By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV)
The gifts are opened and the wrapping has been thrown away. Christmas has come and gone for another year, leaving our house the same as it was before it arrived — well, a little more cluttered maybe because the new stuff hasn't yet found its permanent places. But besides that, things are pretty much the same.
Except, of course, that we have a new member of the family. He's small and furry, black and brown and white, all floppy ears, inquisitive nose, and chewing teeth. He's a gift to our son from his mom and me. He's unnamed as yet, a cute little beagle puppy. Josh was thrilled when he saw him for the first time Christmas morning. He was excited all day, can't stop talking about his new dog, playing with him, and getting to know him.
But, for all the joy he brings, a new puppy changes lives. We've told Josh that this is his dog and that we expect him to take on more and more responsibility for his care. It's started already: toys, shoes, and books can't be left haphazardly strewn across the floor any longer or they'll likely be chewed into oblivion. The dog will have to be fed, given water, played with, and taken for walks everyday. There will be baths to give, grooming to do, and trips to the vet to make. He still needs to be housebroken. Most of the other gifts Josh received can be ignored. They can sit on shelves, in bins, or in drawers and never be touched — but not this gift. This gift will demand Josh's attention for the next ten years or more.
Now he has to live with this gift.
Oh, we know Josh can't care for the dog all by himself yet. We know that he won't be able to do everything that the dog will require for quite some time. We understand that this will be a learning experience for Josh. Our expectations are realistic. The gift is free, given simply because we love our son and want to make him happy. But, we've made clear to him that this gift comes with the expectation that he will do the best he can to live up to the responsibilities that receiving it carries.
The gift we've received from God, the gift of Christ which many of us celebrate this season, is like that. There are no strings attached; Christ was given to us freely by a Father who gives because he loves us. There was no pre-screening nor was the gift given secretly to only a select few. Jesus died for all of us — every human being on the planet — because the Father delights in us and because giving us this gift brings our Father great delight. It's a gift offered with grace and received by faith — not earned or won by anyone's good life.
But if you receive it, you have to be willing to live with this gift.
When a person receives the gift of Christ, that person is changed — re-created. Paul says that we are what God has made us; we are the results of his craftsmanship, the finished product of his artistry. Christ didn't come just to forgive us, solve our problems, give us rules by which we are to live, or drop a syllabus of necessary religious acts into our laps. Jesus came to make us new.
God understands, of course, that our new lives will not always be easy to live and that our old habits and perspectives may die slowly. He recognizes that we're always learning about the implications that the gift he has given us has for our lives. His expectations are realistic. He understands that we won't perfectly live with this gift we've received for quite some time, but he gives us this gift expecting that we will do the best that we can to live up to the responsibilities of receiving it.
The bottom line is that the gift we've received from God, the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, cannot be put away in the closets of our hearts and ignored any more than Josh's new puppy can be. It cannot be placed on a shelf, dusted off and admired periodically, and then put back. Even more importantly, this gift will absolutely not conform to the old patterns of our lives. Our lives must be re-patterned to fit around the gift that God has so graciously given us.
This gift really is no burden. Living with the gift of Christ brings new joy with each new day. Each day we discover something new about God, about ourselves, about the people and the world around us. These new discoveries will thrill us, delight us, and surprise us. Before too long, we won't be able to imagine living without God's gift.
So now that the holiday has ended, the decorations have been taken down, and the Christmas CDs put away for another year, live with the Gift. All year long, live with this precious gift — the gift of Jesus.
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life ... and I can even promise you that this gift won't chew on your shoes!