wait, we're saved by what?

Do it Yourself Salvation?
As I share Jesus with people, I see more and more just how "works-based" is the human condition. In my neck of the woods, if you ask the average person on the street about the afterlife, most are pretty sure there's a Heaven, or hope there is, and they are pretty sure they'll get there because they've generally been a "good person." Some list off a resumé of things they do, like go to church or pray or read their Bible or be kind to others. Or, as I did in my "good moralist" days, they'll bring up all the things they don't do, like smoke or chew or hang with anyone else who do... uh, does that sort of thing.

People really do want to do, or maybe avoid doing, something in order to please God, if we even believe there is such a Person. And we all want to save ourselves. Even Christians have no intention of letting ourselves truly realize, much less allow anyone else to know, how sinful we really are. We have to be the masters of our fate. Somehow. Some way. There must be something we have to do.

We Really are Saved by Works
The truth is, Christians are saved by works... just not our own. Unfortunately, God says our own works are as good as "filthy rags" or a "polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6 – think disgusting as possible). And we all start out as dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:5). Dead. We can't bring ourselves back to life. We can't bring anything to this equation on our own.

But, by God's grace, believers in Christ are saved by the work of Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life we couldn't, died in the place of His people, rose from the dead and is praying for us right now in Heaven.

And yet, while we are not saved by our own works, we are saved to good works. (Thanks to a former pastor for that clarification.) There is something God will give each of His people to do here on Earth to further His Kingdom and His glory. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Even the work God will have us do He already decided for us. But this work doesn't get or keep us in Christ. It shows that we are His, and only by His power can we do anything truly good.

Examine Yourself
As God was powerfully calling me to Himself in my late 20s, I remember being confused about basically everything. I wasn't sure what was real, or what I really believed. During my quest for answers, I distinctly recall driving to my grandparent's house one night many years ago when I heard John MacArthur speaking on the radio about examining yourself to see if you are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

One of the most helpful tools I have used to aid people in examining themselves and understanding the difference between our own human works and God working through us can be found here:

"The Character of Genuine Saving Faith"
See the categories fleshed out here.
(To best honor copyrights, I'll simply share the links. You can also print their PDF version.)

List I is often the type of material I hear people recite when we discuss God and Heaven: I'm behaved. I know about God or Jesus. I go to church/pray/read my Bible. I help people when I can. I don't do or like bad things (as I define them). I'm good with God. I walked an aisle or prayed a prayer.

These aren't all necessarily bad things. The problem is when they are all focused on "me" and what I've done rather than on Jesus and what He did and is doing. In Matthew 7:21-24, Jesus says people who will say to Him in essence, "Look what we did in Your Name," will hear Him say, "Depart from me, I never knew you," which is a terrifying thought. Plus, alone or collectively, none of List I really indicates that a person knows Christ, or is known by Him, at all. Those are things anyone might do at some point in life.

List II, however, is a different story. These things ignore "what I did" and move to things only Christ can do through us and enable us to do. Our motivations are different. There is often an intangible quality to some of these things, but they are often seen by others in ways people may have difficulty expressing.

I also appreciate that it mentions if list II is true, list I will be also. (FYI, even if you don't have a "date" regarding your conversion, you will see in hindsight where God was working to draw you to Himself.) We are no longer trying to perform. We are motivated by the love and grace of Jesus.

Spend some time with that page and study the accompanying Scriptures. Examine yourself, asking God to show you the motivations of your heart in whatever you do, and asking Him to help you trust Him where you don't. Pray He clearly shows you the difference between your useless and frustrating trying and His perfect and saving doing. Then rest in what only Jesus can do.

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