Imagine for a moment that you owe someone a staggering amount of money—let’s say a billion dollars. There is no way that you would ever be able to pay it off. In order for you to be rescued from this predicament, a very wealthy and generous person would have to pay it for you.
Of course, the sin debt we owe to God is not monetary, but moral. Nevertheless, the principle is the same. No amount of good deeds on our part would be sufficient to atone for our sins. We need a Savior whose righteousness far exceeds our own.
There are 5 specific aspects to God’s plan of salvation that we need to consider:
1. Christ came to save the unrighteous, not those who have “proved worthy”
How “worthy” can we by our own efforts prove to be? “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). If that is how our limited human righteousness appears to God, what must our sins look like to him?
For this reason, God’s arrangement for our salvation was not to send Christ to save godly men and women who prove themselves worthy. Rather, Christ came to die for the morally bankrupt, for the ungodly. Romans 5:6-8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
2. Trying to obey God’s law cannot make us righteous
Contrary to what the Watchtower teaches, obeying God’s law is not a part of the pathway to salvation. It’s just the opposite. All God’s law can do is condemn us. Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).
In this respect, God’s law functions like a cancer screening test. It can show us our dire spiritual condition, but it can do nothing to cure us. God did not give us the law as a means of making us righteous. Rather, he gave the law in order to demonstrate to us the extent of our unrighteousness. He did this to bring us to Christ by showing us our need for a Savior. (Galatians 3:24)
3. God credits sinners with Christ’s righteousness through faith
Immediately after telling us that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping God’s law, Paul reveals the following, which is the heart of God’s arrangement for our salvation:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:21-28, emphasis added)
This transaction takes place in our spirits. Please notice that this is not the way God saves only some special, elite group Christians from their sins. Verse 22 says that this righteousness of God “comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
So salvation is not something we can only receive if we somehow prove worthy. Rather, salvation is an undeserved and free gift of righteousness from God that makes us worthy. Romans 4:4-5 puts it this way: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”
4. Salvation is an instantaneous event, not a process
At the moment we are saved, Christ washes away our sins and declares us righteous by faith. The Bible’s term for this is justification. Justification is the free and gracious act of God by which he declares a repentant and trusting sinner righteous in Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (emphasis added). Notice the verb tenses that I highlighted. They are all past tense!
Christ did not die to give us a chance to prove worthy of eternal life. Rather, Jesus died to give us eternal life. We don’t receive eternal life when we die. It is received in this life, and we can know for certain that we have it: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added).
5. We must come to Jesus himself, not to an organization
God’s arrangement for salvation is not for us to come to an organization and faithfully submit to it the rest of our lives in order to prove ourselves worthy. In order for us to receive this free gift of salvation, God’s arrangement is for us to come personally to Jesus.
In John 5:39-40, Jesus told the Pharisees: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (emphasis added). In John 6:37, he said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” In John 6:44, he added, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (emphasis added).
Jesus is the door (John 10:7-9). Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the life (John 14:6). Jesus, not an earthly organization, is the only one to whom we can go for eternal life (John 6:68). Salvation is a very intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
Of course, Jesus is no longer on earth, so we can’t come to him by traveling to Jerusalem or Galilee. Nevertheless, Jesus is alive. Long after Christ had ascended to heaven, Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:4-6: “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” (emphasis added)
How can we come to him today? In prayer! Jehovah’s Witnesses never pray to Jesus, only to the Father. But it’s clear from the New Testament that Christians are to call on the name of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). In fact, it is by only calling on his name that we are able to have our sins washed away (Acts 22:16).
If you believe that being saved requires a combination of faith in Christ and performance of good works, how much depends on Jesus and how much depends on you?
Share your thoughts in the comments.