, this gift awaits you.
It is the gift of spiritual salvation: the opportunity to experience a real relationship with God in this world, and enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.
How does one receive this gift? Before answering that it might help to understand why one needs the gift.
The Bible tells us “all have sinned” and that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” (See Romans 3:10, 23. HCSB translation). The fact is no matter how hard we try we still sin. Not only that, but our best efforts to please God and to do good fall far short of His standards. The Bible says “all our acts of righteousness are like filthy rags.” (See Isaiah 64:6).
What is the consequence for our sin? The Bible declares, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23. HCSB). This verse is not referring to a physical death. Instead it speaks of a spiritual death in which we remain forever separated from God. Instead of spending eternity in heaven we are condemned to hell, which the Bible describes as a place of everlasting darkness, torment, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Obviously none of us wants to spend a moment there, let alone eternity.
So how do we keep from ending up there? Most religions teach the need to earn our salvation by performing good works, acts of charity, and making sure our virtues outweigh our sins. We are told that when we come before God he will compare our good deeds with our bad deeds. If the former outnumber the latter we will gain admittance into heaven. In other words, we alone possess the power to earn our place in eternity.
The Bible, however, disagrees with that consensus. Instead it teaches “no one is made righteous by the works of the law.” (See Galatians 2:16, and Romans 3:20). In other words, no one can work there way into heaven with good deeds. No amount of righteous living will earn a person eternal life with God. What hope is there, then?
Our only hope lies in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. Not once did he sin. He obeyed all of God’s commandments and never violated one. Therefore, He was righteous in God’s eyes.
To reconcile sinful mankind with Himself, God “sent His Son (Jesus) to be the propitiation for our sins” by dying a brutal death on the cross. (See 1 John 2:2, and Romans 3:25). His sacrificial death accomplished two things. First, it imputed (or assigned) our sins to Christ. This means Jesus bore on the cross the wrath of God that rightfully was due us. Second, it imputed to us the righteousness of Christ.
This powerful truth is worth restating. Christ endured the wrath owed to us while His righteousness was assigned to us. As a result we can be restored into a right relationship with God. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What, then, must we do to secure this gift? Place our faith in Christ and surrender our lives to Him. It really is that simple. The Bible says that God’s righteousness is available “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (See Romans 3:22).
What does is mean to place your faith in Christ? Several things. First, faith includes repentance. Both Jesus and John the Baptist began their ministries with the phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (See Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, NKJV). When a crowd asked the apostle Peter what they must do to be saved he responded, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” (See Acts 2:38). Repentance involves two components. First, we must commit to turning away from the pattern of sin in our lives and, second, we commit to turning to the example of godliness Christ gives us.
Second, faith includes a verbal confession of Jesus as Lord and belief in your heart. The Bible explains it this way: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (See Romans 10:9-10, NKJV). In other words, it is not just enough to declare with your mouth, “I believe in Jesus.” You must believe with the heart.
When we trust in Christ for our salvation we “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The term justified here means ‘declared righteous.’ Redemption indicates we were purchased at a price, which was the blood Jesus shed on the cross. In other words, by His mercy God declares us righteous because Christ’s sacrifice on the cross paid the debt of our transgressions.
Finally, what does it mean to surrender our lives to Christ and make Him Lord? The apostle Paul offers this thorough definition: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (See Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV. I urge you to study this passage carefully as it touches on some of the previous biblical truths we discussed).
Jesus defines surrender in more succinct terms, telling potential followers “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (See Luke 14:33, NKJV).
In summation, the entirety of the Good News of Jesus Christ, as discussed above, is captured unambiguously in this final Bible verse. “For you are saved by grace through faith, and not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (See Ephesians 2:8, emphasis mine).
If you are still weighing what to believe, take time to read studiously through the above verses a second time. As you do, ask God to open your heart to Him and reveal His truth to you. He will gladly answer that prayer.