What Is God’s Unspeakable Gift?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage all who desire to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him. For a number of weeks now we have been talking about the life every Christian ought to be living in Christ, which begins through a new birth, a spiritual birth, which can only come about by faith. The Bible tells us that we must be “born again” by grace, through faith alone, in Christ alone, trusting in His death to pay the penalty for our sins. Now, Dave, before we get into our life in Christ, a few questions. Why grace? Why faith alone? Why in Christ alone? And why His death?
Dave: You asked a lot of questions there, Tom, but they’re all closely related. Why grace? That’s pretty simple, why grace. If you get your salary at the end of the month, or every two weeks, or every week, that’s not grace—that’s something you earned. There are things we can’t earn. You can’t earn grace, for example. Grace is something you don’t deserve. We don’t deserve salvation, so salvation would have to be by grace.
Tom: Okay, why faith alone?
Dave: Because you can’t earn it. You can’t work for it. It’s nothing that we can do. You see, we don’t deserve it, so it’s grace. We can’t earn it; it has to be by faith. It’s something that Christ alone could do for us. In other words, my salvation: what is salvation about? What am I being saved from? Because there is a breach in the relationship that God intended to have with man. We’re separated from God by sin.
Now, how am I going to make that right? Am I going to sit down and negotiate with God and say, “Now, God, look, you do this, and I’ll do that, and so forth? There is nothing I can do. I don’t dialogue with God. He doesn’t work this out for me, to my specs or my liking, but this is something . . . salvation is something—being reconciled to God is something that only God could do. Now, if only God could do, there is nothing that I can do. What, then, must I do? Believe! “To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
So, it’s got to be by faith because I can’t do it! Salvation, being born again, being made right with God, as well as the Christian life, is not about what I can do, but about what Christ has done. Now, what can I do about what Christ has done?
The only thing I can do . . .
Tom: Before you answer that, why His death?
Dave: Well, let me just finish now, Tom, you have interrupted me there.
Tom: I’m getting excited about it!
Dave: Okay. Because it’s only what Christ could do, therefore, there is nothing for me to do—therefore, what do I do? I believe that He did it all, okay? Now, you say, why His death? He had to pay the penalty.
Tom: That was the penalty. Genesis:2:16-17: “The day you eat thereof [this is speaking to Adam and Eve] you will surely die.” That’s the penalty. That was the condition.
Dave: Now, Tom, when we say you will die, what does that mean? “Well, then, if I die, I’ve paid the penalty, haven’t I?”
No, death is more than that. We were talking on our last program about life. Well, life is more than that. It’s not just physical life, it’s spiritual life. Now, I lost my spiritual life. Well, what is this penalty? Having lost my spiritual life, my relationship with God, I’m under the penalty of death, of God’s judgment. That means I would be separated from God forever. You can’t pay the penalty of death by just dying.
Now, it’s an infinite penalty. God’s justice is infinite, the penalty is infinite. It’s not twenty years and you get paroled at the end of ten. It’s eternal death, eternal separation from God, and I can’t even explain that, Tom. I don’t know the horror of it. It involves suffering. It involves the lake of fire, even, the scripture says, which was prepared not for man but for the devil and his angels. But because man became a follower of Satan, that’s where he is going to go if he continues to follow Satan.
Now, that penalty had to be paid. Interestingly, it says that Christ’s “body was laid into a new tomb wherein never man had laid.” And we’ve explained why that was, because Joseph of Arimathea came from the town of Arimathea. His family hadn’t been buried in Jerusalem, so this was a new tomb.
But it tells us something else. It tells us that this was a new tomb, spiritually; this was something that . . . no man had ever died this death. This was the full eternal death, the penalty that man deserved. Christ, because He’s God, He could endure that. I presume, in those three hours of darkness on the cross, He paid the full penalty, and at the end of that time, He said “tetelestai”— it is finished! The penalty is paid in full.
So, that’s why He had to die. He had to be in the grave three days to prove that he was really dead—that He wasn’t just resuscitated, you know. He comes out a few hours later, comes out of the tomb—well, maybe he was resuscitated? No, no, He really died; He really paid the penalty for our sins. He went to the place of the dead, and there He announced the good news of what He had done.
