A Gift Already Given

Paul had a problem. There was some confusion about how this new fledging church receives righteousness. Do they have to work for it? Is it given by Christ’s sacrifice? What then do they do with the Law that comes from the religious system that preceded it? How do the rules pertain to righteousness? What must the believer in this new thing do to receive favor (righteousness) from God? It certainly is a difficult question. On the one hand there were those who believed that all the rules had to be followed in order to receive the gift that God had given in the sacrifice of Christ. Others believed that there was no need to follow the rules at all. Christ’s sacrifice was available to all who believed that Christ was who He said He was and that His death freed them from sin. In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives us as clear an answer as possible:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus . . . Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Rom 3:21-24, 27-28)

To underscore the point, Paul goes on to give an example. In Romans 4 he writes, What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (Rom 4:1-3)

But Paul does not want the Romans to get the wrong idea. Faith does not totally do away with the law. The law is still important to Paul. So he asks and answers, Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom 3:31) Paul seems to be saying here that the law is established by our faith, meaning that we do not keep the law in order to be righteous, but that the righteousness we receive by faith enables us to keep the law. This was a paradigmatic shift for the people of Paul’s day. Instead of the law allowing the believer to be righteous, the believer keeps the law because he/she has already been deemed righteous by the very fact that they believe! Our works have nothing to do with attaining or retaining the righteousness that has already been given. Rather, the works that we exhibit are a manifestation of the state in which we exist – a state of righteousness, granted by God based simply on our belief.

I am quite frankly amazed at how this controversy still rages on in churches today. I have found the debates that I have participated in and the discussions I have led on this issue to be fascinating. At the end of the day I think the distillation is this – that works are important, but not more important than the faith that leads to righteousness, and that attaining and retaining righteousness has nothing to do with what we do. Rather, what we do is indicative of the gift already given. Furthermore, if the gift has already been given, then it is available to anyone who is willing to believe that the gift has been given. Therefore, there is nothing that anyone has to do in order to receive the gift, and there is nothing that anyone can do to keep the gift. What great news that is to anyone who is struggling through their relationship with God, or to anyone who does not know Him. You don’t have to clean yourself up in order to receive this gift. You don’t even have to be so concerned with losing the gift if you don’t stay clean. So long as you continue to believe and stay in a relationship with the Gift-giver, the rest will take care of itself.

It’s a shame that the paradigmatic shift necessary in Paul’s day is still necessary almost 2000 years after he wrote those words. I think we stumble on this concept because we refuse to believe that Someone would be this good to us. This is the greatest gift that can be given, and we don’t have anything to do with it. We cannot earn it in any way. We feel that we have to justify to God (and maybe not to Him, but to ourselves and others), the reasons why we should receive the gift that He gave us before we wanted it. (See Rom 5:8) But I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If God has already given, I am willing to receive, and even more, I am unwilling to do anything that keeps others from receiving this gift as well.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/author/jason-hines

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9364

Good article Jason. The reason in every generation “the gift of Righteousness by Grace through faith in Christ alone” has to be relearned is that all humankind is self righteous by nature and desires to do something to earn whatever “spiritual salvation” or self justification they see their particular path to entail.

Can we all agree that God does not give us the gift of character?

Correct Cassie. He does reckon us righteous in Christ while we are yet sinners. Can we agree on that. A literal translation of Heb.10:14. By one offering, he has perfected for all times those who are being made holy. “Being made” not having arrived.

Is this a passive process?

No it is present participle. The perfected a finished act when received by faith.

Sounds passive…

You are looking at the perfect illustration of Justification and sanctification in Heb.10. We are reckoned pefect in Christ when we individually receive by faith His finished perfect gift. We are set apart for “being made holy”…process. Never complete here.

What do the “overcometh” verses mean in Revelation?

And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations…

Have a 1 pm appt.
We are overcoming the devil sin and death through faith in Christ. It’s a matter of degree. It’s also an awareness that by the deeds of the law shall no one be justified. The journey is building character.
When he appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is…

Thanks, Pat…

I find this to be as good an illustration as any I know:

As a young man (or lady), you might see another who catches your eye. You go out of your way to do nice things for that person, hoping that they might like you. Or they will develop a liking or love for you. We used to call that courtship.

