“Bill” is a man I’ve known for about 10 years. He’s a successful businessman and known for his generosity. Bill has some physical issues that, at his age, are life-threatening. I went to his home recently to visit with him about his eternity… This has been edited. I’ve changed the name of the man. I’ve removed personal references of how I know him. But what is here is the real deal.
I’ve been thinking about our conversation we had last week.
The main reason for this letter is that I left your home still concerned for your soul. My prayer is that you will chew on what I write below and examine the validity of what you are trusting in to save you. As I said when we visited, you don’t answer to me; we all answer to God. However, I am a pastor, and am willing and available to visit more should you want.
If I understood you correctly, you said your confidence before our Creator and Judge was on doing good deeds and trying to be a better person.
The Bible certainly commends generosity, kindness, patience, care for orphans and widows. As you and I spoke of our pasts, we should both be grateful to God there has been some change!
But here are five sticking points from the Bible for anyone trusting in their good works and improved behavior before a holy God.
First, how much improvement does God require of us before He will receive us into His presence? Jesus said, “You must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). To be perfect means we’d have to be without sin from conception to the grave. That means every thought, every desire, every word, every action would have to be out of love for God and obedience to His commands.
Second, if God did somehow grade on the curve – and we could reach a state of perfection on our own efforts, or even with some help from others – then why did God have to send His Son to die in the place of sinners? Over and over, the Bible speaks of Jesus’ death as one of being a substitute – dying as a sacrifice in the place of others. He drank the cup of God’s wrath so that those who trust in Him won’t have to experience God’s wrath (John 18:1-11). “He was smitten of God, and afflicted; He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him” (Isaiah 53). There was no need for God to ‘smite’ His beloved Son and have Him nailed to a cross and die in place of sinners if we can save ourselves.
Third, what good news is there in Jesus Christ if it’s us doing the work to save ourselves? The phrase “Gospel of Jesus Christ” means good news about Jesus – who He is and what He accomplished (His work) on the cross on behalf of sinners. If we can earn God’s favor on our own merit and efforts, then shouldn’t the good news be that we can save ourselves? The Gospel of who Tedd is and what Tedd has done? The Gospel of who Bill is and what Bill has done?
The Apostle Paul is crystal clear that there is nothing for sinners to boast in but Christ Jesus and what He accomplished in His death. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ – Galatians 6:14. “… no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the LORD’ “ – I Corinthians 1:28-30.
Fourth, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Jesus gets the ball rolling for us; His death is the ‘spiritual battery charger’ that gets us cranked up and headed out on the highway to heaven. He gets us going, but it’s our efforts that finish the journey. Our good works complete what He started. This view is very popular, but I don’t see any good news in it. The reason is simple: We still must be as perfect as God is. I know that since I became a Christian at 19, I have not lived a perfect life. No one CAN. Even if Jesus gets us jump started, how would we ever know if we contribute enough? How would we know if our motives are pure enough? We can’t.
Fifth, in 26 out of 27 books of the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles warn of false Gospels and false teachers. Pastors are solemnly warned to guard the treasure of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He Himself fully and completely saves sinners. He gets all the job done, perfectly. But He alone is the only way of salvation (John 14:6). That means you and me and anyone, must forsake any other act or effort, person, or belief as helping us or making us right with God, and place all our confidence in Him alone and what He did on the Cross. The reason God warns of false Gospels is because sinners hate how holy God is and deny how sinful we are (Romans 3:9-18). It is only sinless Jesus alone who saves through faith alone in Him. All of a sinner’s salvation is a gift from God (Romans 6:23)!
I will end this epistle with the simple words the Apostle Paul confidently stated to a sinner haunted about his imminent death and the reality he would give an account to a holy God: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you WILL be saved.”
That’s what I urge you to do, Bill.