No one can merit a gift from God because to merit it would require maximal holiness on our part, which is simply not possible (1 John 1:8). And it is precisely because it is a gift (not our earned wages) that it is unmerited, which is what we call God’s grace. Nevertheless, I often find that while grace cannot be merited, the full gift of the Spirit is often given to those who are spiritually fit to receive it. And becoming fit seems to be a gradual process by which we cleanse ourselves from iniquity in order to set ourselves apart for God’s use.
Gradual & Instant Grace
Now of course divine grace can produce an inward change such that we are instantly made fit to receive it in full, but I find that this is the exception rather than the norm. Instead it seems as if God often wants us to immerse ourselves in the riches of His Word in order that we may gradually be purified by its truth and as a result be made fit to receive a gift from the Holy Spirit. This is evident in 2 Timothy 2:21 which states that anyone who purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.
Being made fit for something merely means that you are spiritually able to receive and utilize the gift in a manner that will truly fulfill the function of that gift. Now this fittingness can be immediately given as I said earlier, but I think the reason God rarely employs this method is at least partially due to the fact that putting the effort to become fit is both costly and rewarding in a way that an immediate gift is not.
Why God Prefers Gradual Grace
We often take instant gifts for granted because we did not have to suffer to acquire it. Give someone a million dollars and often times you’ll find a great temptation to spend it away in an excessive manner. It’s easier to give into this temptation when you didn’t work for it. The same is no different when it comes to God’s own gifts for us. Truly knowing the price it took to receive that gift is something that makes us appreciate having that gift. And in the process of purification, we will realize our own unworthiness and dependence on Him all the more clearly as we seek to become His vessel for good works.
I also think that the cost of becoming fit is great and requires an endurance that is worthy of reward. It seems this is important because God wants to reward His children (1 Cor 3:14). And I think that reward has partly to do with honor. A person who finishes a race after rigorous training is going to be honored more than someone who took steroids to finish the race for the simple reason that one endured a heavier cost than the other. This shows strength of character in the face of difficulty, and that is something that God wishes to reward.
It’s important to remember, however, that both the one who is gradually made fit and the one who is instantly made fit are on the same level. Neither of them deserve the gift in the first place. The kind of gift that God gives is in accord to what He determines a person is able to do. The parable of the talents is an apt illustration of the concept I am attempting to get at here (Matt 25:14,30), which I encourage you to read. The greater the cost and the greater the fruit, the greater the reward. So whenever you wonder why God hasn’t given you instant grace for addiction like he has for a former drug addict, for example, then always remember not to envy it. God has given the grace that He has seen fit to give you for the good of those that He loves. Focus on your own race and endure to the end!