Christianity is based largely on trust. We have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, but for the most part they remain as promises. We have eternal life, we are told, but we still die. We will be raised incorruptible, but in this life our bodies still degenerate. We have fellowship with the Father, we are assured, but sometimes he seems terribly distant.
How can we be sure it is all true? Although we have evidence in nature and in Scripture, we must still have a large component of trust. We have to take God’s word for it, to trust him to be faithful. We have no other choice.
All beliefs require faith. Atheism requires that certain ideas be believed. Agnosticism involves beliefs that have no proof. Hinduism, Buddhism, animism and all other isms involve believing ideas that cannot be proven. Our decision, then, is not whether to have faith, but what to have faith in. Christians have faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus died for our sins
Faith in Christ means much more than merely believing that he exists, as if we are saved by our knowledge. Faith means more than agreeing that he is our Savior, that he died for our sins. That is important, but faith involves more than that.
If we believe that Jesus died for our sins, then we also believe that we sinned, and that our sins deserved death. We believe that we could not pay for our own sins, and if Jesus did not die for us, then we would be condemned, excluded from the kingdom of heaven. If we accept Christ as our Savior, then we admit that we cannot save ourselves. We don’t just trust in God—we trust in Christ as our only means of being in fellowship with God, our only means of being saved.
If we stand before the judgment seat of Christ and he asks us why we should go into eternal life rather than eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), we cannot talk about ourselves. There’s no point in mentioning all the good things we did, all the laws we kept, all the Bible study we did. The central issue is not what we did, but what has been done about our sins. Everyone has done a mixture of good and bad, righteousness and sin. The question is, What has been done about the bad that we did?
The answer is, Jesus died for our sins. That is the only way our sins can be removed from the record, the only way we can be counted as righteous. It does not matter how many sins we have—Jesus died for them. Even if we have only one little sin and millions of good deeds, the only way we can be counted as perfectly righteous is to accept the death of Christ as covering our transgression. Even if we have millions of sins and very little good in our life, Jesus died for all our sins, no matter how many there are.
We don’t have any physical evidence of that, do we? We can see historical evidence that Jesus died, but historians can never prove that his death covers our sins. For that, we have to trust him, to take his word for it. We can see evidence that he was resurrected, vindicated by God, and that the apostles proclaimed forgiveness in his name, and we have reason to trust him, but it still boils down to trust. We have his word, and we have to trust him. We have no other hope. If there is no God, we are doomed, and if there is no Jesus, we are doomed.
So when it comes to eternal life, where do we stand? Do we stand on our good deeds, or do we stand on the promises of Jesus Christ? When we accept Jesus as our Savior, it means that we stand on him. We trust that in his death, he did everything that is needed for our salvation. We do not trust in ourselves, but in him, for eternal life. Titus 3:5 makes it clear: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
No one can boast in what they have done. No one can say, “I think I’ll make it into the kingdom because I’ve done this or that.” No one gets into the kingdom with a self-made ticket. All we can say is: “I will be saved only because Jesus died for all my sins, even though they were many. I can be here only because I was invited, and he paid for my ticket.”
When we stop discussing the righteous deeds we have done and focus instead on Jesus’ grace, then we have accepted Jesus as our Savior. If we try to claim some credit, even a little bit, then we are not fully trusting in Christ.
Is it fair?
“But that’s not fair,” some people say. “People who do good are locked out because they rejected the gospel, and criminals are welcomed because they accepted it on their deathbed? Where is the logic in that?” The logic is that everybody has done a mixture of good and evil. The question is not whether one has done more good than sin, but whether the sin has been taken care of.
People who insist on doing things their own way, even if they usually do good, cannot be trusted, because “their own way” will eventually fail. People who reject the grace of God are stuck in pride. Some people think they are good enough for God on their own righteousness, but they woefully underestimate the goodness of God.
On the other hand, people who admit their sins, even if they are many, are on the road to recovery. People who admit that they don’t have a chance, except for the grace of God, are willing to accept God’s help—and that is the only way that eternal life will be enjoyable. People are saved not so much on where they are on the highway, but on the direction they are looking.
We have to admit that we aren’t God, that we can’t work our way into being perfect. Jesus told this parable about it:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:10-13)
Jesus’ point is that we must recognize our need for mercy. If we think we are OK because of what we have done, we are not OK, no matter how much good we have done. We have misunderstood what “good” is. We have neglected the most important duty in the universe: to worship God. We have turned our backs on our Creator, trying to be independent of him, refusing to believe him when he says that there is no way we can be good on our own, and that we need his mercy and help.
For spiritual life, we must recognize that we are dependent on God, not just for physical life but also for spiritual life and well-being. When we understand grace, we become grateful to God for his mercy. We know that we fall way short of his glory, but he loves us anyway. This does not cause us to despise him, but to love him. We are moved to worship him even more as we see more clearly the endless depths of his love and patience. As Titus 2:12 says, God’s grace teaches us to despise sin, and to seek righteousness while we wait for Christ to complete the process he has begun in our lives.
In Christ, we have confidence! He has demonstrated his commitment to us—he did this by setting aside his glory to become a human to give his life for us. We can be sure that he will complete the job.
His resurrection is evidence that God approves of his sacrifice for us, that it was accepted, that it was an effective atonement. His miracles, his resurrection and his ongoing help in our lives all testify that he can and will do what he has promised. He is the God-human mediator, uniquely qualified to give us fellowship with God.
An unfinished work
But we do not yet see what we shall be. We still see sin in ourselves, we struggle, we see ourselves falling short time and time again. Yet we do not despair, for we are assured that Jesus’ death covers all sins, even ours. Our failures do not depress us, but cause us to be more thankful for God’s mercy. Our confidence is in Christ, not in our performance, not in our fallible efforts to please him. We cannot lean on ourselves, but must lean completely on Christ. Only he is trustworthy.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Joseph Tkach in 2002 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
We are like the patriarchs, who believed in things they could not see (Hebrews 11:1). The patriarchs had plenty of sin, and they had moments of doubt, but they ended up trusting in God. They received some of the promises, but for the really big promises, they died without having received what was promised (verse 13).
Abraham was promised an eternal city, a heavenly home, but he died without it. Our only real evidence is faith. We have no tangible proof that Abraham will get what he believed; we have no tangible proof that we will get the salvation that we look for. What we have are promises. Jesus says: “Yes, you are forgiven. Yes, you have the Holy Spirit living in you. Yes, you have eternal life. Yes, you are qualified for the kingdom. Yes, I will see to it.”
We do not have proof—we have promises, and we have to trust in him. Yes, he has paid for all our sins. Yes, salvation is by grace, a free gift even to the worst of sinners. Yes, he has done what we need. We can trust in him. We can trust him for eternal salvation; we can also trust him in day-to-day life.