Throughout my upbringing, I have been confused at times about how salvation has been brought, not just to me, but to everyone. Unfortunately, it seems that many people share the same confusion. As a Christian, I see many different views that are disparate in their understanding of what scripture tells us is the truth and the Way. But, one area I believe that everyone can agree on is that we can’t earn our salvation and we can’t go around thinking there’s some reason we deserve salvation.
I’ve been teaching 6th grade Bible class this quarter and have been able to open up some discussion about Jesus and salvation and grace. What I have found is that the kids in my class have some great ideas about these issues, but also don’t fully grasp what they mean in a scriptural, conceptual way.
For instance, I asked this question on Sunday morning: “Did Jesus have to die?” Now what I didn’t ask was “Did Jesus have to die for us to be saved?” However, what people usually hear is the latter question when asked the former. The discussion from this question took almost the entire class time, which was excellent! One of the reasons it went on so long was that there was a disagreement among the students about whether or not Jesus had to die. Ultimately, we came back around to the conclusion, which I will not share here, and it was amazing to see how the students learned and grew from that simple question. The ultimate outcome of the discussion was that grace was placed in laser focus by Jesus death, burial, and resurrection. No one deserves it, that’s why it’s called grace. It’s an undeserved gift. And that’s what brings us to the title of this article…
One of the major arguments that perennially occurs between people who claim Jesus as their savior is whether or not one must “do” something in order to be saved. Most of the disagreements come to light based on whether or not things like Baptism are a “work”. Another question I asked my class was “Is there anything you can do to save yourself?” Predictably, and I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, some of the students said things like “Be baptized…” or “Obey God…” Now, while God does command baptism and obedience, do those things save us? Are they works? If so, whose are they? All of these questions must be answered to get to the bottom of what grace really is and how we have salvation in Christ.
Christians have understood through scripture that there is a logical process through which someone understands salvation and how this gift is imparted to someone. First, a person hears God’s Word. Roman 10:17 says this well, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” When you hear something, in this case, the Gospel, you are paying attention to it. You are listening to something actively and taking it in and trying to process it. There is action being taken. If you process it logically and decide it makes sense, you do something else that is referred to as believing. Believing is spelled out well in John 8:24 “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” When someone believes something, they are incorporating into their life a system of understanding that causes a change in the way they live. This incorporation is an action that leads one to turn away from their old way of doing things and turn toward a new way. This action of turning is call repentance. Luke 13:5 gives this interesting quote on repentance, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Then, there is a follow-on to this in Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Finally, Revelation 2:10 makes a huge statement about how Christians should live. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Now, if I were someone who only looked at what these passages said, I would almost have to surmise that in order to have salvation, I would need to do something. But, it might surprise you that none of these things mean that you do anything. But, don’t let this upset you. In fact, this fact should comfort everyone. Now, here’s something else that might sound contradictory, but it will become clear as we discuss further; these things are ALL works!
“But, what about grace?” I know this is going through your mind or coming out of your mouth and it should! Grace is what saves us! Ephesians 2:8 says it very clearly, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” But, we also see that people hear, believe, repent, confess, are baptized, and live faithfully. So, what do we do with these scriptural facts?
The first thing a person must realize is that none of the works above are our works. But, how is that? Don’t we have to “do” those things? The answer is unequivocally “No!” While all of these works are things that appear to be done by someone who is seeking God, none of them are works of human righteousness, but of God’s righteousness. We cannot hear unless we have something to hear or even have ears to hear with. Those are gifts and works of God’s righteousness. Can you believe if there is nothing to believe in? God’s grace is evident in the fact that we have anything to believe in or any way to believe it. Can you turn away from sin if you have nothing righteous to turn toward? Repentance is a gift. Baptism by its physical nature is where many people get confused and hung up, but again, this is not a work of human goodness, but of God’s perfect greatness in that He gave us baptism as a grace through which we enter into Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection where we contact His blood and are washed. Finally, when we live faithfully, it is tempting as Christians to get the idea that we are somehow earning our right to be called Christians. But, this goes back to the discussion of whether or not Jesus had to die. Jesus said himself in John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” He doesn’t say this only here, but many times in scripture. The fact is that Jesus had every right to dust his hands of our filth and underserving lives and say, “You don’t deserve salvation and eternal life.” And He would have been fully correct and justified in His decision. I don’t know what would have happened after that, perhaps an ascension or some other translation similar to Elijah or Enoch. But, what is definite is that He made the choice and decided on His own to save us.
So, what does this mean? Are there things that are done for our salvation? Yes. Are any of these things works done by us? No. Are they all works? Yes. Are they grace? Yes. They are all inseparable components of the Gospel just as joined together and important as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul said it well in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”