Have you ever felt helpless? Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you prayed, or no matter how much you believed, you still felt imperfect? That you could never truly please God or make the right choice? Have I got a Gospel for you.
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God….” (Romans 3:10-11 NIV)
Christianity has made salvation a choice. And not only a choice, as if you were deciding between an apple or an orange, but a choice that comes with an act of repentance. Choosing is but the first step, what follows on from this must be the fruits of that choice. Every single part of you, down to the smallest hair on the back of your neck, needs a complete overhaul. And this burden is placed on your shoulders. God may “help” you or “give you the strength,” so to speak, but ultimately you are the one who must choose to struggle in order to earn the mark of salvation.
It sounds like I am placing the Christian gospel in an unfair light. Perhaps I’m making things sound much worse than they really are. If I am then the answer to this question should be easy. Is the person who has stopped struggling with sin or warring against the flesh (i.e. striving for purity) just as saved as one who does fight and struggle? Allow me to go a step further. Is the person who doesn’t believe in Jesus saved? If not, then what I said above is perfectly agreeable with the Christian position. Salvation comes from works within ourselves.
If this is true then what did Paul mean when he said that we are all under the power of sin? What did he mean when he quoted from the Psalms that no one seeks God? Salvation from works does not and cannot cohere with these words. We are completely and wonderfully helpless.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44 ESV)
Have you ever heard the preacher call out an Evangel of repentance? He tells you that you must adhere to his message before it’s too late. But what will happen to you if you don’t accept it? An honest atheist might even say that they cannot accept it because they cannot believe it. But it’ll be too late. The house will burn down with them inside it. They deserve it because, when all is said and done, they chose it.
The Christian gospel tells of Jesus pulling up in front of the housefire and honking on the horn, waiting for you to run outside. If you don’t, He eventually drives away, muttering the words, “Well, suit yourself. I tried.”
I’m going to paint another picture of salvation. A picture that sits us where we are: utterly helpless and unable to escape the burning building on our own. Friends, here is Paul’s Evangel (and I’ll explain why it is Paul’s in a moment): You’re trapped in the burning building, unable to rescue yourself nor find a way out. Jesus pulls up and finds you nowhere in sight. He realizes you need a rescuer so He jumps out of the car and runs into the burning building, sacrificing His own life to save you. He finds you unconscious on the floor, pillars of fire rising around you, and He picks you up and pulls you out of the fire. He seats you in the backseat of His car, heals your wounds, and starts the car towards the road to glory.
Throughout this process, you did not do a single thing. You were as a dead man (Ephesians 2:5). Unconscious in your sins. You could not even call on Him for help and yet He saved you. When you wake up and realize what He did for you, you shout out “You saved me! Who are you? I want to know you!” Belief is simply the joyful, exuberant response to being overwhelmed with grace.
Yet the grace of our Lord overwhelms, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14 Concordant Literal Version)
Did you notice the order? His wonderful grace overwhelms first and with it comes faith and love in Christ Jesus. This does not come from my choice, but from God’s. Not my free will, but God’s. The church teaches the opposite of this and challenges you by asking that if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity? I cannot see how this evangel offers any comfort, shines any light on the grace and goodness of God, or demonstrates how Jesus is supposed to be so wonderful if He did not actually save me where I stand in my helpless state. He merely provided a second chance for me to save myself.
When I was going to church at the time I noticed a certain confusion among them. They knew that Paul came to know Christ because he was struck by glory on the road to Damascus. There was no conscious choice on Paul’s part to seek Jesus. He felt no remorse, uncertainty, or fear on his way to Jerusalem. He was set in his way, determined to carry out his plan, until….
….I (was) shown mercy, that in me, the foremost, Jesus Christ should be displaying all His patience, for a pattern of those who are about to be believing on Him for life eonian. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 CLNT bold mine)
The church taught that Paul was the exception because He had such a high calling. Paul, on the other hand, said that his redemption will be a pattern for all who are about to be believing. Although ours isn’t always as majestic as Paul’s the principle remains. Paul is not the exception, rather he is the example, and all who come to know of the truth of their salvation will do so in spite of themselves.
The grace of God overwhelms us all in His perfect time and we, in our wonderfully helpless state, can do nothing but enjoy it. Excited yet?