What Have You Done?

What had she done with her life? That question challenged a young woman named Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879). When she was twenty-two, she went to visit relatives in Germany. One day, she came in from an excursion, weak and weary. She seated herself in the parlor to rest and, looking up, observed a large painting of Christ.

In the picture, Jesus is stripped to the waist, bound, and crowned with thorns. Pilate, is in the act gesturing toward Him, calling to the boisterous crowd below, "Ecce homo!" (Behold, the Man!) Beneath the painting Miss Havergal read these words: "This have I done for thee; what hast thou done for Me?" The penetrating question stirred her heart, moving her to tears. She found a scrap of paper and a pencil, and quickly created a poem on the theme.

On her return to England, Frances Havergal re-read the words she had written. Thinking they were not worth keeping, she threw them into the fire. However, a sudden downdraft blew the scorched paper out into the room again. It was later found by her father, who read the lines and urged her to have them published. That is the origin of our hymn, "I Gave My Life for Thee," with its corresponding question, What hast thou done for Me?"

The hymn begins, "I gave My life for thee, My precious blood I shed, / That thou might'st ransomed be, and quickened from the dead; / I gave, I gave My life for thee, what hast thou given for Me?"

The point, of course, is not that the Lord requires us to somehow pay Him for Calvary. That is an impossibility. Salvation is offered as a free gift to be received in faith. Christ has paid its full price. The Bible says salvation is "by grace"–God's unmerited favour, and "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

Not only that. By grace He has already conferred upon the Christian every spiritual blessing–either as ours to claim now, or reserved for us in heaven (Eph. 1:3; I Pet. 1:3-4). These are ours apart from anything we have done or could do for Him.

By grace through faith we are saved eternally and accounted as "complete in Him" (Col. 2:10). Good works are irrelevant to the principle of grace, at least in terms of earning it. Grace that is somehow earned is no more grace (Rom. 4:4-5; cf. 3:24).

If all the riches of grace already belong to the child of God, trying to earn them is an insult the Giver–like trying to pay someone for a birthday gift. What we do after accepting God's free grace is not a payment for it, but a loving response to it. Our conduct under grace is to arise from grateful hearts, freely responding to what God has done.

The motivation is not an iron-bound obligation. Instead, it is the Christian's willing expression of love that provides an answer to the question, "What hast thou done for Me?" As Paul puts it, "the love of Christ compels us" (II Cor. 5:14). It urges and impels us to respond in kind. It becomes, in the words of J. B. Phillips's paraphrase, "the very spring of our actions."

Repeatedly, in the epistles, God's Word "beseeches" us (pleads with us) to live for Him, on the basis of all that grace has accomplished. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [after all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1; cf. Eph. 4:1).

The believer is invited to gaze into the thorn-crowned face of the Saviour, reflecting upon all that God has given him, in Christ. Then, spurred on by love, and empowered by the Spirit of God, his overflowing heart can only compel him to surrender all to God and live to serve Him.