Biblical salvation is even more wonderful than you’ve been told.
There’s more to our salvation than most of us have realized. I’ve been taught by some great teachers, but I’ve never heard what I’m sharing with you here. Please don’t think you don’t need to read this. What I have just recently come to realize has drastically altered my understanding of my salvation. I knew the facts and the verses, but the enormity of the truth of God’s righteousness had remained hidden…until recently. Please spend some time meditating on this. As you read, you will likely be thinking I know all this then all of a sudden, the truth will knock you over. I’ve taken the big picture approach so you’ll see that this has been God’s plan from the beginning. Most of us have simply failed to believe it.
Ever since sin entered the picture when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, mankind has been cursed with a sin nature. Consequently, we all sin because we’re born with this “natural attraction” to sin. In short, we’re born as sinners. Sin is part of who we are, and it’s our sin that has separated us from God. God’s plan of salvation is His remedy to remove our sin so all of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, could be restored to an intimate, loving relationship with Him. His plan also included restoring the righteousness that was lost. This plan would take time, a lot of time. The Bible is an account of how God implemented His solution through human history in a way that revealed His endless love for man, even while he was deep in his sin.
As a “born sinner,” man enjoyed his sin and wanted no part of any deity claiming authority over him. God’s plan was to form a new nation, one ruled by Him. Through this nation He would show the world what righteousness looked like and would display the wisdom of living according to His standards. God would reveal His love for all people through this unique nation called Israel. It began with a man named Abram. God promised to make Abram’s name great and to make him into a great nation in the land which he would show him. Through one of Abram’s descendants, all the families of the earth would be blessed. Abram (Abraham) didn’t realize it at the time, but that descendant would be God’s ultimate solution to man’s sin and righteousness problem. Through Him would come the salvation the world needed. God’s only requirement of Abram was that he simply believe God and trust Him to keep His promise.
When the time was right, God established the Law for His new nation, Israel, and its people, the Jews, named after the tribe of Judah. This Law set forth God’s standards for righteous living. He clearly explained the consequences of disobedience. The Jewish people vowed to live according to everything outlined in the Law. God knew they would fail miserably because they were powerless to overcome the sin within them. The whole point of the Law was to reveal their inability to live according to God’s standards and to drive them to God’s solution—Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
Despite their failures, God’s chosen people refused to believe they were as bad and as powerless as God said they were. They had convinced themselves that they were actually respectable and upright, and that God would save them because of their special status as recipients and keepers of His Law. They were determined to prove that their own righteousness would be sufficient to overcome their sin problem.
Even though God had singled out the Jewish people as His own, His plan of redemption had always included both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews would serve as an example of how every man’s own righteousness could never overcome the power of sin. Then, when all the elements of God’s plan were in place, it was time to implement the final phase. Since righteousness and sin couldn’t coexist, sin had to be removed and righteousness restored. Because of God’s own righteousness and justice, He had to punish sin, but He loved His people so much that He couldn’t bear the thought of putting them through the punishment their sins deserved.
His solution was to send His own beloved Son in the form of a human baby. He would be fully man and yet fully God. Because of His sinless life, He would become the perfect sacrifice that met all the requirements of His Law. He would serve as a substitute for the people. He would suffer in their place. He would not only bear their sins, He would become their sins. When He died, their sins would die. The sin problem would be solved and His people would be spared. His own Son would pay the price. To show the world that God had accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, He raised Him from the dead.
With the sin problem solved, the thing that had separated God and man (sin) had been removed. The remaining issue was the restoration of righteousness, but whose righteousness? To God, the righteousness of the people always had been and always would be like filthy rags, forever tainted by the remnants of sin (Isaiah 64:6). There was only one solution.
God would supply His own righteousness.
The effects and benefits of Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross were now available to anyone, Jew or Gentile. The Law had served its purpose in showing man’s inability to meet God’s standards. His efforts to attain an acceptable righteousness of his own had been a pathetic exercise in futility. Having fulfilled its purpose, the Law was abolished. God’s solution had been displayed on a cross. The stage was now set for God to forgive sins and provide His own righteousness to those who would place their faith in the person and the finished works of His Son—Jesus, the Christ (anointed one).
So, how does a person today receive God’s salvation and His righteousness? Jesus made it very clear when He said, “He who believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47). Everyone in the world wasn’t automatically saved when Jesus died and was raised, only those who believed. But what must the seeker believe? He must believe that Jesus, the infinite, eternal God-Man, became his substitute, paid his sin debt with His own life on the cross, and was raised from the dead on the third day after His death. Jesus also said that He would give the right to become a child of God to anyone who received Him—that is, anyone who believed in His name—everything about Him and His character (John 1:12). But just what does it mean to receive Jesus?
