Imagine if you went to your boss and told him you put in twenty solid hours during your forty hour work week. Would he reward you? That is what we do when we seek to present our works to God, as if he did not deserve to receive them and infinitely more (we always conveniently fail to present the many times we acted against his commands or did not carry them out when we should have). Imagine even if you did go to your boss and could rightly claim that you put in forty solid hours. Would he then have to give you a bonus? Doesn’t he already pay you for forty solid hours and have every right to expect them from you, just as you then have the right to expect to receive your due. There is no gift involved in all this. There is simply work and wages. But St. Paul says God doesn’t count righteousness as a wage, but as a gift, which is a very different thing. When we deal with God, however, we must remember that he has not hired us, he has created us, and for that very reason he does not merely deserve an agreed upon percentage of our time, but all of it in every way.
We do not labor for God to be counted righteousness, because someone who labors for a gift turns that gift into a wage. In reality, no work is truly a good work in God’s eyes, that is a work done by faith, if it is a work done in the hope of reward. Remember in Matthew 25 how surprised the sheep were to hear that they had done good deeds for which the Lord commends? These were not works done in the conscious hope of merit and reward, but rather expressions of a living and active faith.
Your salvation is a gift. Your forgiveness is a gift. You justification is a gift. Rejoice in that, because God does not give and take away like we so often do. God gives eternal gifts received by faith and lost only through unbelief. God never withdraws his gracious hand, although we may push it away through a hope in our own works or a refusal to believe his promises. God has given you a gift. Do what people do when they receive gifts: say thank you. That may seem obvious, but remember for how many years your parents had to remind you to say thank you at your birthday parties and Christmas. Receive God’s gift through faith as a gift, and don’t insult him by pretending it is anything less than a gift and that you can in any way make it more complete. Imagine how insulted your relatives would have been at your birthday party if after each present you had asked, “Now what do I have to do to earn this?” Or, “Now how can I make this gift more complete?” God has gifted you righteousness, mercy, and grace. Believe it, you blessed beggars of God.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Rejoice and be thankful, for not only has God given you something, but he has taken something away as well, covering and removing your sins by placing them on Christ and putting Christ on you. He has taken what made you unpresentable to his Father and given you his righteousness to wear to the feast. All this he has done, not to receive repayment from you, but as a gift. Now do what mom and dad always reminded you to do at Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa and your uncles and aunts: say thank you, and as you grow in your gratefulness for the grace of Christ, you will be surprised how that thank you will express itself in ways you never imagined, in ways you may not even notice until someone else points them out, in ways that seek no reward because they just naturally flow from the gift you’ve received.