Photo by Teodoro S Gruhl
I came across something that I wanted to share while reading over things related to Galatians 2:1-10 last week. It was a story near the beginning of an article by John Sartelle at the Ligonier Ministries site:
She was eighty-six and her body was failing but her mind was clear. The doctor had said she would not last the month. I was on my way out of town for two days and stopped by her home. After I read some verses from the Scriptures she asked a question that still rings in my ears after thirty-seven years: “John, do you think I have done enough to be saved?” I spoke to her of God’s grace to sinners and quoted passages about Christ dying for the ungodly. Then I prayed with her and left. She died the next day. She had been a charter member of the church I was serving. She had heard the gospel preached every Sunday for over a half century. Yet, hours away from her death she was still striving to do enough to earn her salvation.I am concerned that for many people, including some who study the Bible, pray, interact with other Christians, attend church and even believe that “salvation comes by faith in Christ,” there is still a belief that we must do things, or avoid doing certain things, to be saved. Something just doesn’t click. Some people don’t even realize that what they think is the gospel is actually not the gospel, or that their answer to the question, “How can a person be saved?” is actually not biblically correct, or that though the wording of their answer is correct, they misunderstand it. They might say that salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ but still think in terms of whether this sin will send them to hell or whether this deed will help them get to heaven.
The Ligonier article starts with a verse, Galatians 2:4: “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”
The “bondage” Paul is talking about here, as we addressed in Bible study last week, is the Law given by God to the Israelites. Today, we might not think in terms of “God’s law,” but we end up in bondage when we try to earn God’s favor, and a spot in heaven, by being good. I think of how the message of Christianity is often distorted and distilled in our culture to being about how this or that sin condemns people to hell, as if we can get to heaven if we just avoid certain sins, or if we somehow make up for those things in our past that the church clearly condemns.
The thing is, of course, that any sin is a damnable offense. And once we’ve sinned, we can’t make up for it. We just can’t be good enough. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinners might do things right some of the time, but that’s not good enough. Salvation isn’t about picking and choosing behaviors so that we avoid enough of the bad, and do enough of the good, to be saved. Paul writes in Galatians 3:10 that “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” If you don’t do all the things written in the law, then you are cursed. And since we are all sinners who do not keep everything in God’s law, we are cursed.
This makes the deathbed question easy to answer. “Do you think I have done enough to be saved?” The Bible says “No.” If you spend your life trying to earn your way into heaven, the answer is always “No, it’s not enough.” You haven’t done enough, because you can’t. You didn’t do everything perfectly; you didn’t keep the entire law. You are incapable of it; your sinful, depraved nature won’t allow it. You are doomed.
Or rather, you are doomed if you try to save yourself. The idea of facing death with fear in your heart that you did not do enough to earn your salvation is heartbreaking. It would be terrifying. And it’s devastating to imagine the people who face an eternity with the answer, “No.”
Being what people might call “good” does not save us. But believing in Jesus does. He’s our only option. I just pray that the Holy Spirit makes that reality “click” with more and more people, and that Christians -- myself included -- will be a people who share the gospel often and clearly.