We have spent a week now counting all the gifts our Father has showered us with every day. We have also determined that, by definition, God is good. Everything that is from God is good, and everything good is from God. But we cannot sustain our gratitude and, especially, our lives on the small gifts that serve as reminders of God’s love. We must move our attention to the ultimate gift: Jesus Christ. By faith in Jesus and his work here on earth, we are filled with endless gratitude and able to enjoy the pleasure of being thankful for God’s favour towards us as his creatures and as his redeemed.
God has a plan
God, the Father is the object of our thanksgiving, Jesus Christ is the person through whom thanksgiving flows, and the Holy Spirit is the source of our Thanksgiving. It is useful for us to remind ourselves of the history of the plan of salvation to understand the magnitude of the gift of Jesus and all he has accomplished.
From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture takes us on the journey of the plan of salvation. From the fall of man, the deliverance of Noah from the flood, the divine election and covenant with Israel in the Old Testament, up to the incarnation of God in the form of Jesus in the New Testament. The journey of Jesus towards his sacrifice, resurrection and ascension continues the story and leads up to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as his permanent manifestation here on earth. Furthermore, God allows the spreading of the gospel to all nations, preparing the bride of Christ for the wedding feast which will be followed by the thousand-year kingdom of peace. The last judgement will precede the creation of a new heaven and a new earth and living for all eternity in perfect relationship with God. This will restore what was broken when Adam and Eve yielded to temptation.
Evil vs. Good
God is absolutely good. Although God did not create evil, he permitted its existence to allow man free will to decide between God (good) and evil (Romans 8:8-22). Evil ultimately distances creation from God by going against his will. Evil got a foothold on earth when man fell into sin and experienced remoteness from God resulting in estrangement and, eventually, godlessness.
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by promising them that when they eat of the fruit they will become like God (Genesis 3:5). Even though they lived in perfect relationship with God, and had everything they needed, they still longed for more and better. This attitude of rebellion and ingratitude caused them to disobey God, bring sin onto the earth and brought a curse on the earth. Sin caused a separation from God resulting in insecurity and fear and, finally, ends in death.
But God still loves man, even though we have been ungrateful and unappreciative since our creation. We see examples of this love by the fact that he made tunics for Adam and Eve as they fled the garden (Genesis 3:21), protected Cain from harm after he killed his brother (Genesis 4:15) and saved Noah from the flood (Genesis 6-9-9:17). However, there can be no greater evidence of his love than when he sent Jesus Christ to come to earth to be defeated by sin (1 John3:8) to save us from harm brought about by sin (Acts 4:12).
Jesus brought the gift
Jesus Christ came to earth to perform miracles to show God’s greatness and point to the real healing we need from sin (Matthew 9:2-6). He is the author of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9) and the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Through his sacrifice, Jesus undid the permanent separation from God (Luke 16:26) and made it possible for all humans to have access to salvation (Acts 13:47 and Romans 14:19).
Jesus Christ set the perfect example of obedience to God, remaining sinless and dying on the cross for all sinners (Philippians 2:8). Through his sacrifice, he made it possible for all sinners to live in eternal fellowship with God. Thus, one man’s offence (Adam) was justified by one man’s righteous act of this free gift (Jesus). (Romans 5:18-19)
Why did Jesus Christ have to die?
Have you allowed this thought to simmer a bit? If God is almighty and all-powerful, why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive all sinners at once?
Imagine you hear of a hardened criminal that was arrested, brought before the judge but was then let off completely free without any repercussions or criminal record. How would this make you feel? Wouldn’t you be enraged in the unfairness of the system?
In this situation, we are the hardened criminal, and God is the judge. If he just let us off the hook without any justice, that would be unfair in the eyes of the law.
To understand this reasoning further, we must return to the definition of God. God is infinite (Psalm 90:2), holy (Isaiah 6:3), righteous (2 Thessalonians 1:6) and constant (Numbers 23:19). God spoke the law (Exodus 20:1-7) and the law is holy (Romans 7:12). All sin that offends God must be punished (Romans 4:15) and will result in death (Romans 6:23). If sinners do not escape judgement, they will face damnation (Romans 1:18). If God just cancelled all the debt of sin, he will no longer be holy, righteous, or constant. He would be cowardly and spineless like humans, just changing his mind as it suits him. Therefore, all sin must be punished to fulfil the requirements of the law.
No sinner can make things right on his own (Galatians 2:16, 21) and cannot fulfil the law on his own merit (Romans 8:3). Only God can fulfil the law, so he sent Jesus Christ who was the human incarnation of God (John 1:1, 14) and fully man under the law (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross, fulfilling the law (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 8: 3-4). In this way, salvation is achieved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ who died in our place (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 3:31; Ephesians 5:2).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
The Gift of Grace
Grace is undeserved and unmerited favour. Divine grace can be defined as “Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”
God is under no obligation to grant us salvation. The only end we deserve as sinners is eternal damnation and final death. David Mathis explains it so well:
It is fitting for a creature to be in a continuous posture of gratitude toward his Creator. And it is even more fitting for a redeemed rebel to be in an ongoing posture of gratitude toward his Redeemer. The kind of life that flows from such amazing grace is the life of continual thankfulness. This is the kind of life in which the born-again Christian is being continually renewed, progressively being made more like Jesus.
Our level of gratitude should grow in proportion to the value of the gift we have been given and our unworthiness of this gift. We are entirely undeserving of this gift and could never accomplish anything to earn salvation. Therefore, we should be most grateful for this highest joy – God himself who grants us salvation only through his loving-kindness.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”.1 Corinthians 1:4
The Gift must change us
It is not enough to look at this gift and admire it. The gift of grace must cause such humble gratitude that a change must occur within us. Justification is not automatic – the offer of salvation must be accepted, and a change must take place. To help us with this change, God has given us the gifts of conscience, reasoning, and faith. As sinners, we must align our lives with that of Jesus Christ (Romans 4:25). This happens when we repent of our old nature and turn away from sin and towards God. In the New Testament, the word “repentance” was translated from the Greek word “metanoia” which literally means “to change the mind.” Repentance fundamentally means to change your mind about something. By turning our mind from sin, our values and actions will follow, and we will eventually live according to the example of Jesus. No works we can perform can guarantee us salvation. Instead, our works are evidence of our faith, becoming a sign that we accept the gift of salvation.
This blessing of grace must continually unfold in us through our growing faith. As our understanding and appreciation of grace grow, we will allow it to renew us recurrently and we will realize more and more how dependant we are on God’s favour. In this way, we will become a blessing to others. Jesus Christ has called us to inherit this blessing (1 Peter 3:9). Evidence of our gratitude for this blessing will show in our lives as fear of God, obedience in faith and selflessness towards others.
Let us keep our eyes focused on Jesus as our ultimate gift and let the growing appreciation of this gift cause an overflowing of gratitude in our hearts and change in our lives.
I am indebted to the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church which served as the basis for the research for this post. Please click here if you would like more information and to download it for free.