By Benjamin C. Maxson
Summary: An invitation to explore the meaning of salvation through the act of salvation, the condition of salvation, the content of salvation, and the consequence of salvation.
I hate writing out a tithe check. But I will tithe even if it kills me, the woman insisted. What drove her to this attitude? Why did she continue to give even though she really did not want to? How does this fit with what Ellen White says: The Lord will not accept an offering that is made unwillingly, grudgingly. (Testimonies, vol 5, p 285).
People have different reasons why they put money in an envelope and call it tithe or offering. Similarly the church uses different ways to motivate people to give. Most often we use traditional, human motivations. For example we use recognition and praise when we fund-raise. Sometimes we use guilt. At other times, we emphasize what giving will do for the donor. All these methods focus on the donors and their needs or desires. All these methods strengthen the power of selfishness.
The very words tithe and offering describe a worship relationship—an act of adoration based on the salvation relationship. True worship begins with and is based on a relationship with Jesus, intimately knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is why the gospel is the foundation for stewardship. Without the experience of the gospel, stewardship becomes simply a form of spiritual slavery—just another way of perpetuating a performance-based religion and life.
Even while talking about the gospel, we often misunderstand the term or use it in a limited way. Jesus spoke of the gospel of the kingdom. What is this good news? Is the gospel simply the act of forgiveness? Or is there a more dynamic meaning of salvation and the gospel? Can this deeper insight really help us broaden our understanding of stewardship? I find it helpful to explore the meaning of salvation through the act of salvation, the condition of salvation, the content of salvation, and the consequence of salvation.
The act of salvation took place on Calvary. God gave Jesus His Son to die. This act of grace is the central point of biblical salvation and the starting point for stewardship. Without this act, there is no salvation—no Christianity. We cannot be biblical stewards if we do not understand and personally accept this act of salvation. Through this act, God provides the gift of salvation and reestablishes the lordship relationship.
The condition of salvation focuses on what we have to do to receive and experience salvation. This becomes an area of debate when we confuse the role of obedience in the faith experience. Most of us agree that salvation is a gift that can neither be bought nor repaid; we can only accept it. Yet acceptance is not merely a mental assent; acceptance means surrendering to Jesus. It means dying to self. Salvation is not merely a bookkeeping transaction in heaven’s records. It begins with an act on Calvary that initiates a process that solves the sin problem. However, it is crucial that we realize that the only condition of salvation is that we accept the gift. This means the only condition for being lost is rejecting the gift. We must be very careful to avoid making our performance in any way a basis for our salvation. Although obedience cannot be fully separated from saving faith, we must clearly delineate that which provides us salvation.
A dynamic understanding of the gospel cannot end with the condition alone. Salvation is not only being declared just; it is also accepting Christ’s solution for the sin problem in our lives. When we accept Jesus Christ as Savior, we receive Him and all that He brings.
The content of salvation is what we receive when we accept Jesus as Savior. He promises to come to us through the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-20) that we may be transformed with power through the Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Eph 3:15-16). He gives us His righteousness. He forgives us and He makes us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). When we receive Christ, He brings the power of God into the human heart and we live from the very throne of God (Eph 2:6). All of this is included in Christ when we accept Him. The very life we live is lived in Him (Gal 2:20).
The consequence of salvation produces a life of discipleship and obedience. One cannot have Christ dwelling within and remain the same. God promises to give us a new heart and a new spirit (Eze 36:26-27). He promises to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh and to put His spirit in our hearts. He further states that He will cause us to walk in His principles. Paul presents the same concept when he states that it is God who will work in us to both will and do (Phil 2:13). The natural result of experiencing Jesus as Savior also leads us to share with others what we have experienced.
So how do we experience this dynamic salvation? There is no way to dissect the mystery of grace. The work of the Holy Spirit in a sinner’s heart can be experienced but never described in full detail or understanding. Every part of this dynamic experience of salvation is by faith and choice of the will. We choose to believe that what God says is true, and we choose to act—allowing God to work through us.
This brings us back full circle to stewardship as the integration of the saving relationship with Christ into every area of life. For many years, I understood lordship as obeying God. Today, I understand lordship as accepting Him at His word. And choosing to accept Him is the only way to work out His will in my life.
Because of our sinful nature and the influence of sin around us, each day we must choose to reaffirm our relationship with God. Each day we must accept His gift of grace. Each day we must surrender to His indwelling lordship. Each day we must abandon ourselves to Him to be controlled and empowered through the living presence of Christ. Only then will obedience be a joyful experience of seeing His power at work in the midst of our struggles.
This is how tithing becomes an experience of joy—reflecting on our relationship with God. When we bring this intimate partnership into the material area of life, we realize that everything we are and have belongs to Him. Joyfully we worship Him with tithe and offering, reminding our own hearts of who He is. Only the dynamic experience of salvation can move tithing, or any other part of life-style stewardship out of the drudgery and slavery of legalism and into the joyful life of grace.
This is why stewardship must begin with a clear understanding and presentation of the gospel—the good news of salvation. Jesus Christ is lord, lord of every area of our lives. Thus the power of the Creator and Redeemer works in the life of the weakest believer. Rejoice! He is Lord.