Salvation is most certainly a gift from God, and the word “gift”, in particular, is a very important one in the Bible, and we should understand the implications of the word, and that starts with understanding the Greek texts of the Bible, as the word “gift” was translated into English, but had different meanings at different times in the Bible.
In the New Testament, there are several different times the Greek word for “gift” was translated. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12, two Greek terms are translated as "spiritual gifts", such as in Verse 1, the word pneumatika ("spirituals" or "things of the Spirit") is used when talking about a gift. From these scriptural passages, Christians understand the spiritual gifts to be entitlements or capacities that are divinely bestowed upon individuals by the Lord.
Revelation 11:10 discusses the reciprocal gift-giving of celebrants:
Revelation 11:10 (ESV): and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
Matthew 7:11 gives an analogy of how much a father, being a sinner (earthly father, dad) gives his children in gifts to how much more God will give good things to those who ask:
Matthew 7:11 (ESV): If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Now, knowing this, consider how when it comes to our salvation, the New Testament writers again used different Greek words - words that emphasize the grace and absolutely free quality of this particular gift.
There are two words most commonly used for the gift of salvation in the Greek texts:
1) Dorea (variant of “Dora”), meaning “a free gift.” This word lays particular stress on the gratuitous nature of the gift - in fact, in Greek literature, it is associated with having these characteristics: freely, gift, needlessly, without a cause, without charge, without cost, without paying. It is absolutely to be seen as something given to you completely free. This is important to understand, and it is why they emphasized using this particular word when discussing the gift of salvation from God - the writers did not want there to be any misunderstanding about this gift from the Lord.
The gift of grace is a type of gift that is given above and beyond what is expected or deserved to any person. The deserved part is heavily emphasized - our God that is responsible for our very existence loves us enough to give us a way out from our sin and all of our mistakes! How amazing is that? Think about that - He could have just created us and said, “Meh…you live, you die….I don’t care…I can make a million more of you…”
But He didn’t! He CARES about every SINGLE one of us - all the millions and billions of us! So much that He let His only begotten Son die in the flesh for us!
Every New Testament occurrence of the word “gift” is related to a spiritual gift from God. Jesus actually offered this same gift to the Samaritan woman at the well, mentioned in John 4:10 (ESV): Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
This gift is a gift of unspeakable magnitude:
2 Corinthians 9:15: (KJV): Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.
In fact, this gift is identified as a very special gift from the Holy Spirit that cannot even be purchased:
Acts 2:38 (KJV): Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:20 (KJV): But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
Acts 11:17 (KJV): For as much then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?
Now that we know ALL of this, there is even more evidence in the Word. The adverb form of the word gift in Greek is the word “dorean”. And, guess what? It is translated very freely in various books of the Bible as well! Check out Matthew 10:8, 2 Corinthians 11:7, Revelation 21:6 and 22:17 for these references.
Romans 3:24 (KJV): Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Plain and simple - well, definitely not plain, but it should be easy to see - the gift of salvation is free! And the motive for this gift of grace from God is nothing more than pure love for HIS creation.
Now, onto the second word:
2) The second word is “charisma” (χάρισμα in Greek), meaning “a favor or gift.” This word is used to define the meaning of salvation in Romans 5:15-16 and 6:23:
Romans 5:15-16 (KJV): But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
Romans 6:23 (KJV): For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For point to point reference, this is the same word used to reference the gifts of the Spirit received after salvation in other parts of the Bible:
1 Timothy 4:14 (KJV): Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
See also Romans 12:6, 2 Timothy 1:6, and 1 Peter 4:10 for more references.
Naturally, and quite obviously, if something is a gift, and a gift of grace at that, it cannot be purchased or earned by the receiver. If you work for something, you often deserve it, (such as working 40 hours for $20 an hour - your Gross Pay before taxes is $800), which produces a legal obligation to receive something - a gift of debt, as it were, also to the person who now owes you for this time and work that you put in for an agreed amount of money per hour.. This is precisely why works destroy grace and that it is not earned by doing good alone:
Romans 4:1-5 (KJV): What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
All in all, for study purposes, it is important to engrave in our mind the fact that when writing about salvation and presenting it to us, the New Testament writers carefully chose words that emphasized grace and freedom, for varying and strong reasons. As a result, the Bible could not be any more clear on this gift - salvation is the absolutely free and true gift of God in Jesus. Our only obligation is to receive the gift by faith in Him:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV): For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
John 3:16 (KJV): For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.