When you suddenly realize that the person of your affection loves you, your mindset changes. You no longer do good things for that person hoping they will like you. Now you do good things for that person because they love you.

Because you love someone, and that love is reciprocated does not mean that you will always do good things for that person. Or more specifically do the things that person likes. We forget, other things get priority, we do things our own way… But it doesn’t mean we have stopped loving them, or they have stopped loving us. Sometimes we need to refresh the relationship.

Our relationship to the Law is best summed up with this question - Do we (try to) keep the law hoping God will love us, or do we (try to) keep the law because we love God?

The “hook” you get into is that when oneself and the others around us don’t perfectly obey the law it is because we dont love God/Christ as we ought .
So the degree of my love becomes another form of slavery. In beholding Him we are changed and those we love. We live life and dont become preoccupied with what we feel makes them happy.


Salvation – The Questions

It seems we often conflate, confuse, combine & contort the following questions:

1) What is salvation (or ultimate existence)?

2) What must I do/think/believe to become saved?

3) What action/attitude/state will exist because I am saved?

4) What must I do so you know I am saved?

5) What must YOU do so I know you are saved?

These are all separate questions which may (almost always) have separate answers.

When they are conflated, confused, combined or contorted, we get all mixed up in how we answer these questions for ourselves and about others. We think we’re addressing one question while actually thinking of and responding to a different one. Mixing up the questions mixes up the answers, both internally and externally.

It goes without saying (or maybe not) – Every individual has limitations in perception and processing of information. Those limitations (or capabilities) will affect, to a large extent, the ingestion of that information and its effective utilization in creating an internal world (concept) that is similar to the external (or invisible) realities. Our internal mental uniqueness is often overlooked.

Question #1 will be answered by the ultimate sources of information or wisdom that one chooses.

Question #2 is typically answered from within the ultimate sources. Our response to that information is based on our own personal perceptions of the value and expediency of Answer#1.

Question #3 is about the effect on one’s life when that internal, invisible choice is embraced as a reality.

Question #4 is about YOUR expectations of ME and is most often based on YOUR understanding of YOUR answers to Q#1 & Q#2.

Question #5 is about MY expectations of OTHERS and is most often based on MY understanding of MY answers to Q#1 & Q#2.

The justification & willingness to treat each of these questions separately, as distinct (though not unconnected) aspects of our beliefs in the ultimate reality of life (religion, if you will) is that it helps us to clarify what we actually think and believe. Despite it being beneficial to discuss or treat these questions separately, in the wholeness of life, our answers interplay with each other in a constant mesh of pushing, pulling, resisting and joining in a combined system of creating life (and afterlife) affirming ideas and actions and most often expecting such of others.

However - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (or expect of others what you expect of yourself) can have disastrous results depending on what perception (or misperception) we have of right & wrong or the way we ought to be.

(I apologize for the length of my post - but I feel it is necessary to create context.)

Salvation – How & Why

There are many perceptions of salvation. There are extensively constructed systems of perception and there are perceptions that are uncritically embraced. Many people choose a little here and a little there of what others believe without evaluating whether those bits-n-pieces actually fit together.

In thinking about the variety of definitions & means that people perceive about salvation, I think the following generalizations are helpful in understanding why people say or believe what they do about salvation. Many will alternate back and forth between these perceptions of God’s ‘ultimate character traits’ to answer specific religious issues they confront. Of course, my characterization of their beliefs is also generalized and necessarily summarized (without writing 20 pages of notes). There will definitely be additional thoughts and choices as a result of their perception of God.

Still, these generalizations remain useful because the choices most people make in understanding or explaining their belief about salvation (and other religious topics) will fall into (in a prominent way) one of these categories for their perception of God’s ultimate character trait.

Those who believe God’s SOVEREIGNTY is His ultimate character trait:
…. Believe salvation is a matter of Pre-Destination. God’s sovereignty allows Him to create
…. people already determined to be saved & lost. We should not question God’s decisions
…. and must play our part according to His choice.

