Salvation – a “rescue operation”
It is very good and necessary to think about what the word “salvation” entails. It is the same as “rescue.” Salvation in Jesus Christ is a “rescue operation.” As humans, we find ourselves in a hopeless situation because of sin. We are in need, not just of a little help – no, we must be saved from the stranglehold of sin and our self-will. This is precisely what Jesus wants to do with us, and nobody else is able to do it. He has the power to forgive our sins and to help us in the moment of temptation so that we can overcome. And He will transform us into His own image. The gospel does not give us hope for improvement, but for transformation.
My own righteousness
We are to proclaim the virtues of Christ, but these should not be confused with good human qualities. There is a big difference between us as people. Some people are born with an exceptional strength of character, while others are weak and yielding. Some are very selfish while others have an obliging and sacrificing nature. But God is not unfair. It is not the case that those born with “good” human inclinations have greater value in His eyes. No, everyone needs salvation. Our good human traits are very limited. For example, we may exhibit some patience or some kindness, but if conditions become too demanding, our innate willingness and courtesy will soon end.
There is a huge difference, between good human qualities and the virtues of Christ. We can exhibit high morals, be kind and good and live a good life, but if we are truthful and honest, we quickly discover that our best deeds are not pure. For example, self-admiration may be hiding behind our helpfulness, and while doing something good for others, we may be judging them a little, or we have hidden demands, etc. We can do a lot that looks good, but we are absolutely unable to reflect the eternal kingdom of God and radiate the glory that is in God.
The good we do by virtue of our own efforts can be summed up under the term “my own righteousness.” It can be stretched quite far, but it has nothing to do with “the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Philippians 3:4-9) Like Paul, we must come to the acknowledgment that, “in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.” Romans 7:18. It is a process that all disciples must go through. Here everyone is on the same footing.
“I fall short”
It is very instructive and faith-strengthening to read how J.O. Smith describes this process from “my own righteousness” to “the righteousness which is from God by faith:”
“According to the flesh I am evil from the sole of my foot to the top of my head. My best works are swollen with egotism; my love overflows with self-admiration. My ‘Christianity’ only accentuates all the outward splendor that is used to gather all honor into the unfillable barns of self.
“This way of life became repulsive to me. I realized that I was saturated with the leaven of malice. I said to God: ‘Surely I’m not a Christian. My life is an abomination, and I fall short in every area.’
“From that moment, Christ became my life. I came to understand that He is the life. From that moment, I saw myself as a wreck. I hate my life in this world, because it is evil, and I will never again try to make something of it.”
(From Letters of Johan O. Smith, # 8, August 2nd, 1905)
A life in Jesus’ footsteps
I must come to the conclusion that I simply cannot live the new life. I must come to the point where I understand that I must live in faith with help from Jesus, who will save me from my badness and my folly. With this understanding, I come before the throne of grace and pray with all my heart for mercy and grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) God sees my need and He hears my prayer, and strengthens my mind with His Word when I come into temptations and trials. The answer to prayer does not mean that I am no longer tempted or tried – no, it consists of learning obedience in suffering and ceasing from my sin. (Hebrews 5:7-8) And divine nature comes forth.
There are great and glorious depths in this gospel, and we will never finish exploring the possibilities that the message of the cross gives. A transformation takes place, which comes from God. A pleasing heavenly aroma, the fragrance of Jesus Christ, appears in my life. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) That is something completely different from just high morals. It is a life in Jesus’ footsteps, a crucified disciple life. May God open our eyes so that we by faith bear the dying of Jesus in our bodies and experience that His life is becoming more and more visible in us.