This is where I believe the “Christian community” has done a great disservice to those who are seeking the real God. We have failed miserably to explain (or to believe) the depth of the transaction that takes place when a person receives Jesus. To say that we are born again (saved) when we “receive Jesus into our hearts” gives the wrong idea. It suggests that we are adding Jesus to us, welcoming Him into our lives. It suggests that now we have Jesus to help us on our journey to be a better Christian. It suggests that we have decided to let Him in because, in Him, we have found what we have been looking for.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bible makes it clear that no one seeks God (Rom. 3:11). People come to Jesus only because the Father has drawn them (John 6:44). God takes the initiative, not us. No one becomes a seeker unless God has already drawn him. It’s all God’s doing. It’s all God’s grace. God does the giving because we’ve got nothing worthwhile to contribute. In fact, according to Romans 3:12, we’re all hopelessly worthless and useless.
We present “receiving Jesus” as if it means that His presence in our hearts begins a supernatural makeover to shape us up, to make us presentable, acceptable, and mature. We ask for His help because we know He’s got a lot of work to do, and the process may take a lifetime. We see ourselves as a work in progress. One day we’ll have been made right. One day we will finally become completely righteous. Oh, what a glorious day that will be!
This must bring tears of sadness to our Lord. This doesn’t even come close to revealing the real transaction of “receiving Jesus.” This belief (receiving Jesus into our hearts) reveals that we are just like the Jews who sought a righteousness of their own (Rom. 10:3). We think we can attain an acceptable righteousness with some help from Jesus.
God’s plan of salvation was not about making the most of who we were through a God-assisted spiritual makeover.
It was about complete and absolute “replacement.”
The “old” had to die so something brand new could come. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, the “old man,” the man he used to be was crucified along with Christ on the cross. Crucifixion means death, and biblical death means separation, not ceasing to exist.
When a person dies, he is separated from his former life and condition. An unbeliever who dies becomes separated from God forever. Throughout eternity, he will live with the consequences of rejecting God’s love for him. As a descendant of Adam, he carries his sin nature with him beyond death. He will be a slave to sin forever. By his own choice, he will spend eternity in a place originally meant only for Satan and his demons—a place where the horrors of unbridled sin are experienced forever—a place called hell.
A believer in Christ, however, becomes separated from everything that bound him to earth—his old unredeemed body, sin itself, and all worldly enticements. He becomes separated from all things “earthly” so he can enjoy forever all things “heavenly.”
For the believer, separation means that the power of sin that dwelled within his old man, his old nature, has been cut off. It has been “put out of business.” He is no longer a slave to it. He has a choice. So, what are his choices?
Since the “old man” wasn’t annihilated, what happened to it? It lives on in what the Bible calls “the flesh.” It still entices the believer with the same old temptations as before. The difference is that its power over the believer has been broken. The believer now has a second option—to walk in the Spirit. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please (Gal. 5:17).
So, where did the Spirit come from? Remember, God’s plan was about separation and replacement. This is where replacement comes in. Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17). In place of the void left by the old man with its sin nature, God inserts the life of Christ Himself. This life is brought to believers via the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This means that the choice the believer has—the choice between operating in the flesh or in the Spirit, is a choice between living his life exactly as before, as though nothing had changed, or allowing the resurrected Lord Jesus to live out His life through him. In the first, sin still reigns. In the latter, Christ reigns. In the first, sin is his life. In the latter, Christ is his life.
Here’s a description that has helped me to understand this remarkable transaction (what happens when we are born again). At the moment we receive Him and are born again, we are transferred from the line of Adam (the life we were born into) and placed into the line (and life) of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). We have now entered into His eternal life (John 17:3) which extends to eternity past and eternity future. We share His life as we walk in the Spirit.
Since we are now “in Him,” and He is eternal, what happened to Him in the past happened to us. Therefore, when He died on the cross, we (our old self) died with Him. When He was buried, so were we. And when Jesus was raised to newness of life, so were we (Rom. 6:4).
Once again, for believers in Jesus Christ, the old man from our former days lives on in the flesh. This explains why we struggle with some of the same things we did before we were saved. The difference now is that it’s power over us has been broken. Our old self couldn’t be fixed, helped, or matured. It had to be replaced, and what a replacement—the life of Jesus residing in us! Not just part of Him, but everything, including His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).
What a solution! Not only did God, through Christ, save us from our sins, but He replaced the old person we used to be with the life of His Son, who would live His life through our bodies and our personalities. The righteousness within us now is Christ’s. It wasn’t bestowed on us or given to us. It’s not a thing at all. It’s now part of who we are.
Our new identity is Christ’s righteousness.
Do you get it? Do you see the magnitude of this wonderful truth? You’re not becoming more righteous. Jesus, along with His righteousness, resides within you.
When Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished,” just before He died, He meant more than we realize. He made us a finished work. We’re not a “work in progress.” There’s nothing in us to be fixed or improved. He meant that He had already blessed us with every blessing we could ever desire (Eph. 1:3). When we received Christ, we received everything we would ever need. It’s ours right now (2 Peter 1:3). We don’t need to ask God to bless us. He already has, more than we realize. When we stumble in our spiritual walk, it’s not because we’re insufficient in any way. Our problem is that we’re still learning to walk in light of the truth of who God has made us to be.
Yet, most Christians act as though they’re still bound to their old self with nothing having changed. They act as though Christ came to help them become a better Christian, to show them the way and to urge them on so that someday they can stand before God having finally “made it,” having finally “arrived,” having finally become righteous.
Jesus didn’t come to help us. He came to replace our old life with His own, granting to us His own righteousness.
Salvation, therefore, is a matter of believing the truth and allowing that truth to set us free. Christ has already set us free, but we have refused to believe it, so we hang on to the things that used to drag us down. We pray for deliverance when Christ has already delivered us. We pray for strength when Jesus has already given us His strength. We ask for power when Christ has already given us the same power that raised Him from the dead. We simply refuse to believe it. This is why so many people are turned off by what they see masquerading as new life. It’s nothing more than the old life with Jesus added to make them look better.
This sounds harsh, but it’s true. Once again, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Most Christians act as though this new creation is some indescribable modified form of who they were—a form that needs Jesus’ help to become mature and complete through Bible reading, prayer, and acts of service. These things are important, even essential, but they can’t make us into something we already are. They are meant to draw us closer to the One who has already showered blessing after blessing on such undeserving screw-ups as us.
Spiritual maturity isn’t a matter of adding something to make us better Christians. It’s learning to walk in the Spirit while denying the flesh. It’s a matter of removing every remnant of our old self that still clings to us—remnants such as the lie that Jesus came to fix us or help us.
God’s plan of salvation was the most wonderful trade in all of history. We traded our sin for the righteousness of God! Not our own supposed righteousness on spiritual steroids, but God’s very own righteousness in the person of Jesus Christ. He pursued us, saved us, and gave us His righteousness, as well as every blessing we would ever need. All He asks of us is that we believe.
Now for the tough part. We have a difficult decision to make. Are we content simply to call ourselves Christians, or are we serious about allowing Christ to live out His life through us? The two are light-years apart. Becoming a Christian, according to the most widely accepted standards, is easy. Believe in Jesus, who He is and what He did, and the gospel message, usually acknowledging your decision in a prayer, and “you’re in.”
Allowing Jesus to be your life is another matter. It requires absolute and complete surrender to Him. We must deny ourselves (the flesh) and take up our cross (Mt. 16:24). This means we give up all rights to ourselves, which is possible only if we agree that we died with Christ just as the apostle Paul did. We have been separated from the person we used to be. We are biblically dead, and dead people have no rights. Submitting to Jesus means going wherever He leads us, regardless of the cost. Our plans are meaningless. Our personal desires are inconsequential. We belong to Jesus. We are His.
Does this describe most Christians you know? Does this describe you? Jesus made His requirements for following Him crystal clear, but we act as though He really doesn’t expect us to go that far. Surely, He can’t expect us to be willing to give up the things we’ve worked so hard for. Surely, He can’t expect us to adjust our entire life around Him. That’s just not practical. He just wouldn’t do that…would He? We acknowledge that Jesus bought us at the cost of His life, but deep down, in our flawed theology, we assure ourselves that this is just theological hyperbole. He can’t possibly mean that He owns us…can He? And on and on we go with our excuses for bringing Jesus into our worlds when it’s convenient instead of molding our lives around Him.
Back to our dilemma. Do we simply want to be called a Christian or are we serious about allowing Jesus to be our life? It’s easy to make the case that what I have described takes a long time. It’s all about making Jesus Lord. Accepting Him as our Savior is easy. Accepting Him as our Lord takes time, sometimes a lifetime. My point is this: how many “mature” Christians do you know who have denied themselves, taken up their cross, given up all rights to themselves, and have unselfishly followed Jesus? Probably not many. Why? Because we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re fine and Jesus is happy with things just the way they are.
Are you investigating Christianity? Are you looking for something that suits your needs? Or are you willing to submit to the One who valued you enough to die for you so that you could leave the old behind, embrace the new (Christ Himself in you), and become one with the God of the universe (John 17:22)? The former is easy and won’t require any modifications to your life. The latter will be difficult. It will require hard work and sacrifice. You will become Jesus’ bond-slave. One allows you to stay where you are. The other will take you into a world beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed. The choice is yours.
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