Those who believe God’s JUSTICE is His ultimate character trait:
…. Believe that His law is supremely important and the keeping of it is the basis of
…. salvation. They also believe we cannot keep His law but that Christ makes His obedience
…. available as a substitute for their own. Because the law is supreme, God judges people, and
…. grants their salvation, based on their faithful keeping of His laws or their claim of Christ’s
…. righteousness in place of their own.

Those who believe God’s MERCY is His ultimate character trait:
…. Believe His law was eliminated at the Cross because people could not obey. If there is no
…. law, obedience is not required nor the basis of salvation. He has forgiven everyone and will
…. even give people a second chance to be saved after they see others being rewarded.

Those who believe God’s LOVE is His ultimate character trait:
…. Believe God has done everything possible to demonstrate the destructiveness of evil
…. as well as the blessings of His way of life (including the law) in an attempt to convince
…. as many as possible to choose to live with Him. Individuals will choose for themselves
…. whether to be in a committed relationship with Christ for eternity or reject Him and that
…. eternal relationship. In the end, God will allow their destiny according to that choice.

Everyone has their own perception of God’s character (and therefore, His ultimate character trait) that they embrace. Many people do not think about or even acknowledge that their perceptions of salvation are based on their perception of God’s ultimate character trait. Still, that factor plays a major role in what beliefs and actions that people embrace and what they reject…

When we interact and discuss with others, this should cause us to listen more carefully to what they say and doing so will help us better understand what they mean by their expressed concepts. It can help us decide whether their understanding of God is in alignment with our understanding of Him. We can then decide how we will relate their perceptions of Him (and their understanding of His requirements) to our own lives.

Being exposed to other perceptions of God can be very helpful in creating cosmic and terrestrial questions for us to answer and that will allow us to clarify our own perceptions. Christian discussion should always be respectful and kind, reflecting the love of God, no matter how intensely we hold our beliefs. ‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’ Coercive attacks may garner withdrawal of your opponent but will not make brothers & sisters & friends in Christ.

(I apologize for the length of my post - but I feel it is necessary to create context.)

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My wife knows I love her, even when I forget to do what she asks, even when I forget our anniversary or her birthday😨. She knows not because of what I do or don’t do (that helps) but because I tell her everyday. The difference between earthly relationships and heavenly relationships is that the heavenly one doesn’t fade, even if we don’t tell Christ we love Him, He still loves us.

God demonstrated His love for is in that while we were YET sinners Christ died for is. Much more having been justified by His blood we shall be saved from God’s wrath in Him.
That’s good news and a wonderful gift, I’d say.


Thanks Pat for sticking to the reality of redemption through Christ. No yes but of a mangeled reading of Daniel and Revrlation that has created compliance committees.


Thanks Tom. That IS Christianity…without Him just another form of religious spirituality.

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How about the idea that it was faith in the Messiah itself that was the goal that the law was pointing to all along? This was the faith that brought the circumcised and the uncircumcised together in unity and in love around the same table in Christ. In Chapter 4, Paul shows that it was the same type of faith that Abraham had before he was circumcised that God counted as the appropriate response to his gracious covenant. This was truly the fulfillment of the Torah that Paul had seen through his preaching of the gospel. It was not a call by faith to bring people back under the letter of the Law, the very demand that divided Jew from Gentile.

In fact, in Romans 7, Paul makes it clear that those who had lived under the administration of the Law, had died to it, so that they might serve in the new way of the Spirit. IOW, the time of the Law as covenant/contract was over, as people came to God through Christ and his Spirit ( Galatians also makes this clear). This was how God now formed and determined his community. It was this Spirit filled community, that lived in love, that was the fulfillment, the righteousness, and goal of what the law had pointed to as a shadow.

As Paul wrote later wrote in Romans 10, “Christ is the goal of the Law/Torah for righteousness for everyone (Jew and Gentile) who believes.” Only Christ, through the power of his Spirit, could form a new creation of former enemies, now gathered in faith and love around him…something that a return to the Law and its letter could never do.

Maybe a bit of a different take.