So, this is why He had to die, the wages of sin is death. That penalty had to be paid.
Tom: Dave, we’ve been talking here about our life in Christ. We’ve gone through the crucified life, the resurrected life we have in Christ, and we’ve been talking about thankfulness. Last week, we started off: “In everything give thanks.” Now, I wanted to start this program off by underscoring what we have to be thankful for. I know I’ve quoted this over and over again, but I think it’s worthwhile. Charles Wesley, lyrics from his song: “Amazing grace, how can it be that thou, my God, wouldst die for me?” We’re talking about thankfulness. Second Corinthians 9:15 says, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”
Dave: Tom, before you go on there, let me just quote the first part of that verse: “And can it be . . . ?” Can I say a little word in here? Some of these repetitive, shallow choruses that people sing—they are “worship songs,” they call them—we’ve thrown out these hymns that have such doctrinal content, such truths, that are so tremendous and were written by people who had lived the Christian life, who knew what they were writing about. They weren’t new converts, who were just taken up by the beat, but the lyrics, the words, mean something.
And that hymn begins like this: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me who caused His pain, for me who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?”
Only God had life, so He is the only one who could die—dead people can’t die anymore. We are already dead. We are already separated from God, spiritually, and that would go on eternally. So, it took God himself to become a man. He didn’t cease to be God, He will never cease to be man, He is the one and only God/man, and only because of who He is, was He able to die that death required by His own infinite justice. He did it for us, and all we can do is believe and accept this free gift.
Tom: Yeah, well, again, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” But then in Romans:6:23 we find, “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We have overwhelming—I don’t even know how to say this, but in terms of our thankfulness we ought to be awestruck by what God has done for us!
Dave: What can you do to merit a gift? Nothing. What can you do to earn a gift? Nothing. What can you do to pay for a gift? Nothing. Well, then, you have nothing to take credit for! Then we ought to be grateful. We didn’t deserve this gift; we could never deserve this gift. It’s because of His love, His grace, His mercy. Wow! “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!”
Unspeakable? My gracious, He has delivered me from the penalty. Not only that, the Bible says, “ . . . when we see Him, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We have the promise that we will be like Christ—not just delivered from the penalty, but [we will know] the joy, the glory, the wonder. The psalmist said, “In thy presence there is fullness of joy and at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”
We don’t even know what pleasure is upon this earth. God has something . . . Well, Paul said, “Eye has not seen”—nothing you have seen on this earth—“ear has not heard”—oh, the greatest music, the greatest stuff or stories or whatever, the most wonderful fantasy tales you’ve ever heard—“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man.” You haven’t even conceived of, and you couldn’t conceive of, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him. Okay? “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”
We can’t even imagine what it’s going to be. Fantastic—but you can’t earn it! I don’t know how I can emphasize this more, Tom. It’s not by going to church; it’s not by your prayers; it’s not by your penance, it’s not by your participation in sacraments. It is only because of what Christ did. It is the gift of God, and if you try to pay one penny for a gift, you are rejecting the gift and insulting the giver. Tom, how can we get that across? It’s because men don’t want to deny themselves, we want to take some credit. We’re too proud to admit that we are worthy of eternal judgment! And, we’re too proud to admit that we cannot earn this. Christ had to do it for us. That’s why it’s by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Tom: Dave, what you have been talking about is really the answer to the question I posed at the end of our program last week. You say, sadly, that continual thanksgiving, which the Scripture exhorts—giving thanks always is a rare commodity among Christians. Why? And how can our attitudes be changed? I think a lot of it has to do with ignorance. People don’t understand, have not looked, and have not searched the Scriptures to really get a handle on what God has done, what He has for us. It’s like they are shortsighted because of not pursuing these truths in God’s Word.
Dave: That’s an important point you make, Tom. It’s not positive thinking. It’s not “Well, I’m going to change my attitude.” It’s recognizing the truth. In John 8, Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
Tom, you make a good point: “Thy word is truth,” Jesus said. Even Christians don’t study the Word of God as they should. They labor under misapprehensions; they don’t know the truth that sets them free. They think their pastor should study the Bible, then come out of his prayer closet Sunday morning, give them a three- or four-point sermon, don’t make it too long, and then they think they have done their duty. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
This is our life, our spiritual life, our sustenance! You aren’t going to be a good athlete, you’re not going to break any Olympic records, you probably can’t even stagger to the end of the race—if you don’t have proper nutrition, and we need spiritual nutrition.
