How can Jesus Christ save me? What do we mean by this statement?
Saved from what?
The answer is, Death. It is an accepted fact that everyone eventually dies. Some, perhaps, die sooner than others.
Yet, most people have a lingering hope that death is not the end of life altogether. Some believe that this ‘after-life’ is freely available for all regardless of any conditions; some say it is freely available to all through the name of Jesus Christ; some say it is available only through Jesus Christ and is restricted according to certain pre-defined conditions; while others say that it can be achieved through some non-Christian belief such as Buddhism. Still others say that death is death, and that it is the extinction of life on a permanent basis.
For them, there is no saving, or salvation, from death.Various theories and propositions exist in this respect, and people actively support their respective beliefs. So one might conclude that one theory is as good as another. So why not live the best life you can, and then hope for salvation when you die. After all, if you’ve done your best, the “Great God up above” will surely take your effort into account and reward you suitably.
The subject, however, is a vital one, and we would be most unwise if we neglected to give the matter at least some serious examination. To do this, let us consider the evidence presented in the Bible, for although the Bible is considered by many to be relegated to the archives of fable and mythology, and left on the shelf to gather dust, yet to others it is a book that is unique, in that its claim to be the Word of God is recognised. So let us consider, first of all, exactly what it is that we wish to be saved from, and when we have done this, we will be in the position to see what can be done to save us from the position that we have inherited. I say inherited because that is how the Bible describes our current position in relation to death. But let us go back to the beginning of time:
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Gen 1:1
The first chapter of the Bible tells us of this beginning, and informs us that God created the universe, and also created the various life-forms on it.
“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold it was very good.” Gen 1:31
And that included everything: all planets and stars, all plants, all land animals, all birds, all marine life, and human life — all was classed as very good.
The second chapter of Genesis revisits the creation scene, but with more detail on the creation of the first human couple. The third chapter tells us how things began to go wrong . This was not through any mal-creation on God’s part, but on the blatant disregard of the human pair to God’s commands that he had left with the first man, Adam. Both Adam and Eve (his created wife) openly flouted the instruction of their Creator.
The reaction of their Creator was sharp and clear:
“To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
“You must not eat of it”,
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return.’ ” Gen 3:17–19
A sentence of death. This should not have come as a surprise to Adam, for God had already warned him what would happen should he choose to disobey the command of God.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ ” Gen 2:16,17
This statement of God became a reality in Adam. He was sentenced to death. As a New Testament writer puts it:
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned — .” Romans 5:12
Another New Testament writer, James, has this to say:
“- each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” James 1:14–16
The sentence of death was introduced by Adam and Eve through their disobedience, and consequently this sentence of death has been inherited from them by all mankind, since all are descendents of those first parents, Adam and Eve. Death is universal — it has been the experience of every person, with the exception of this current generation.
But does death constitute the end of the living experience, or does some form of recognition survive passed the grave? Note carefully the observation of one Old Testament writer:
“So I reflected on all this (apparent meaningless to life) and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him. All share a common destiny — the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
“As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.
“This is the evil that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
“For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:1–5
“man’s fate is like the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Eccl 3:19,20
Before we trigger the reaction which insists on a continuation of experience after death, let us pause and assess whether or not this writer has provided a correct evaluation of the situation. Isn’t what he says exactly our observations, too? Don’t dead bodies get returned to the earth, and don’t they return to dust, just as the writer stated? Except for an occasional fossil, every animal form returns to dust, and even with a fossil, the majority of the animal has returned to dust.
But peoples’ reaction to this situation, is to say that these words of Ecclesiastes.are merely the uninformed opinion of a person ignorant of God. But this reaction ignores the words, for example, of the New Testament:
“All Scripture [ie., the Old Testament] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness -” 2 Tim 3:16
Now this comment was made in New Testament times when the Old Testament had been in shape for at least 400 years, and included the book of Ecclesiastes. So the inference is that Ecclesiastes is also God-breathed, ie. the writer was expressing a God-given truth.
So then is that it? Does it mean that there is no hope at all for a future life, even if one has been on one’s best behaviour all life through?
There is an interesting passage in the writings of the Psalms: a collection of poetry from the period 1000 – 500 BC, and it reads like this:
“For all can see that wise men die;
the foolish and the senseless alike perish
and leave their wealth to others.
Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.
“But man, despite his riches, does not endure;
he is like the beasts that perish.
“This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.
Like sheep they are destined for the grave,
and death will feed on them.
The upright will rule over them in the morning;
their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem my life from the grave;
he will surely take me to himself.”
Here he states that the wise and foolish, those he says “who trust in themselves”, will perish and that will be the end of them. But with respect to himself, he was confident that he would be “redeemed from the grave” — that he would be brought back to life again. Why the difference? Why him, and not the others? Why was his position superior?
A matter of trust.
The difference lies in whom they had trusted during their life. If they trusted in themselves, and were consequently self-satisfied with life, then they perished a death which would last for ever. So what was alternative? Surely, it can only be in living a life based on trust of someone else other than yourself! And who would be the one to whom that trust was directed? Let the Psalmist himself tell us.
