Why do we trust in ourselves for anything, especially our salvation?
Some give me strange looks when I say that salvation is through faith alone in Christ. But God has set it up this way for a purpose.
Recall the story of Gideon. He had called a few tribes (after removing the idols from his house) and built an army of 32,000. But then God had something interesting to say: “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” (Judges 7:2).
The Israelites were going up against an army of 135,000 Midianites and other nations. Yet God said that an army of 32,000 was too many?! Yes. That’s because if they even had that many, they might think, wrongly of course, that they had saved themselves. God is jealous of His glory- and as He never changes, He is jealous of it then as He is now. And we know that it is God who does everything through us. Therefore, to make sure Israel understood it, God had to cut down Gideon’s army.
First Gideon sends away anyone who admits they are afraid. Only 10,000 are left. And God STILL says it’s too many. So God tells Gideon to have his army drink water, and those that lay on the ground and bring the water to their mouths with one hand to keep. Now 300 are left. And that is satisfactory to God. “And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.” (Judges 7:7).
And then a funny thing happens. God shows Gideon (even Gideon has some fear) that the enemy is afraid of them because they have God on their side. And, outnumbered 450 to 1, God brings a great victory through Gideon and his band of men.
Why does God choose to work in this way? The answer was already told to us at the front end of the chapter. If Gideon’s army was larger, they might think they saved themselves with their own hands, with their own might. But God knows full well He was the only one Who could save them, just as they knew and we know. Why did God choose to flatten the wall of Jericho by having Israel march around it? Because He wanted it clear that He was giving the victory. Why have a miraculous Red Sea crossing? Because later they could have looked back and said that they escaped Egypt themselves. But God reminds them again and again that He brought them out of Egypt.
That same singular ability to deliver has not changed. As only God could save them then, only He can save us now. And the reason is the same: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). God is equally concerned about us robbing Him of glory today. So He made salvation “by grace…through faith”. If it was by works, as He says, we would have a reason to boast. “I saved myself. I was good enough, I followed the Bible/the Ten Commandments/the sacraments/etc.” God says no, it is His gift that we can’t deserve or earn.
And we can only thank Him for that. If salvation were left up to ourselves we all would fail. Grace literally means “unmerited favor”. We can’t merit it, we don’t deserve it. It is freely given to anyone who will accept it. See what the Bible says about our condition: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18).
That is not talking about a certain group of people. That speaks of mankind as a whole. We are reprehensible before God. We’re disgusting, undeserving of being looked upon by Him except for judgment. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23). Every one of us. There is more the Bible says about mankind: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.” (Isaiah 64:6-7). Our righteousnesses- the very BEST that we can put before God- are like filthy rags to God. The Hebrew behind “filthy rags” carries with it the idea of menstrual rags. THAT is how nasty we are before God- on a good day.
Still think we can get to Heaven on our own?
The menstrual cycle in Jewish culture made a woman ceremonially unclean. She had to be cleansed by going before the high priest. How does that translate to today? “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus is our High Priest today. Do you want to become clean before God? You have to go through Him. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). There is only one Way to Heaven, and to have fellowship now and forever with God. It is through Jesus.
Right after Romans 3:23, that seems to paint a bleak picture, hope is seen: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:24-28). Our salvation is free; stated before, it is a gift from God. Our salvation is through Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-2). A “propitiation” is a stand-in sacrifice. Jesus was sacrificed so that we do not have to pay for our own sins. We can pay for our own sins, but it involves eternity in the Lake of Fire. Our salvation is without boasting. Just as Ephesians 2 tells us, we can’t take any pride in ourselves for it. Because our salvation is not by the law and not by works. Our salvation is by the law of faith.
“The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23 tells us. That is the penalty for it. If you work a job, you receive wages. Our wages for being sinful is death. Not just a physical death, but the second death spoken of in Revelation 20:14. The casting into the Lake of Fire. But there is a second part to Romans 6:23: “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is only this gift that leads to eternal life.
There is a place for works, absolutely. But they come after we receive Christ as our Savior. Apart from real salvation, they are useless. We can never be good enough. But Jesus was good enough so we don’t have to be. He paid for our sin and now is the “one mediator between God and man…” (I Timothy 2:5). He is waiting to hear your prayer in faith, confessing your sin and your inadequacy to save yourself, and the belief that His death, burial and resurrection is enough to save you. Currently anyone who has not done this is in a state of condemnation from God: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). But Jesus says He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). It is faith in Christ alone that saves. Won’t you take that step?
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” –Romans 10:9-10, 13
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” –Acts 16:30-32