Many parents agree that when our children receive something as a gift from us, they often don't take care of it the same way as the things they work for and "earn." Parents often prefer to have their children "earn" what they get, so they can learn the value of it and appreciate it more. After all, you have a tendency to place a higher value on something you have worked hard for.
I have to wonder, is that what the problem is with our salvation? The Bible clearly tells us that eternal life is a "free gift" from God (Rom 6:23). The only wage we are capable of earning is death. Is this why some people view their salvation somewhat flippantly and maintain it in a haphazard way if at all? It almost makes me want to say that our salvation should be something we "earn" for ourselves. If this were the case, perhaps more people would place a higher value on their Christianity. Perhaps it would occupy more of their life.
But the problem is that we do no earn it or merit it. Jesus earned it for us at the cross, brought it home (so to speak), and said, "Here child, I want to give you this gift." And what do we do? Sometimes we blow it off. Just like the child who doesn't appreciate the new car he didn't work for, we forget to "tune it up," or to "change the oil." We don't maintain the gift, and it begins to fall apart. It seems to be doomed because it is a "gift." What can be done? After all, that is the nature of a gift.
But you know, the problem is not that it is a gift. The problem arises when we don't invest anything into the gift. When you make an investment in something (in this case, someone), you tend to value and care for it.
If you think of salvation in terms of relationship rather than an inanimate object, the whole perspective on it being a "gift" changes. For instance, I did not "earn" my wife's love. She has chosen to give it to me. I have not always been lovable, but she loves me anyway. I value and cherish her. It would not be that way if I had not invested myself in our relationship. I have invested my emotions, time, money, aspirations, goals, vision, and my very heart into this woman. No, I didn't "earn" our marriage. However, I have invested a great deal into it. No wonder Paul uses the marriage analogy to refer to our relationship with Christ (Eph 5:21-33)!
Maybe the problem is not that salvation is given as a gift. Maybe the problem is I don't invest enough into it. Whether it is taking up my cross daily (Lk 9:23), cutting off a hand or eye (Mk 9:43-48), becoming a slave (Rom 6:18), being a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:10), selling all I have to follow him (Lk 12:33), I need to invest all I am into Christ if I am to be his "bride." As the song says, "He is my everything, he is my all!"