It is a fundamental of the grace message that what we receive from God we receive as a gift. That which is earned by hard work or deserved by good behavior is not a gift, but a wage, and is not of grace.
I do not consider the act of receiving to be work, at least not in the sense of earning that which is received. So to strive to become holy or to work toward forgiveness is something different from reaching out to receive the gift God gives. Jesus told His followers to consider the birds of the air in Matthew 6:26. He pointed out that they do not do the normal work of planting and harvesting, yet the Father feeds them. He pointed out the lilies in Luke 12:27 and says that they do no work, yet they grow in glory.
Faith is trusting or believing. Faith in the Lord opens our hearts to believe that He loves us and wants to give us what we need. Faith opens our hearts to God’s grace. Receiving is an act of faith. Some would say that obedience is an act of faith as well; but, if obedience comes from a desire to earn or deserve something from God, then faith is not in the love of the Lord but in the effort of the person. In other words, if you are still working for your salvation, then you are not trusting in what God has done for you.
Some people ask what our part is in this whole relationship. They have been taught to believe that God does His part if and when we do our part. For some, God’s part is contingent on our part. For others, our part is required after God does His part. If we fail to do our part, perhaps God will rescind His part. But all of that is contrary to the message of grace.
If you want to say that we have a part, say that our part is to receive. To reach out and take what is offered is not a good work, but just an act of faith. You don’t get spiritual points for receiving what God offers, but you will get what He offers. I know that even saying this bothers some grace teachers because they want to make the strong point that we do nothing toward our salvation or sanctification or glorification. But saying that our part is to receive is only semantics. It satisfies the need for two active sides in the relationship but still acknowledges that the whole work and initiative is on God’s side.
So what if you do not receive? There are some people today who say that we don’t have to receive what God has done in order for it to be ours. He just does it for us and to us. In fact, they say, He has done this for everyone and most people just don’t know it. After all, they say, if being saved is contingent on receiving, then we have made receiving into a work. And, if it is a work, then we are somewhat saved by works.
I find that to be an unfortunate argument. It lacks reason and common sense. But let’s go back to what Jesus said about the birds and the lilies. We love to watch birds and it sure seems that they work. Some of the little ones pick up a seed from the feeder and fly away to eat it. Then they return for another seed. We wonder how they can have a net energy gain from what they eat. The lilies push their roots toward food and water, grow their leaves, and open themselves to receive the sun. Yet, Jesus points all these things out as evidence of the Father’s provision. That’s because receiving is not work. Receiving is an act of faith in the One who provides.
But if there is no faith, then the gift is not received. Faith moves us to reach out and take what is offered. If we do not believe, we will not take. And, contrary to what some are teaching, if we do not receive the gift, then the gift does not become ours. Those who will not receive salvation, because they do not believe, are not saved.
The work of grace, on our side, is to receive. I know that is an uncomfortable statement for some people. The meaning is obvious by now. The study of grace is to learn how to receive. The heart of grace is a heart open to receive. Grace, from our perspective, is about receiving.