In this morning's lesson from Ephesians (2:1-10), Paul pens one of those lines that reverberates through Christianity, retaining its power through the centuries: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any (one) should boast." Although this verse and the theme behind it (faith vs. works; grace vs. law) have been a part of my Christian journey since childhood, its meaning and emphasis have grown and developed over the years.
Today, I find myself wondering which gift Paul has in mind. Is it grace? Usually, this is where my emphasis falls. Grace is gift--unmerited favor. By its definition and very nature, grace is a gift. It's easy to read this verse and conclude that God has given us the gift of grace, which, through faith, has saved us. Accordingly, salvation is the soteriological collision of God's grace and our faith.
But that approach to Paul (and more importantly to God) cheapens the gift. This Christmas, Elizabeth gave me a cover for my Kindle. If I were to consider her gift in terms of its partial contribution to the overall satisfaction I receive from my e-reader experience and thank her for her small part in my overall joy...well, I might get slapped. The gift is bigger than that. She gave me something that doesn't depend on me for it to have merit or to be complete. Her gift was a gift.
For Paul, the whole thing is gift--grace, faith, and salvation. We might possess the faith, but it, too, has already been given to us by God. I often forget that faith itself is also a gift, which I don't (and can't) manufacture on my own. So often I approach my faith as if it were something I had created. Fallaciously, I look at it as if it were a little child--something I have nurtured and protected and raised. But in the mathematics of salvation, we don't bring anything to the equation. There is no partial derivative for our contributions. And the gift of salvation is far richer because it is in totality a gift.