The God Who Gives
Day 1: The Gift of the Son
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.
In the most famous verse in the entire Bible, we read a sentence that is now so common that we can easily miss the dramatic nature of what is said. In this verse we discover something radical about who God is and how he works. Here we face the nature of God’s plan to restore his fallen world, to bring it back into his warm embrace, and to free it from the powers of sin, death, and the devil. What we discover in this verse is that the way God brings redemption is, at its most basic level, by giving a gift, the Gift. Listen afresh to John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Here at last we discover the grand paradox that God reclaims everything by giving everything away. Rather than tearing his possessions from his enemies’ hands, he bestows even more on us so that we might not “perish.”
Rather than becoming like the world in its opposition to God, believers are called to imitate God’s love for the rebellious world, a love that seeks to draw people back to a loving communion with the Creator. Thus, in 1 John 2:15 we are told not to love the world, but John goes on to explain that this “love” is characterized by a selfish desire for “the things in the world,” such as “pride in possessions” (1 John 2:15–16). And that means it is a twisted love, focused on self rather than the other. But this is not how God loves the world in John 3:16, where God gives. The kind of love that must be rejected is the exact opposite of God’s love for the world: God’s love gives; a worldly love takes.
Out of his love for a broken and defiant world, God gives. He gives this gift. It’s a little strange since we normally give gifts to celebrate an achievement or to mark a joyous occasion. Sometimes people give a gift after a misdeed, as when a man sends flowers to a woman as a peace offering for some failing on his part.
But here, the innocent and offended party is the one who gives the gift: God has done nothing wrong, nor have we achieved anything worth celebrating. Nevertheless, God looks at his rebellious creation, this “world” defined by its resistance to him, and what does he do? He gives.
To better appreciate the saving significance of the cross, this gift may be compared to a multifaceted jewel. Like a diamond collector who calls attention to the many facets of his favorite gem, Scripture calls our attention to the many facets of Jesus’ work on the cross through the use of a vast array of language and imagery.
The Gift of Substitution—because Jesus gives his life in our place.1
The Gift of Redemption—because Jesus gives his life to purchase us for God.2
The Gift of Reconciliation—because Jesus gives his life to make peace between God and humanity.3
The Gift of Propitiation—because Jesus gives his life to turn away the just wrath of God.4
The Gift of Justification—because Jesus gives his life so that we may be declared right before God.5
The Gift of Sacrifice—because Jesus gives his life to purify us before God.6
The Gift of Victory—because Jesus gives his life to defeat his and our enemies.7
To summarize, then, the gift of the Son is like a multifaceted jewel.8 Turn over this gift, as it is revealed in the pages of the Bible, and you will find that it is much like turning over a loose diamond in your hand: there is beauty to be seen from every angle.
The gift of Christ as our Redeemer makes sense of the apparent contradiction that God takes everything back by giving everything away. Paradoxical as it may seem, this is what it means to redeem: God reclaims by giving or buying back what was already his in the beginning.
This is how God loves: he gives.9 And what does he give? Himself.
- Think about the last time you gave a gift. What was the occasion and who was the recipient? What did the gift signify about the nature of the relationship? We mostly give to those with whom we are in a relationship. God’s gift is extraordinary because he gives to those who have offended him.
- Look back at the list of the gifts Christ secured for us on the cross. Which one of those stands out among others for you today and why?
- God gives. Christ is his greatest gift but it isn’t his only gift. Make a quick list of things that show God’s generosity to you throughout your life.
Heavenly Father, I praise you because you are the God who blesses those who curse you. You are the God who abounds in love. On account of your Son Jesus Christ, forgive me for the many ways I have rebelled against you. Grant me faith today to believe that Christ has secured my pardon and adoption. Help me to see and celebrate your generosity every day. I ask this in the name of Christ, the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Amen.
- Isa. 53:5; Rom. 4:25; 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13.
- Matt. 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 7:19–20; Gal. 3:13; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12, 15; 1 Peter 1:18–19; Rev. 5:9.
- Rom. 5:10–11; 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18–21; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:19–20.
- Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.
- Isa. 53:11–12; Rom. 3:24; 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24.
- Matt. 26:26–28; 1 Cor. 5:7–8; Eph. 5:1–2; Heb. 7:27; 9:14, 26; 10:10, 12–14; 1 John 1:7.
- 1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 1:4; Col. 2:13–15.
- This discussion of the multifaceted nature of the gift of the Son above is deeply influenced by Roger Nicole among others listed below, and the above image is adapted from Nicole’s “The Nature of Atonement,” in Standing Forth: Collected Writings of Roger Nicole (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2002), 263, 245–82. When one’s total view of Jesus’ atoning work is limited to just one image, then other important New Testament images can end up neglected. Nevertheless, the theme of redemption is certainly a prominent biblical way to speak of the work of Christ. If this were a full study of Christ’s atoning work, we would need to incorporate the full range of biblical metaphors mentioned above, including battlefield, sacrifice, law court, marketplace, reconciliation, etc. Obviously there is often overlap between these different ideas, since they all ultimately point to the same truth. For some studies exploring this dynamic, see Colin E. Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988); Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James, The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical and Practical Perspectives: Essays in Honor of Roger Nicole (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004)
- Cf. other texts linking love and gift: Gen. 39:21; Deut. 7:13; 10:18; Pss. 119:88, 159; 136:21, 25; Song 7:12; Isa. 43:4; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25; 2 Thess. 2:16; 1 John 3:16–17; 4:9–10.