A preacher once said: “Jesus Christ didn’t come into the world to make bad people good. He came into the world to make dead people live.” This statement captures the difference between salvation by religion and salvation by grace. Religion says follow this list of dos and don’ts and you will be good enough. In religion, you don’t need a saviour because you save yourself. You pull yourself up by your bootstraps and attain righteousness by keeping a list of dos and don’ts. Yet, there’s one problem with religion. It’s impossible to keep all the rules all the time because no one is perfect. So what happens when your good enough is not good enough?
Trying to conform your life to a list of dos and don’ts can lead to pride or guilt. If you can keep the rules most of the time, you might think you are better than those who can’t. You might even see them as inferior to you [see Luke 18:9-14]. Alternatively, if you can’t keep the rules, then you might think you are worthless. You may be envious of those keeping the rules and end up hating them. You may even abandon your religion because of the guilt and shame you feel (who wants to be constantly reminded of their failings?). In both cases, you stand condemned because you have failed to attain perfection.
By God’s standards, good enough is having the same righteousness as God. This means living in perfect obedience to God all the time and we simply cannot achieve this. Often we willingly or unwillingly choose to disobey God. When we do, the consequences are grave because the penalty for disobeying God is death [Romans 6:23]. This is because when we disobey God, we sever ourselves from Him and we do not have the power to repair the damage. Because God is the Source of life [John 11:25], we effectively become the walking dead and condemned to eternal death apart from Him.
It would be depressing if the story ended there and nothing could be done about it. But, the story doesn’t end there because, in Jesus, God intervened. God provided a better solution which meant our ability to stay connected to Him no longer depended on our ability to obey Him perfectly. Jesus came and paid the penalty for every time we would ever disobey God. Therefore, we are no longer condemned to eternal death [Romans 8:1]. This is grace and we did nothing to earn or deserve it. As such, no one can boast about saving themselves by keeping the rules. Before God, the person who keeps the rules 99% of the time and the one who keeps the rules only 1% of the time are equal. Neither is perfect, both need a Saviour.
So to anyone who says “…I’m a good person, I don’t need Jesus”, think again. Christianity isn’t about keeping rules. It isn’t even advice on how to navigate life although it does give some advice about living life. At its core, it is good news! It is news informing us that God came and saved us from eternal death and we can start enjoying the life He gives us right now. Religion says these are the things you have to do to earn salvation. In essence, follow these rules and you will find redemption. The gospel says Jesus has already paid the price for your redemption, and all you have to do is believe and accept what He has already done. That’s it? Yes, that’s it! When Jesus said “it is finished!” on the cross [John 19:30], He meant that nothing else was needed to make us right with God. There is nothing we can add to what He has already done. Therefore, when we accept His righteousness as ours, we are perfect before God.
So why did God save us? It wasn’t to make us better people by giving us a list of dos and don’ts to live by. It wasn’t so that we could go around behaving as we please knowing that He had already paid the price for our disobedience. I like the way the Message Bible puts it: “saving is all His (God’s) idea and all His work. All we do is trust Him enough to let Him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join Him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing” [Ephesians 2:8-10 MSG]
Jesus saved us so that we could be in a relationship with Him where we glorify Him [Isaiah 43:7] and live for His good pleasure [Revelation 4:11]. He wants to partner with us to redeem this fallen world. Our relationship with Him, not a desire to earn salvation, should be the driving force behind our actions. When our relationship with Him is our motivation, we will live a life of godliness and do things that glorify God. We will even go beyond the limits of the dos and don’ts because we abide by the Spirit of the law not the letter of the law. That said, God never forces this relationship on us. We must make a choice. Sadly, many have opted to reject God. Some have even chosen the path of religion instead of grace. What decision will you make?