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"What’s the best Christmas gift you ever received?” my husband asked me recently.

“It has to be the gift I received during my sophomore year in college,” I replied.

I remember the day well. My family was sitting around the tree opening gifts when suddenly I realized that all the gifts had been opened—and I had come up short! Dad and Mom always tried to be very fair in their giving to us kids, but I definitely had fewer gifts. My brothers and sister had each received one main gift as well as several smaller ones—but I had received only the smaller ones.

I didn’t want to make my parents feel bad, so I didn’t say anything. Maybe they somehow forgot my main gift, I reasoned to myself. I’m sure it was an oversight.

The floor was already cleared of wrapping paper when Dad broke my train of thought by asking me to take the garbage bag stuffed with paper and bows out to the garage. When I opened the door to the garage and turned on the light, there it was: my gift!—a shiny blue (used) car to take back to college, complete with a bow on top! My whole family had been in on the surprise. Little did I know that my gift had been there all along, waiting for me on the other side of the door!

Now that I think about it, that car wasn’t my best Christmas gift after all. My greatest gift was given to me even before I was born! It was given more than 2,000 years ago when a Baby was born. A Baby—Jesus Christ—who would offer the gift of salvation to the whole world! The Bible says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5).

No begging needed

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of the word gift almost sounds like the writers knew about the gift of salvation through Jesus. It says, “Something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” That’s exactly what the gift of salvation is! Jesus voluntarily died in our place. We couldn’t live a sinless life, but He did. And then He died the death that we deserve. And the fact that we’re so undeserving makes His gift all the more amazing.

Romans 5:7, 8 describes it this way: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If you ever worry about whether God loves you, these verses should put those worries to rest. Paul didn’t say, “When we were good enough, Christ died for us,” nor did he say, “When we deserved it, Christ died for us.” He said that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Several years ago, I was at a grocery store. A young girl was there shopping with her mother. The girl asked for a treat, and her mom said No. But the girl persisted. She didn’t have money to buy it herself, and she knew that it could be hers only if her mother gave it to her. So she picked up the treat and followed her mom, begging. The begging became more insistent until the mom finally gave in and begrudgingly tossed the treat into her basket.

I’m so glad that we don’t have to beg for our salvation! We don’t have to follow God around, begging more and more intensely, until He finally caves in and saves us. Salvation is a gift. There’s no begging. There’s no earning. There’s no deserving.

Whoever believes

My favorite Bible verse that describes the gift of salvation is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There’s one word in this text that really stands out for me: whoever. That’s a very inclusive word. The gift of salvation is offered to everyone who will accept it, not just a few. And “whoever” also means that it isn’t offered just to those who are “good enough.” It’s offered to everyone. And I happen to know some of these “whoevers”:

  • The man who made dishonest business decisions. He’s a “whoever.”
  • The woman who ended up in prostitution. She’s a “whoever.”
  • The man who chose alcohol over his wife and job. He’s a “whoever.”
  • The church leader who shocked everyone by having an affair. He’s a “whoever.”
  • And then there are the two other “whoevers”: There’s you, and there’s me.

Can you be sure?

Last year I was a guest speaker for a group of 60 kids ages 12 to 14. I asked them, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”

Their answers surprised me. The overwhelming responses were fearful questions about their own salvation.

  • “Will I be saved?”
  • “Am I good enough to make it to heaven?”
  • “Am I going to burn in hell?”
  • “Will God forgive the bad I’ve done and save me when He comes?”

These kids aren’t alone in their fears. My friend Anita was terrified as a young girl. She was told that if she should die before she had confessed every single sin, she would not be saved. What torture to put a young mind through! She used to lie awake at night trying to remember every sin that she’d ever committed. She was afraid to close her eyes, because if she died in her sleep and had forgotten to ask forgiveness for just one sin, she would be lost!

But God is a God of love. He’s a Father who wants to reassure and comfort His children. So He has given us many reassuring Bible verses regarding our salvation. Verses like these:

  • “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
  • “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1, 2).
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
  • And Jesus Himself promised, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

Open His gift

How do you “open” God’s gift of salvation?

First, you invite Jesus into your life. Then you confess and repent of your sins, believing that His death covers them. But it doesn’t end there. The best is yet to come!

You gradually come closer to God by praying to Him. You get to know Him better through reading your Bible. The more you get to know Him, the more you want to imitate Him in your lifestyle. And you continue to trust in His gift of salvation.

Continuing to trust in the gift is very important. Why? Because even after you’ve given your life to Jesus, learning to live like Him is a growing process, and at times you’ll fail. But God doesn’t take back the gift when you sin. Because Jesus died in your place, you can be forgiven.

The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

This Christmas, God offers you the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life! And it’s been there all along. Don’t leave it unopened. It’s the greatest gift you’ll ever receive!

The Greatest Gift

by Nancy Canwell
From the December 2013 Signs