Receiving a gift is something special, especially when we receive something that means a lot to us. God gave us 7 special gifts that are ‘benefits’ of being right with Him again. The first three I wrote about in the first blog. We continue with the remaining gifts…
Present #4 Christian Character (vs 3-4)
A SPECIAL GIFT
Probably the strangest present in the basket is the one Paul describes after hope. Presents 1, 2 and 3 are all great, but what do we make of present #4? Well, the fact that we know God and are forgiven, does not mean that we are exempt from the trials of life. That’s why it is so incredibly important to understand the terms & conditions of the good news very well. If you present the gospel as merely something beneficial (even though I am talking here about 7 benefits of being justified!) rather than transformational, it can get you into trouble. The reason? Very simple. As soon as trials hit you (and they will) by becoming a Christian, you also start making up a mental list of checks and balances. Is it really worth to follow Jesus? After all, if you are in it to gain from it, escape from condemnation only, rather than enjoying a right relationship with Him and being transformed by Him, you soon may find that following Jesus is a bit too much. It was not by accident that Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow Him, he had to do a few things. What did he need to consider?
- Count the cost
- Deny yourself (you are not in it for yourself any longer)
- Pick up your cross (really following Jesus’ example of sacrificial living)
- Follow Him (which is the whole idea of being a CHRISTian)
Paul describes a process here and there are no short-cuts in this. Tribulations (trouble, trials, difficulties of life) produces perseverance. Perseverance produces Christian character and that leads to hope which will never disappoint us. The good life of having everything right here and right now probably screams something like: ‘I don’t want trials and difficulties’. It goes so against our flesh! But it is part of the package.
So present #4 is probably one of those presents you get on your birthday or another occasion and you think: ‘Oh boy, why did I get this?’
Let’s move on to present #5
Present #5 – God’s love within (vs 5-8)
Newsflash…God loves us! Yet, it is one thing to know that. It’s one thing for me to say that to you. It’s another thing to experientially know that you know, that you know that God really loves you. Often voices of the past may tell us, even accuse us of the parts in us, our character flaws, past mistakes, regrets, shame and fears that we are not so lovable. We all listen and respond through filters and if we are not aware of that, we won’t even be able to embrace God’s love for us because of those filters.
What are some of those filters?
- Oh, you are such a dummy! How could you do that?
- I don’t look that pretty
- Will you really accept me for who I am?
- I messed up so many times, God couldn’t possibly love me. Everyone else yes, but not me!
Did you know that even parenting children can become a quest for ‘finding love and acceptance’ through our children? Children were never, ever meant to give us that! Raising children, talking to dads and moms now, is the most sacrificial act of love. You do not give in order to get. You give, because you love. Period! Whether they are 3, 13 or 33 years old. Love is about giving and not seeking its own!
Well, guess what? God loved us while we were unlovable sinners (5:8). It wasn’t first about cleaning up our room to make mommy proud and happy. God loved us anyway! Why? Because God IS LOVE! He really is LOVE. His love is so amazing!
Let’s move on to present #6
Present #6 Salvation from future wrath (vs 9-10)
The word wrath is not an English word we use often anymore. A close equivalent to wrath could be anger, but that may give us some ideas that we put on God that are not true. God is not an angry God as if He is frustrated or disappointed with us humans. It easily can be interpreted that way. No, wrath means that God, being a righteous judge, (we covered this in the series called ‘Guilty as charged!’ has to punish unrighteousness. We know it also as sin. Turning a blind eye on sin would mean that God is a corrupt God and we know that He isn’t.
People are not very aware of the ‘idea of judgement day’. It’s this life that you have, so you need to make something out of it. The whole concept of being accountable to a divine being that one day will judge you, is very foreign to modern people. Paul previously wrote in chapters 1-3 that people do have two important witnesses that point to the fact that God is someone to reckon with. Those witnesses are creation itself and the human conscience. God left his ‘fingerprints’ all over the place in creation. Besides that, we know what is right and what is wrong, whether we follow that or not. Our conscience can either excuse or accuse us and that was designed by God that way. Salvation from the future wrath of God simply means knowing that you are not under judgement any longer because Jesus bore your sins on the cross so that you could become a son or daughter of God again. You were that to begin with but it got lost. Justification by faith means that our past, present and future are totally secure. Isn’t that amazing.
Present #7 Reconciliation (vs 11)
The word atonement actually means reconciliation. It means to bring back into fellowship with God. In a world that is spinning out of control, we see for example, world leaders stepping up to reconcile nations with each other. Think of the USA and North Korea, for example.
When humans declared war (yes they did!) on God by choosing themselves what is right and wrong, rather than obeying God, reconciliation was needed. But all human efforts to get into the good graces of God again, just by trying harder were to no avail. That’s why God sent Jesus, His Son, to earth to live as a man and by doing so Jesus modelled what God meant for us humans; to live in right-standing with Him 24/7.
7 presents! All the outcome of the gift of Jesus’ work on the cross. How would we even summarize what Jesus really did for and in us? Well, Paul actually continues in chapter 5 by explaining how the perfect gift (Jesus) achieved what it needed to do.
By becoming a man, Jesus modelled what God wanted all along and this Paul contrasts with the first man called Adam (which means ‘human’). In Jesus we see humanity in its truest form, not in the version we are so familiar with.
Paul contrasts Adam and Christ in some ways to show that God’s gift supersedes everything that possibly went wrong when sin came into the world. Just a quick comparison before we close:
Adam disobeyed God Christ obeyed God
Adam died spiritually and physically Christ died and yet lives!
Because of Adam we all died Because of Christ we all can live again
The list for sure could go on here, but you get the picture. God’s work is really enough to undo what went wrong. This can only be ‘experienced’ by grace through faith. It is a gift! You cannot earn a gift. Gifts are gifts! Paul calls this gift the ‘gift of righteousness’ in verse 17.
Let me close with a story. Jenny bought a nice blouse for mommy. The occasion? Mother’s Day! She carefully picked out the present, a bit similar to what my youngest daughter did. Jenny wrapped it in paper and early in the morning she woke up, sneaked into the sleeping room of her parents with the present and before mommy could say a thing, she said with joy in her eyes: ‘Happy Mother’s Day! I love you so much!’. Mommy was amazed, excited and proud of her 12-year old. This really was special. She wore the blouse that day, because it was after all the present she got.
But something happened. After Mother’s Day was over, mommy never wore the blouse again! It was just hanging in her closet collecting dust. Why? Nobody really knows. Didn’t she like the present? No not really, she did like it. Did mommy have too many options for clothing? Perhaps…
Nevertheless, she never wore the blouse again. Jenny noticed that and started wondering obviously.
The gift of righteousness is not something we put on once, just to try it out. That would be strange. It’s not just about a prayer to get our names in a book or one day go to heaven. The gift of righteousness is something to be enjoyed every single day of our lives. Hope, peace, joy, reconciliation, transformation of character. All of these presents are part of a package deal that can and should be enjoyed daily by faith, believing that we are really OK with God. Not on our own terms and conditions but on His.