Your Life and the Law

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rediscovering Ephesians 2:8; “It is the gift (an inter vivos trust) of God.”

The shining priceless jewel of Christian theology is that salvation is a gift. That is made clear in Ephesians 2:8 and elsewhere in the New Testament.

No other religion makes such a claim. It is a legal claim because a gift is a transaction defined by law.

Christianity is unique in making such a claim. There is not a list of do’s and don’ts that we follow to gain salvation. Salvation is the Christian word for how one gets to Heaven. Salvation in other religions is by keeping a set of rules.

Most Christians get it right that salvation is a gift through Jesus Christ. Where Christians do not often get it right is how that gift works.

In our society when people disagree on whether a transfer of property is a gift or not, the courts decide. The science of the law (jurisprudence) has established a set of definitions that governs when something is or is not a gift.

There are different types of gifts and each type has its own definition in the law. All gifts share certain basic elements.

The distinction between different types of gifts is important. One definition does not fit all types of gifts.

If we apply the science of the law to the law of salvation as gift in the Bible, we can determine what type of gift salvation is. This is a different approach to Biblical interpretation. We will affirm all the Biblical texts that speak to the nature of that gift rather than ignoring some.

An elementary understanding of what a gift is causes many to misinterpret or ignore many texts. This leads to crazy ideas like “once saved always saved” wherein people believe that one confession in life covers throughout his or her lifetime.

People generally define a gift as a once and for all time transfer, therefore they create unbiblical principles like once save always saved to offset their abandonment of the Bible itself. Some of the teachings in Scripture about God’s gift of salvation do not fit with their understanding of what a gift is.

My latest encounter with this temptation to rewrite Scripture was in preparation for a sermon on Matthew 18:21-35. A surface reading and much enlightened study of that Scripture clearly show that one who accepted salvation had it taken back by the giver. In the story, a slave was forgiven by his master but refused afterward to forgive a fellow slave. The master upon hearing about the forgiven slave’s refusal to forgive his fellow slave revoked the original gift of forgiveness.

To many, the idea that the gift was revoked by the master is an affront that cannot be tolerated. In our elementary understanding of gift, we recoil at the thought. There is the conservative once-saved-always-saved crowd; then there is the liberal critical method crowd like the commentator I referenced in preparing the sermon on Matthew 18:21-25.

The critical study of the history of the Bible has its place. Even these professionals fall prey to faulty interpretation because of an elementary understanding of the law. We can be honest about the Bible and do justice to the faith if we increase our understanding of the law.

An inter vivos trust is a type of gift. It is the type of gift whose definition will perfectly overlay the description of salvation in the Bible. Inter vivos means during one’s lifetime. And yes, an inter vivos trust can be revoked.

An inter vivos trust includes the basic elements of a gift. There is a donative intent, a delivery of the property (or a symbol of it), and an acceptance of the property on the part of the giver.

The recipient of the gift becomes a trustee. The trustee holds the property for the benefit of a third party named by the settlor, the one who makes the gift. The third party is called a beneficiary.

In the Kingdom, salvation goes to the trustee in the flesh for the benefit of the beneficiary – the trustee out of the flesh. For “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom….” I Corinthians 15:50.

In the law a trustee has certain duties of his office. If a trustee does not uphold those responsibilities, then a good settlor would remove the trustee and revoke the trust.

Of course, in the Kingdom, God is the settlor, and He gives the gift of salvation to those trustees who will receive it so that their souls in new bodies (the beneficiary) may live on eternally in Heaven. They, as trustees on Earth, are called upon to live a life of faith.

Salvation is a gift, an inter vivos trust, of God.

In my denomination and I am sure many others, we refer to this as stewardship. Steward, as I understand it, is another name for trustee.

The idea of stewards and stewardship usually come up in the context of financial and other types of giving to support the mission of the church. Stewardship is much more. We are called to be good stewards and trustees in Scripture of life itself.

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