I remember during college and graduate school dreading Christmas because I was so poor. I didn’t have a bit of spare change to buy people gifts and I knew for sure that people were out buying me stuff. Most of my friends and family didn’t get anything from me other than my smiling face at their dinner table.
I believe everyone understood my situation, but it didn’t help ease the pressure I placed on myself. I honestly felt bad when others would get me presents. Sometimes they would get me expensive gifts and I had nothing to offer them. I spent many years at Christmas events being a spectator only to have my name called and someone handing me a gift. It was always easy to say thank you and to be grateful, but the joy seemed to be partnered with regret and guilt because I had nothing to give in return.
And as a rule, I believe receiving gifts is a hard thing to do for many of us. I think for most of us we feel humbled and a bit awkward when it comes to receiving gifts and not giving a gift in return. In our give-and-take world the idea of something free is foreign. How many times growing up did someone pop your bubble in the midst of your joy by saying “there ain’t nothin free?”
We are a people raised in a society with strings attached. Giving without receiving is foreign to our culture and possibly foreign to our nature as human beings. I contend that the idea of receiving something without an expectation to give back is a difficult concept for us to accept. That being said let me turn the tables on you.
I have always had this nagging idea that I have forgiveness figured wrong. One of the most prevalent teachings of all scripture is that repentance (that is changing direction – an action) must precede forgiveness. This has always bothered me because I believe we are short on the repentance and tall on the forgiveness. We have this idea that prayer alone leads to forgiveness and hopefully we won’t do that particular sinful thing again. And after going through that motion enough, there is little effort (repentance – changing direction – an action) attached to our desire to not commit that particular sin. It becomes a habit of thought and feeling that is absent of action.
Let me ask you a personal question, not always, not every time, but ever; have you ever felt the need to go back and right some of your previous wrongs? Sure, most of the time you feel bad when you knowingly do something wrong or when you discover you have done something wrong, but have you ever felt bad enough to do anything about it? You have received an enormous gift. Its value is infinite, and yet, do you feel moved to give in return?
The point is this: As Christians, shouldn’t we at least be sensitive to the wrongs we have committed and be ever so eager to make amends when possible? Maybe it isn’t always required when we sit down and study grace. But maybe it is when we sit down and study the idea of producing fruit in keeping with our repentance – making amends, going back and correcting a wrong – putting some action behind our repentance – not just praying, but producing.
Think about the difference in your own life if you went back and made 10 things right that you did wrong, or 6 or 4 or just one. There is something profound about having to express our thankfulness for God’s gift of His Son, by us having to actually exhibit our thankfulness through our actions – repentance requires action. After all, we are to be known by our fruit. That seems like the obvious course for our lives to take to express to God how seriously thankful we really are.
I have an honest question for you: Is there another way (besides our actions) to show God we appreciate His gift to us? The only thing tangible we have to give God is our service. Maybe it sounds like I am rattling off here, but surely there is some faith building, spirit healing, and conscience grabbing advantages to this. I am not advocating salvation through works but I am advocating working out your salvation with fear and trembling.