“When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?” Psalm 56:3,4
So the first thing one must do in order to be saved, is to put one’s trust in God. In particular, our trust should, since New Testament days, be placed on God’s Son, Jesus Christ. A New Testament follower of Jesus, and author of several portions of the New Testament, Peter, said regarding Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
This verse is very significant, for it immediately negates the popular theory that an ‘after-life’ is freely available for all regardless of any conditions. We have already established that future salvation requires the recognition of Jesus Christ.
What then? If we accept Jesus Christ, are we automatically saved? Some would say “Yes!” And in making this claim they would refer to the Bible for supporting evidence:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” Rom 10:13
This truly sounds great! It is almost as if one merely has to acknowledge that Jesus exists, and you have been saved for eternity! So simple, so easy, and so gratifying. For if you have already been saved, then it matters little what you do from now on. No need for additional work or faith, or further investigation of the Bible. It sounds too easy — what is the catch? If we read the words of the writer of the letter to the Romans, which introduce the 13th verse which has been so commonly quoted, we begin to appreciate that things are not quite as simple as this verse might imply:
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.’ ”
We see that a second theory ‘goes out the window’. Those that say salvation is freely available to all through the name of Jesus Christ, and that nothing more is involved are in error. There is at least ‘belief’ that is involved.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30
This question was asked of Paul and Silas, two followers of Jesus Christ, by a jailer who had just witnessed a miracle. They replied,
“ ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all the others in his house.” Acts 16:31,32
The word ‘belief’ means ‘to be firmly persuaded’. For this to be achieved one must have convincing evidence. Paul and Silas were able to convince the jailer from the word of God. To be convinced of something, one must first of all understand it. These principles were illustrated in an earlier chapter of the same book, when Philip, yet another follower of Jesus Christ was conversing with a court official from the African land of Ethiopia who was at that time near Jerusalem.
“Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading from Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
“ ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
“The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
‘He was lead like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’
“The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself, or somebody else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” Acts 8:30–35
So is necessary to know about, and understand, the Gospel, as part of the need for salvation. And the gospel, itself, must be the true Gospel that is contained in the Bible. For even soon after the time of Jesus Christ, the Gospel was being weakened and altered according to the whim of mankind. When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians (55-60 AD), the Gospel was already being changed from that originally delivered by Jesus:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Gal 1:6–9
These are very strong words! To be condemned for eternity is to be condemned for a very long time; and for sure, that person will not be receiving salvation! Belief, then, is a vital factor for salvation, and it must be the belief in the original form of the Gospel, and not a man-made modification or interpretation.
But is belief all that is required? For true belief, we need to have faith. The New Testament writer James wrote:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? - Faith without deeds is useless. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” James 2:14, 20, 26
Do we, then, have to show an acceptable standard of performance, in our deeds or ‘works’?
There would be few who would doubt that Jesus was a righteous person, if the Bible is a true record. Jesus said,
“The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” John 8:29
Jesus, at the time he was baptised, had this commendation, that he pleased God.
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matt 3:17
Why was God so pleased with him? Principally because of Jesus’ obedience to his Father, and his unwavering faith. In a nutshell, he performed well. So well, in fact, that he became the one to imitate. The apostle Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, this advice:
“Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God — even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Cor 10:31–11:1
Jesus, in one of the stories he told his followers, anticipated the scene at judgement time, sometime ahead in the future.
“All nations shall be gathered together before him [the Son of Man], and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats He will put the sheep on the right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go and visit you.’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, i needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matt 25:32–46
Works, then, are vital for obtaining salvation. Paul speaks in one place of those “deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles (or ambassadors) of Christ.
“Their end will be what their actions deserve.” 2 Cor 13:15
But can works, by themselves, save a person by Jesus Christ? What of other provisions mentioned by Scripture. For instance, from the closing words of Jesus Christ in Mark’s Gospel?
“Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16
When one reads through the Book of Acts, which is a record of the establishment of the body of believers in Jesus Christ, which body was during subsequent centuries to spread throughout the world, one cannot escape notice of the frequent mention of baptism. The jailer and his family, mentioned earlier, were baptised after the true Gospel had been preached to them (Acts 16:33). The eunuch, also considered earlier was baptised once he understood about the Gospel (Acts 8:37,38). The apostles had all been baptised into the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:16). Paul, the last to be named as an apostle, was baptised following his conversion (Acts 9:18). Those of the household of Cornelius, the first non-Jewish [Gentile] converts to Jesus, were baptised after they had been told in detail, the Gospel of Jesus (Acts 10:48).
The writer to the Romans explains the importance and relevance of baptism with respect to salvation.
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ were baptised into his death?” Rom 6:3
So Paul wasn’t the only one baptised — he spoke to a group of people who were each of them baptised. So he goes on to confirm with these people their reason fir being baptised.
