Imagine asking two very accomplished people for the secret of their success. One says, “I’m very gifted.” The other says, “I’ve worked very hard.” To you, which sounds humble and which sounds smug?

A few years ago, I read an article which observed how far our instincts are out of line with the gospel on this issue of hard work vs. gift. Author Andrew Wilson writes: “Our meritocracy—in which people are valued based on ability alone—has conditioned us to consider it arrogant to attribute our accomplishments to God’s gracious gift. For some reason, gift talk sounds elitist. Conversely, we think we’re being humble when we say we worked hard for our success. The gospel polarity of grace versus works, though correctly understood in theory, is capsized in practice: ‘You succeeded? You must have worked harder than others,’ we think. For it is by works you have succeeded, not by gifts, so that no one can boast. Logical as it may seem, it’s far from the gospel. …When we elevate our work above God’s gifts, it shifts glory from him to us. ‘Gift’ language points to an abundantly generous gift giver. ‘Work’ language credits the worker and points toward the self.”

Wilson is exactly right. Everything you have and everything you’ve accomplished is a gift, to the glory of God! How freeing this teaching is. And how balanced our lives would be, if we could just get it.

On the one hand, this view keeps us from an unnecessarily low self view. God has been gracious to us. We are gifted. We all bring something to the table, something unique, something God specifically equipped us to do that’s different from everyone else. The gospel frees us up to be honest and thankful about what we have. We don’t have to assume a false kind of modesty. When we do something well and people comment on it, we can sincerely and humbly say, “Thank you.”

On the other hand, this understanding keeps us from a puffed-up and arrogant self view. What we have is all a gift from God. We didn’t earn it. There’s nothing inherently special about us that entitled us to these abilities we have. What distinguishes us from one another is nothing we’ve earned. It’s just different types and measures of grace.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. Romans 12:6