A gracEmail subscriber writes: “Salvation is certainly a gift, in the sense that we cannot merit or earn it. But it is a conditional gift. For example, suppose a rich relative gave me a check for a substantial sum of money. I must endorse the check to receive the gift — but endorsing the check does not mean that I earned, deserved, or merited it.”
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Your analogy is interesting, but I must ask how strongly your hypothetical benefactor wishes to bestow this gift. If you should break both hands in a fall, so that you could not endorse your name to the check, would your relative make other arrangements to provide you with the intended funds? Or would he or she simply say, “too bad — you can’t do what is necessary to receive this gift?” Suppose you accidentally lost the check. Would your benefactor stop payment and issue you another? Might she or he deposit the money directly into your account? How determined do you suppose God is in his quest to save sinners and to reclaim us for himself? If I wish to provide my own children with money they need for necessities, I will do whatever it takes to see that they get it. Is God less persistent than we?
Salvation is not like some commercial transaction or business contract. It is like a father whose child leaves home and goes far away — a father who goes out every morning to see if his child might be in sight — who grieves himself to sleep at night for fear the child is dead — who, seeing the child one day, runs to meet him on the road, lavishing gifts on the wayward offspring to the point of enraging another brother who never leaves home (Lk. 15:11-32). This is a father who loved us while we were sinners (Rom. 5:8), who spared nothing to redeem us from our sins (Rom. 8:32), who chose us before the world began (Rom. 8:28-30), who draws us with cords of irresistible love (John 6:44-45), who energizes us to desire and to do what pleases him (Phil. 2:13), who opens our eyes (2 Cor. 4:6), who gives repentance unto life (Acts 11:18), who bestows faith and accounts it as righteousness (Phil. 1:29; Rom. 4:5), who encounters us in baptism (Col. 2:12), who gives us his Spirit (Rom. 8:9), who never leaves or forsakes us (Heb. 13:5).
Salvation is not some kind of project to which God and sinners make respective contributions. It is God’s project, and he accomplishes it by his own power. “All that the Father gives me,” said Jesus, “shall come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me; that of all that he has given me, I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who beholds the Son, and believes in him, may have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40).