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The Gift of God
Ephesians 2:8-10


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Reformation Sunday—October 28, 2012

Our text for the festival of the Reformation is from today’s Epistle Reading in the second chapter of Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

I got this advertisement in the mail.  At first I thought they were trying to sell something.  But, it looks like they’re actually giving things away: Free denim jacket, free silverware, free stationary, free wristwatch.  Free, free, free!  Until you read the fine print.  None of this stuff is really free.  That’s just something they say to get you interested.

Most of us are pretty skeptical when it comes to anything that is supposedly a free gift.  Years ago the old TV show “Candid Camera” had a man standing on a busy street corner trying to give away $20 bills to passing strangers.  Most of them would not take it, and those who did couldn’t believe there wasn’t some kind of catch.  Now, maybe you’re thinking, “I’d take it!”  But, really, if a total stranger wanted to just give you $20, wouldn’t you think there must be some strings attached?  It’s hard for us to believe in a free gift.  Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for us to believe in “The Gift of God.”

Why should God give us anything anyway?  He doesn’t owe us.  We haven’t done anything that could earn his favor.  On the contrary, we sin much daily, and deep down we know that we don’t deserve anything good from God.  As Paul declares in Romans, “For the wages of sin is death.”

But, Paul continues with the Good News: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  God has given you a truly free gift.  Scripture says that he planned for your salvation even before the creation of the universe.  He chose you to be his own even before you were born.  As Paul concludes in Romans, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Jesus Christ gave the whole world something we didn’t deserve: He gave his life on the cross, to pay for the sins of all humankind; he shed his blood on the cross, to wash you clean and make you spotless and holy in God’s sight; he died your death on the cross, to destroy the power of death over you; he rose from the tomb on the third day, to give you eternal life.  All this is the gift of God.  It’s yours!  No catches, no strings attached.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . .”  Ah ha!  There’s the catch.  You have to have faith.  You have to believe.  And, how can I be sure my faith is good enough?  How can I be sure I really, sincerely believe enough to be saved?  That was the question which tormented Martin Luther and led to the Lutheran Reformation.  But read on: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  Yes, it’s true, God gives us the gift of eternal life in Christ, and he also gives us as a the gift the very faith which trusts in Christ for salvation.

The book of Acts says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”  This faith comes by hearing the message of God’s Word; this faith comes through the water and the Word in Holy Baptism; this faith is strengthened in Holy Communion.  This faith comes to us, not from within us, but to us, from God.  “And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Our faith is not a good work we do to earn salvation.  Our faith is a work God does in us by his Holy Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Our salvation is not a reward for any work we would do, any work we could do, any work we should do.  Oh, our salvation is indeed a reward, but it is a reward not for our works, but for the saving work done in our place by God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  We are saved because of his good works for us.

“Not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ah ha!  Finally, there it is.  Now we get to the fine print.  “Created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”  So that’s the catch: Once we are saved, then we have to do good works.  Read on:  “Good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Can you believe it?  Even the good works we do are the gift of God.  He has prepared these good works “in advance for us to do.”  How can that be?

Year’s ago Portals of Prayer had a great illustration of this.  Imagine that a large corporation is given a government contract to design and build for our nation all new roads and all new motor vehicles for those roads.  From scratch they are to design and build new cars, new trucks, all new vehicles.  And they will also design and build all new roads for these new vehicles to travel on.  Wouldn’t they make the vehicles and the roads perfectly suited to each other?  There wouldn’t be any trucks to heavy for any of the bridges or too high for any underpasses.  There wouldn’t be any dangerous curves where the cars could lose control or any parking spaces too small.  The vehicles would be just the right weight so as not to damage the roads and the roads would be just strong enough to support the vehicles.  Both the roads and the vehicles traveling on them would be designed by master planners and built to complement each other perfectly.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God is the master planner who designed you with your own special talents, resources and abilities.  Just like those new roads would be perfectly suited for those new vehicles, God has prepared in advance good works for you to do, perfectly suited for you, just right for the talents, resources and abilities he has given you.

What are the good works you can do?  Just look around.  You will see all sorts of opportunities, prepared for you by God, at home, at work, at school, at church, in the community.  he sets these good works before you; he gives you the desire to do them; he gives you the power to do them.  And because his Son died for you, the works you do in faith are pleasing to God.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  What’s the catch?  Where’s the fine print?  A free gift?  That’s impossible!  No, that is “The Gift of God”—for you.

Amen.

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