Again, what we said last week, Jesus said, “The flesh”—that’s that little wafer, I’m sorry, you think if you could just “eat My physical body” and “drink My physical blood,” and if you could turn a wafer into “My physical body and My physical blood,” that’s what would give you a life? You don’t get spiritual life from physical things. That was Eve’s problem! She thought that tree—the fruit of that tree—would give her spiritual life. That started us all on this downward path.
Jesus said, “The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” So, we need the truth, we need to feed on God’s Word, and many Christians are weak, anemic, they don’t understand, they lack faith even. The Christian life is lived by faith. What does the Bible say? “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.”
Tom: Yeah, and it’s really really sad because they are missing out. Dave, you asked the question, again in this chapter 20 of your book, An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, you say, “Is God himself the object of my love and my thankfulness?” If our direction is to know Him, and our modus operandi is to read His Word to find out about Him . . .
Dave, I remember speaking before a group of young people, and I was trying to communicate that to them, to encourage them to get into God’s Word, and all I could think about was, “What if God sent you e-mails? You know? Wouldn’t that be exciting? I mean, right from God!” I said, “Hey, look!” and I held up the Book and said, “This is His email to you! Get with it, and you’re going to know Him better, understand Him better.”
But coming back to thankfulness, is God himself the object of my love and my thankfulness? If that’s our focus, we are going to reap. I don’t even know if “reap” is the right word, but we’re going to draw from Him and grow, you know—not only in His love but our understanding of what He has done. All of these things that we’ve been discussing, we are going to be thankful.
Dave: It’s amazing what Christ has done. “And can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me.” One of those verses in that hymn—it goes on: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast-bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeons flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” Wow! He sets the prisoner free—from himself, even—and that’s the greatest freedom you could know.
Tom: Dave, how do we—you know, we talked about reading God’s Word, but isn’t there something more? I’m looking at the Psalms, and I’m looking at Psalm 42. And I’ll start reading verses 1 and 2: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” This is David’s cry.
Dave: Well, Tom, if you really believe in God, you really believe the truth, that would be your cry, my cry, everyone’s cry. Taking your e-mail illustration now—and, again, we have, I’m sure, both Democrats and Republicans out there. Probably not everyone is happy. Well, according to the polls, the results of the election, slightly more than half who voted voted for Gore instead of for Bush, but Bush is the President now.
So, let’s say you are a Republican and you admire him. Wouldn’t it be great—every day you got an email from Bush, and it was personal, and he really had an interest in you? Or some other person, some great philosopher, whatever—some very wise person, internationally famous, who took a personal interest in you. I mean, people would be just thrilled with that. Well, wait a minute! This is from God! Do we really believe in God, the Creator of the universe? That He loves us . . . ?
I used to use other illustrations for young people. To some of them I said—now, this was fifty years ago, so I was talking about a thousand dollars a month. That was a big salary in those days, and I would say, “Supposing that I gave you a thousand-dollars-a-month salary if you would just spend an hour a day studying the Bible and ten minutes on your knees in prayer, talking to God. Wow! They’d all sign up for that! But wait a minute—that is an earthly reward that will be gone when you die. What about the eternal reward? It’s far greater, and it lasts forever, but somehow, we don’t believe that, and so we spend our time chasing the things of this earth instead of the eternal reward. And, Tom, we’re talking about praising God, thanking Him, what relationship we can have with Him, the Creator of the universe.
Tom: And, we have indications here. David, a man after God’s own heart, and he cries out (I can look to Psalm 63), “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” He’s recognizing the difference between this temporal, physical existence he’s going through, and he is not pining for God to get everything straightened out. He wants God Himself!
Dave: Right, Tom, you recognize something that many people don’t recognize. They’re empty. They’re trying to satisfy emptiness within with pleasure, sex, money, success, whatever it may be—the things of this world—and they don’t satisfy. It was Pascal, I think, who said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O God, and we are restless until we find our rest in tåhee.” But people don’t realize that it’s God alone who can satisfy them, and they’re seeking this satisfaction everywhere else.