There are several factors to be considered in responding to this excellent question. Reflect upon the following:
Salvation is wonderfully described in the New Testament as a free gift. This terminology is employed in order to emphasize that God is under no compulsion to offer it.
Man, by his choice, has rebelled against the Lord. He thus has earned the penalty of death (cf. “wages” in Rom. 6:23).
Was the Creator morally obligated to offer salvation? No he was not. However, he has extended redemption to his creation as a matter of pure love and grace (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 2:8-9).
From this perspective, forgiveness is depicted as a gift.
A Gift Can Be Conditional
The term “gift” (even “free gift”), however, does not necessarily exclude the idea of a condition being imposed. Note the following:
Jericho: A Conditional Gift
God promised the city of Jericho to the Hebrews as a gift (Joshua 6:2, 16), yet the Israelites were required to submit to several conditions in order to receive the gift (Josh. 6:3ff; Heb. 11:30).
Saved from Shipwreck: On Condition
During Paul’s voyage to Rome, the ship upon which he sailed encountered a life-threatening storm. It was feared that all would be lost.
Yet God, on account of Paul’s fidelity, “granted” (
charizomai — to give freely) to him the lives of all that sailed with him (Acts 27:24).
In spite of that promise, the apostle later informed the centurion in charge of the vessel:
“Except [a condition] these abide in the ship, you [plural] cannot be saved” (27:31).
Work for the Gift
Jesus himself had clearly taught this principle. To the disciples he admonished:
“Work not for the food which is perishing, but [work—the verb is understood] for the food which is abiding unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” (Jn. 6:27).
A gift, then, does not exclude the necessity to lovingly accept or “receive” that gift (cf. Jn. 1:11-12). And this is accomplished in obeying the Lord, and at the point of one’s immersion in water (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Salvation a Free Gift Received by Obedient Heart
Even within the book of Romans this truth is apparent.
While salvation is therein represented as that which is “freely given,” the apostle nonetheless forcefully argues that these saints were “delivered” and “made free from sin” by virtue of their having “obeyed from the heart that form of teaching” which had been proclaimed to them (Rom. 6:17).
Earlier, in this same chapter, the apostle, with greater specificity, affirms that the Roman Christians began to walk in newness of life (i.e., salvation) at the point of their having been united with Christ in the likeness of his burial and resurrection.
This occurred when they were buried in baptism and raised therefrom (Rom. 6:3-10).
It is thus quite clear that salvation, as a free gift, and the need to obey the Lord, are not mutually exclusive propositions.
Let men then receive God’s free gift by submitting to his will.