God’s Simple Plan of Salvation
Every religion/religious system has one thing in common. They all believe – to some extent or another – that humanity must improve as individual people. Even those who argue that people are essentially “good,” would likely agree that no one is perfect. Therefore, society itself is not perfect. Religious systems vie for our attention because each believes they can help us achieve higher goals that will ultimately help us become “perfect.”
But why is there this need to be “perfect”? It seems to have been with humanity since the dawn of time. Some religions speak of something called “salvation” which normally includes escaping something we know as “God’s wrath.” Salvation then, at its core, would be finding the way that allows us to escape from God’s eternal wrath in the life that exists after we die.
For Islam for instance, all one must do is recite the following words, “La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah,” which means, “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah),1 and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” This makes one a Muslim who is then on the path to knowing Allah.
Christianity is different from Islam and actually, from all other religious systems. Jesus Himself said that He “is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). That statement means Jesus is the only way to gain salvation.
But we truly need to ask ourselves this question: What is salvation and how do we gain it?
In John 3, Jesus had a conversation with one of the Pharisees, a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus, though a religious leader of the nation of Israel, failed to grasp the message of Jesus and what it meant for him (Nicodemus). I would suggest stopping right now to read the entire third chapter of the gospel of John by going to this link, or at least John 3:1-21.
Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because Nicodemus was leery of what the other pharisees might think of him. After offering Jesus a compliment, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What? Jesus said that a person must be “born again” (or “born from above”) and if this does not happen, they will not see the kingdom of God. In other words, without this second birth, a person will not inherit eternal life. It was that simple, but not to Nicodemus. He didn’t get it and said as much with his reply.
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?
Jesus’ response to Nicodemus was enlightening, but not to Nicodemus.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In the first sentence, Jesus tells Nicodemus that a person must be born of water (physical birth through the amniotic sack). This first birth is our entry into this world as human beings. Then Jesus says that the second birth – being born of “the Spirit” – must occur after that. Without these two births, eternal salvation can never be received.
But what exactly is this spiritual birth? Unlike Islam that teaches by saying a specific sentence, one becomes Muslim, in Christianity, there is a spiritual renewal or transaction that occurs. This spiritual transaction occurs when God opens our spiritual eyes to the truth. Let me provide an example from the Bible.
In the text of Luke 23:33-43, we learn that as Jesus hung dying on the cross, two men (also crucified) ridiculed and reviled Jesus. But not long after that, one of the men appears to have a change of heart. He now sees Jesus differently. He sees Him as a King. Why the about-face? We don’t know for certain.
What we do know is that one of the men who had previously thrown insults at Jesus was now asking for a favor. He wanted Jesus to “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” For some unknown reason, this man hanging next to Jesus awaiting death with Him, saw the truth about Jesus and based on that truth, asked Jesus to allow him to be part of Jesus’ coming Kingdom.
Jesus’ response was instant, to the point, and rewarding. He told the man, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43). Paradise was jargon for Sheol, which was believed to have two parts prior to Jesus’ resurrection. One part housed those who were condemned to experience God’s wrath for all eternity while the other part housed those who had received salvation, enabling them to avoid God’s wrath. You can read more about this in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31.
The one thief realized he was not good enough in and of himself. He needed someone outside of himself to help him to escape God’s eternal wrath. He believed that someone was Jesus.
This brings us to an important question. Why did Jesus need to die in the first place? Simply put, it is due to sin in the world as well as the sin in our own lives.
Originally, we were supposed to follow the only rule He provided (not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; Genesis 3). That was the only rule. Eve, then Adam broke it and in doing so, brought sin, corruption, and death into this world. But God’s rule had been simple and had our first parents obeyed it, they would have inherited salvation.
That precept still stands today. If we follow and obey all of God’s law, then we also will inherit salvation. The problem though is that we cannot do that simply because we are born sinners with a nature that is bent towards sinning. It is impossible for us to be thoroughly good and obey every law of God all the time. We have no capacity to be perfect.
But God has a solution so that we can avoid His wrath in eternity. The solution involved someone living a perfect life – never sinning, ever – then offering himself as an atonement for the sins of the world for all who will place their faith in that Person. This is what the entire Mosaic sacrificial system is all about. It points to Jesus who paid the sin price once for all, then after He rose from the dead, He sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus was done, unlike the continuous sacrifices that would need to be offered under the Mosaic law.
Rather than choose a human being to try to live perfectly, God opted to volunteer for that role Himself. This He did in the second Person of the Godhead, Jesus. Jesus, born of a woman (ensuring humanity), yet without sin (God kept the sin nature from being given to Jesus) throughout His entire life, always submitting to the Father ultimately laying down His life for yours and mine. This is the foundational belief. This is where it starts.
Essentially then, all people – in order to receive salvation – must understand and agree with the following:
- You are a sinner, born that way, destined to sin. That corruption keeps us from God (Romans 3:23).
- You cannot escape God’s wrath no matter how “good” you might think you are in the here and now.
- Because of this, people must look outside of themselves for help.
- God in the form of Jesus, is that Helper, our Substitute.
- Jesus became sin for us though He Himself did not ever sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- We must believe these truths, that Jesus was/is God, became human, born without sin and never sinned, became a substitute for us that we might have eternal life (Romans 5:8).
- Believing these things must be predicated upon on awakening by God Himself, which normally follows our new birth in Christ (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:8-10). Our belief in Christ gains our salvation.
- Believing – no matter how seemingly insignificant – will grow into full faith if it is true belief to start with.
- This is what brings about our “second birth.”
We must acknowledge that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves from God’s wrath. We must look outside of ourselves for any measure of salvation. It is only found in Jesus. No other religion, religious sect, or plan for living fulfills all of God’s law as Jesus did with His sinless life, His shedding of blood as a substitute for us (so that we would not have to die for our own sins, which would simply mean we face eternal hell), and His resurrection proving His power over sin and death.
Do you see? None of this is based on how you might FEEL. It is based on either truth or a lie. You must decide, but I am asking you to choose wisely.
Talk to God. Bring your concerns and even your lack of faith to Him. Ask Him to open your eyes that you might see this truth. Once there, ask Him to help you embrace it so that it becomes part of you. This is the second birth Jesus speaks of to Nicodemus in John 3.
Once this spiritual transaction is done, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit personally seals us until the day of Redemption (the day we die and stand before Jesus). He tells us this in Ephesians 4:30. Read also the first part of Ephesians 2:1-10.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
This is God’s plan for you – for all people. Will you receive it? Will you be willing to allow God to open your eyes to His truth about you and about His plan for you? I pray you will. Turn to Him now asking Him to make this come alive for you.