I have been serving as an adjunct theology professor, and one of my online students (non-Lutheran) recently wrote this:
[My pastor] always explained receiving salvation as a gift. He would walk up to you and give you a present. Then he would say, ‘Do you want to keep this gift?’ The person would say ‘yes’, and he would say ‘That’s how easy it is to receive salvation.’
I have heard many illustrations like this, but I found this one to be very compelling and thought-provoking. Usually, these illustrations emphasize how someone wants to give you a gift, but you have to receive it and accept it – it all depends on your action and decision. In this one, it’s first given to you.
And really, which one of us is not excited to receive a gift? As long as we are don’t feel there is a good reason to not trust the joyful gift-giver – be they a family, friend, or stranger – we eagerly cooperate in receiving the gift. The joyful generosity of the gift-giver could even be said to “create” our cooperation.
C.F.W. Walther, in his work on Law and Gospel, wrote that nothing was easier than receiving salvation. That said, he also noted that keeping it was a different matter.
What happens when the experience of receiving the gift from the gift-Giver has worn off – and we take a closer look at the gift given (perhaps even opening it and looking at it for the first time)?
For the person who has felt the weight of their sin, realizing they do not really love God or their neighbor – and haunted by the evil they see within themselves – this gift will be very good news! And the deeper the realization of one’s evil, the more deeply appreciated the gift (Luke 7).
On the other hand, for the person who has harbored Satan’s lies in their hearts – about man, creation, and “God” – this “gift” will look like anything but… While they first trusted and joyfully embraced the Gift-Giver and His Gift, they now reject that same “gift-giver” and what “He” “gives”.
They reject the Reconciling One who has created true cooperation, harmony, unity, and life.
Satan has stolen the seed that was lovingly planted in their heart. They have in fact “received the Kingdom” but “will by no means will enter it”, for they did not receive it as children – but as rational[izing] adults. To those who have the Word in their heart, more will be given, but to those who do not have, even what they do have will be taken from them.
So pray that God’s Word would go deep into hearts – and that Satan would steal no seed. And certainly, when it comes to the little ones, the ground is tilled and well-prepared… they do not “willfully” resist, but are “willing” to be nothing but given to… (see Isaiah 7:14)
Nevertheless, be earnest in prayer for them to – to grow big and strong in the Word. Like a nail pounded deeply into a board, may the Word go deeply into their hearts.