“It’s a gift!” I watched as the words fall on his ears, but the meaning didn’t seem to register. “But I didn’t get you anything” he insisted. “That’s OK. It’s a gift. I didn’t get it for you expecting anything in return. It’s a gift.” Again, the words were in English but the comprehension just didn’t seem to be there. He was visibly uncomfortable, confused, and (I thought I saw) a bit angry. You see, it seems he couldn’t quite get the idea that someone would give him something without expecting to get something in return. I remember leaving this encounter rather sad that this very gifted and wealthy man just couldn’t seem to grasp the idea of a “gift.”
But he’s not the only one. Many of us have become so jaded in our hearts that we automatically expect the “other shoe to drop” when someone does something nice for us. Our hearts, hardened by either experience or fear or a combination of both, have been taught that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” So, when it comes to our ability to receive, we are a wounded people.
Look at our Lesson today in Ephesians 2:4-10:
BRETHREN, God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God: not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
St. Paul wants to make it clear to the Ephesians that their renewed life of faith and their eternal life is due to God’s mercy and grace. They haven’t “earned” God’s mercy. It’s a gift! And a gift is just that: a gift! You see one of the great threats to the Christian life in the earliest days of the Church was a false notion that you had to obey the law of Moses along with your faith in Christ to receive salvation. The people who taught this false message were called “Judaizers” because they said you had to become Jewish before you could be Christian. These folks were disturbed by all the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ and they wanted to make sure these Gentiles adopted their Jewish practices. St. Paul, a Jew himself and a former teacher of the Law, rejected this message and emphasized that this new life won for us by Jesus was a gift to the whole world; for everyone!
And Paul emphasizes this precisely so that no one could boast that they earned their salvation! Because that leads to one of the most deadly spiritual illnesses that the Fathers called “prelest” or spiritual pride. Over and over again the Fathers warn us against such an illness that deludes us into believing we have somehow “achieved” great spiritual power or strength by our own efforts as if God now is “obligated” to treat us well because we’ve “earned” His favor. The Christian message says with St. Paul “I am the chiefest of sinners” and allows us no place to put our confidence in our own efforts to “get God to be good to us.” God IS good to us even when we are against, or as is more often the case, dismissive of, Him! God loved us even when we were “dead” in our spiritual lives!
So, our motivation to follow Him changes from the narcissistic “what’s in this for me” mentality that leads to prelest, to the loving and grateful motivation of thankfulness that He has given me His salvation. I live as I do from gratitude, not from expectation!
Today, what are you doing in your life to keep this new life of Faith at the top of your priorities? Are you constantly aware of His Gift to you? Does receiving a gift make you uncomfortable or cause you to have a sense of obligation, or are you free to humbly receive? You have been given all things as a Gift. Living grateful is being Orthodox on Purpose!
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