What makes Christianity so unique and so revolutionary is not just the concept of vicarious liability but the moral inversion of same. And this is not an outsider’s perspective. The Bible itself acknowledges it. It states in Romans 5:7 (MSG): “We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” It’s a rather blunt assessment of our utilitarian value to God, but anything less direct would amount to a romanticised lie. We aren’t worth dying for, yet Jesus died for us. In other words, salvation wasn’t based on our moral character or personal virtues and value. It was simply God’s sentimental decision. The sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of mankind can only find rationalization in God’s cardiac condition towards us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) It is only through the optics of love that salvation makes sense.
None of us alive today had any hand in motivating Jesus to die for us. Such motivation is virtually impossible since Jesus died and rose from the dead well over 2,000 years ago. His saving us therefore had nothing to do with any good we did. His death was independent of us, completely.
The Bible corroborates the fact that salvation was God’s independent decision: “Saving is all His idea, and all his work…It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” (Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG) This passage additionally tells us salvation is a gift. If salvation is a gift, how can we then earn it through our effort? How do you earn a gift?! And that was Paul’s exact sentiment. No amount of good we do can earn us salvation. Paul says you don’t even have the capacity to make yourself not to talk of saving yourself: “No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and the saving.” (Ephesians. 2:10 MSG) And in case we’re deluded into thinking we have a contributory scheme towards our salvation, listen to what Paul wrote the Galatians: “Are you going to continue this craziness? For only a crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? (Galatians 3:3-4) It’s why Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus is the originator and initiator of our faith, as well as the finisher and perfecter.
We were in the future when Jesus died. Our sins were in the future. They had not been committed. And yet the blood of Jesus reached into the future, grabbed hold of our sins, and cleansed us from all unrighteousness! We accessed the atonement when we believed. Jesus died for past, present and future sins.
Is our salvation a done deal at the time we believe? Let’s turn to Paul for answer: “It’s in Christ that you, ONCE you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of salvation), found yourselves home free – signed, sealed, delivered by the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13-14 MSG) No wonder he went on to write in Romans 8:33 (NLT): “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one – for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one – for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honour at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”
And just in case you doubt God’s message of eternal security, Paul further wrote: “I am convinced that nothing can EVER separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – NOT EVEN THE POWER OF HELL can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT) If the Bible says “not even the power of hell” can separate us from the love of God why are we then afraid of going to hell? It’s like we don’t believe God’s word, like we make him out to be a liar. And God cannot lie!
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me HAVE eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they HAVE ALREADY passed from death to life.” (John. 5:24 NLT)
Then he said, “The sheep that are my own hear and are listening to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and THEY SHALL NEVER LOSE IT or perish throughout the ages. To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed. And no one can snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater and mightier than all else; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John. 10:27-29 AMP)
But what about those criminal charges against us, and the penalty for sin…what’s God’s take on those? Paul gave us the answer: “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people – FREE OF ALL THE PENALTIES AND PUNISHMENTS chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!” (Ephesians 1:7-10 MSG)
Will we ever be a in a state of sinlessness such that we are thus qualified to go to Heaven on that standard? 1 John 1:8 says otherwise – “If we claim we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim that is errant nonsense.” Please note that an apostle wrote this. His name is John. This same apostle who calls himself a sinner will later write that his name is actually on one of the foundation stones of the house of God. (Revelation 21:14) And Paul, who also called himself a sinner in 1 Timothy 1:15, corroborates this fact in Ephesians 2:20. It’s not our sinlessness that qualifies us for Heaven, it is the sinlessness of Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
But what about all those scriptures that seemingly tell us that salvation requires our self-effort? Well, first we have to agree that God cannot contradict himself. He cannot guarantee us eternal salvation in some scriptures and reverse those same guarantees in another set of scriptures. That’s schizoid and inconsistent, and a great reputational risk for God. In interpreting doctrine, if there are two seemingly contradictory scriptures, the express provision of scripture takes precedence over the implied provision. And the express provision of scripture is that our salvation is eternal and guaranteed.
On the issue of seemingly contradictory scriptures on eternal salvation, the problem many times is us – our lack of scholarship. A lot of people read the King James edition of the Bible, whose popularity is understandably high since it has no copyright restriction. But not many appreciate or even understand the English of the King James Bible, and therein lies the problem. It’s 17th century English. It’s full of obsolete expressions like “evil concupiscence”, “superfluity of naughtiness.” Nobody speaks like that today! Only scholars can appreciate those phrases. Take the scripture about “working out your salvation with fear and trembling.” It seemingly suggests we should be afraid lest we go to hell. Turns out first of all, that we don’t quote the FULL text. The next verse actually says, it is God who is doing the working on the inside of us to make us please him. And what the passage is actually saying, in modern English is, “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God.” (Philippians 2:12 MSG) It never said work out your salvation in fear of going to hell. We subconsciously incorporated hell into the passage. It’s like we like fear. And Christians just love to monger fear! Always read a modern edition of the Bible, to at least get a sense of what a passage is saying. And we need to stop quoting scriptures out of context. It’s scriptural malpractice.
This article cannot address all the scriptures on salvation by grace, but the Bible is unequivocal on the issue of eternal salvation. Hebrews 5:9 (MSG) says, “He (Jesus) became the source of ETERNAL SALVATION to all who believingly obey him.”
But if we preach grace, doesn’t that mean we’re telling people to take license and do whatever they like? As some are quick to righteously intone, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” Well the truth is, the Bible actually says legalism is the energiser of sin, not grace. 1 Corinthians 15:56 says, “The Law gives sin its power.” Grace is not the energiser of sin.
Perhaps what is more disturbing about our attitude towards the doctrine of grace however, is the idea we should not tell people the truth for fear they may take license. Keeping knowledge from people is manipulative. Means we’d rather they remain in bondage to fear of death than tell them the truth of God’s word. And how can we be more concerned about God’s children than God himself? Even the idea we’re supposed to regulate the body of Christ is highly presumptuous. If God himself is not afraid to put the truth about grace in the Bible, who are we to creatively expunge it?
The essence of grace is empowerment to rebel against sin. That’s what Romans 6:14 says – “Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God (grace).” And Paul already addressed the issue of license: “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the Law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not!” (Romans 6:1) Paul tells us it doesn’t make sense to use the license of grace to sin: “You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom…You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing – not caring about others, not caring about God – the worse your life became and the less freedom you had?” (Romans 6:19 MSG) In other words, license destroys freedom.
God is not interested in winning his children to himself through scare tactics. If God wanted to scare people into Heaven he has extraordinary means and capacity. But he chose to employ the instrumentality of grace and love. Jesus wants us to obey him out of love, not out of fear. “If you love me obey my commandments,” he said. (John.14:15) And we sometimes forget God is a parent. He knows a thing or two about parenting we don’t know. He knows how to discipline his children. (Hebrews 12:6) We need to stop trying to teach God how to bring up his children, substituting his manual with our own ideas.
But here’s the really wonderful stuff about grace: “He took our sin-filled lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in the highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.” (Ephesians 2:1-6 MSG) And so when people tell you, you might not make heaven, tell them you’re ALREADY in heaven, in the company of Jesus. The Bible said so! Quit living in fear of hell. Jesus died “that he might deliver and completely set free all those who through the haunting fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives.” (Hebrews 2:15 AMP)
Just in case you’re out of fellowship with God because you did something bad in the past, God says just say you’re sorry and everything will be forgiven: “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8)
And if you found yourself enjoying all this stuff and you’re not yet born again, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
If you have any questions you can write me. Just mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to answer your questions.