Are you ready for Christmas? Perhaps you hold to a Christmas tradition with a decorated tree stuffed underneath with a bounty of wrapped gifts to be opened on Christmas morning (or at midnight in my household because my kids stay up!). No doubt there is an innate sense of excitement to see what shiny things might be ours, and the natural thankfulness that ensues because someone gave us those presents. And, of course, we want our little ones to know this is a time to be generous towards each other. But at the very heart of the gospel, from the standpoint of helpless sinners like you and I- God gives and we receive. As a little child, I could not do much for myself as I needed my parents to clothe me, feed me, and occasionally burp me! Godly receiving requires a degree of humility to say “Although I don’t deserve this, someone thought to give this to me” which can be quite countercultural in this day when it’s so easy to say “No, you shouldn’t have!” and feel an invisible debt owed. If you have a minute or so, will you walk through the scriptures to deepen our theology of receiving?
First, I am overwhelmed by how much God gives us as He heaps blessing upon blessing that it is like drinking from a hose attached to a fire hydrant- imagine being soaked in His love that He is lavishing on you (1 John 3:1)! Receiving Christ grants you the right to become children of God (John 1:11-12). And just like opening the sequence of stacking Russian dolls, each undeserved gift from God begets another as we receive them. First and perhaps foremost, we receive the forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43) primarily because the righteousness of Christ is imputed on us (Rom 5:17). This inflection point in history is even more remarkable considering the seemingly oversimplified action required to attain this forgiveness and righteousness which is to receive it by faith (Rom 3:25). That’s right, in the blink of an eye, you can have the promise of eternal life and freedom from guilt and shame more precious than any Powerball is worth because it spans beyond life itself. But wait, there’s more! (in my best info-mercial voice) Receiving Christ leads to reconciliation (Rom 5:11), which is a right relationship with God so that you might continually experience His grace and power in this broken world. We experience this by receiving His Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14) whom we receive because Jesus promised His Spirit to those who believe in Him (John 14:26).
Even as I read what I just wrote, I am tempted to think that this seems trite and cliche. And so I ask myself: “Why am I not receiving God’s unimaginable gift with the thankfulness, humility, and sincerity that it deserves?” I wonder if the greatest obstacle to biblical receiving is my own pride. Because receiving a gift requires humility, the paradox is that our pride considers oneself overqualified for God’s gift, which ironically renders us unworthy of it. Even Paul and Barnabas had to call out the Jews who rejected Christ for thinking themselves unworthy of eternal life and thus moved on to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 13:44-48). Are there strands of self-reliance that reject what God is offering you? Not an easy question to answer, but I think there are clues in Col 2:6-7:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
By learning how to receive God’s good and perfect gift thankfully, we learn to rest in what He has done. We are fully aware we are not deserving of His gift, which will lead to godly living. So perhaps the greatest “gift” we can present to God, is to receive Him wholeheartedly, not presuming anything we have done could compare to the divine gift of grace that He gave on Christmas day.
John Chung serves as an elder at GRC.