2 Timothy 1:8-9 “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…”
God saved us and called us because of his grace. The true and full value of grace is seen in its nature as a gift. Referring to God’s work of saving us, Paul says, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…” Do we really understand what a gift is? Don’t our selfish natures always confuse and tarnish the concept? I have never “sold” a gift to anyone. But I can’t think of many people to whom I have given gifts who didn’t “deserve” it in some way or another. In most cases they had spent years, maybe even a lifetime, paying for my favor, earning the trust and love that made we want to “give” them something. You could say that they purchased my gift on a lay away program, investing kindnesses and friendship instead of money. At the very least they demonstrated that they were good people who would not abuse my charity.
You may remember a grassroots campaign some years ago urging “Random Acts of Kindness.” One of the things that made that campaign so striking, so fresh and exciting, is that a random act of kindness, giving things to people who have had no chance to do anything for us, is so rare. It still is.
On the backside of our giving, our gifts so often come with strings attached. We expect (demand?) some kind of response. Haven’t you felt awkward receiving a gift from someone because you wondered what he wanted from you? Or maybe you have received a gift and felt guilty, because you hadn’t gotten anything for the gift’s giver. Now you felt like you should go out and get him something. We live in this world of “what’s in it for me” or “what’s it going to cost me” because our selfish nature can’t see the sense, or even the possibility, of anything being truly “free.” That’s a serious problem, because in eternity there are only two places that we can go, and only one of them has an admission price (that we must pay), and that place isn’t heaven.
But the undeserved love of God is truly a gift. He laid down no conditions before he gave us this grace. Indeed, we gave him no reason to want to make this gift to us. We weren’t able. His gift of grace is truly free. And once we have received it, he does not demand a response, as though grace were charged to our Visa, and we were going to pay it off over time. Grace does not demand a response, but it does invite one. We can even say that it inspires a response, it compels a response, because the free gift of grace changes all who receive it. It fills them with love that freely gives, just as we have received. We would willingly suffer for the one who gave us such grace, or suffer to share it with others, as Paul invites us to do.
Perhaps the gift nature of God’s grace is clearer to see when Paul says, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” Don’t misunderstand Paul’s words. He is not saying that God’s grace was given to us at some point before creation. There were not millions or billions of years before creation, and then one day God woke up and decided, “I’m going to create me a world, and when it goes wrong, I’m going to redeem it. And when I do, I’m going to save Joe.”
No, in eternity there is no time, no progressing from one moment to the next in the same way we think of it. God always was. And as long as there has been God, his grace has been given to you. There was no “day before” grace. God’s grace–to you personally– is eternal, just like God himself is eternal. It is unchangeable as God himself. You can’t get anything less demanding of something in you, anything more “free,” than that.
Can you put a value on such a gift? The old Motown song sings, “Money can’t buy you love.” And when it comes to God’s love, neither can good works, personal sacrifice, or anything else we can think to give. God has always loved you just because he chooses to love you. You cannot turn this love off, you cannot make it stop, at any cost, no matter what you do. Paul’s reminder that such grace is a gift helps us appreciate its full value.