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
“If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Rom 6:4,5,8
We can therefore add baptism to our list of pre-requisites for salvation. It is a qualification that is needed as a starting point on the path to salvation.
But doesn’t all this go out the window, when we consider a verse such as that found in the letter to the Ephesians:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8
“But because of his great love toward us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace we are saved.” Eph 2:5
In view of this verse, and the preceding quotation taken from a few verses later, it popularly considered that it is by grace alone that we are saved: there is nothing that we can do that will alter the situation.
If such a view is correct, then Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians negates all that Jesus said, as recorded in the four Gospels, of the need to have faith, and to live in a manner that will find acceptance at his Second Coming, when a judgement will take place. Certainly, Jesus would not have accepted such an attitude. Take for instance, the messages given to the seven churches in the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation. (This book was written about 96AD, about 36 years after Paul’s writing to the Ephesians. In those chapters of Revelation, Jesus approves or disapproves of each church according to their works (Rev 2:2, 2:9, 2:13, 2:19, 3:1, 3:8, 3:15) and specifically comments that any salvation for them will depend on improvement in their performances.
But not only would he negate the words of Jesus, but would also speak counter to the messages he had sent to other churches, that we should concentrate on doing good things.
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. While we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do that which is good.” Titus 2:7, 13–15.
To understand the situation, we must investigate what is meant by the word “grace”. If we turn to an English dictionary, we find that, in this context, it is defined as “divine favour”, with the word being derived from the Latin gratia, favour. When we look at the Greek word from which “grace” has been used as an English translation, we have a little more meaning to the word. It is a translation of the Greek word charis, which is a favour done without expectation of return; unearned and unmerited favour. Again, one could infer that it is the direct antithesis to works. And in a certain way it is, as Paul on several occasions illustrates by his application of the word.
In the Gospels, it is a rare word: it occurs once in Luke (2:40, where it is applied to the years of Jesus’ early youth), and three times in the first chapter of John (vv 14, 16, 17 where it is applied to the character of Jesus). It is very significant that the Bible nowhere attributes Jesus’ own salvation to grace. The word is used in this sense only in reference to mankind. Why would this be?
Jesus was an exceptional man. And so he should have been, since he was the Son of God. But his outstanding attribute was that, though made in every way a man like ourselves, he withstood every temptation that came his way. The Bible put it this way:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we possess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Heb 4:14–16
God required of Jesus, nothing short of perfection. This was foreshadowed in the animal required for sacrificial purposes under the law of Moses.
· Burnt Offering:
“If the offering is a burnt offering from the flock, from either the sheep or goats, he is to offer a male without defect” Lev 1:10
· Fellowship Offering:
“If he offers an animal from the flock as a fellowship offering to the LORD, he is to offer male or female without defect” Lev 3:6
· Sin Offering:
“If the anointed priest sins he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed. ” Lev 4:3
The emphasis throughout the Law was that the male animal needed to be without defect. The Lord Jesus attained this level by living a life that was free from succumbing to temptation. God’s requirement was for nothing less than 100% attainment. Jesus reached this level, and was therefore eligible to represent the sacrificial lamb, an achievement recognised when he was crucified at the very time that the Passover lamb was being crucified for the annual Passover celebration. This celebration also called for a defect-free lamb:
“The animals you choose [for the Passover] must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” Exod 12:5,6
Not surprisingly, these aspects were fulfilled to the letter when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified — to the very hour.
God required of Jesus a 100% performance to achieve salvation. God would also require 100% from us, except for one thing. He was so pleased with Jesus’ achievement that he introduced the concept of grace. In essence, what he has done is to reduce the “pass-mark” from 100% to a much lower figure, but fortunately one that is attainable. For no-one on earth (apart from Jesus) can achieve anything near 100% obedience to God. No matter how we try, we all fall short — well short of perfection. The precise “pass-mark” has not been revealed, but we know it is well below 100%, and probably significantly above 0%.
If we understand grace in this perspective, then we can fully understand the position we are in and how Jesus can say that we need evidence of works in order to achieve salvation, while Paul can be correct in saying that works, in themselves, are not able to save us — that we can only be saved by grace. For no matter how good our deeds or works may be, they cannot satisfy God 100%. By accumulating deeds we cannot score 100%. Human failings and weaknesses continually mar our effort. A New Testament writer correctly reminds us:
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify ourselves from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:8–10
It is by the grace of God that we are saved. He has, by grace, lowered the “pass-level” for salvation, so that it can be reached by effort on our part. But it still needs effort, and the result of our effort won’t be known until Jesus Christ returns to the earth to set up his kingdom, for then will be the Day of Judgement. Paul wrote the following in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all stand before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Cor 5:9, 10
To be saved by Jesus Christ we need to believe in him, and to do this we need faith. On these two factors we can base our baptism, as a preliminary qualification for salvation. We then need works to demonstrate our faith. But above all, we need grace; for without grace we cannot be saved, no matter how great our effort may be; and this necessary grace is available to us automatically when we turn to God and his Son Jesus Christ.