If you are adding your good works to what Jesus has done on the cross, so you can be saved, I will not see you in heaven. Your faith is not in Jesus. It is in yourself.
At the center of human history is a cross, and a man unlike any other. Why did this man come to the world and die on a cross? Matthew states the purpose of His coming and death in the opening chapter of the New Testament. “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus said, “The Son of man came to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15).
So who saves us? Does He? Or do we? Or do we both make a contribution? Will we be congratulated for helping Him save us? Or will He be congratulated for helping us save ourselves? Who is the Savior?
The Bible says, “God has saved us and called us, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (II Tim. 1:9); “It is not out of works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy that He saved us” (Tit. 3:5); “By grace you are saved through faith; and this is not out of [or from] you. It is the gift of God. It [salvation] does not come from works, so that no one will boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). It’s pretty clear we’re not saved by our works.
Let’s take a closer look at what Paul said in Ephesians 2:8.
He says, “By grace you are saved.” Our English words, “you are,” have a present continuous tense in the Greek text. Could that mean we are presently saved? Could it mean what Paul is saying? Seems like a funny question, doesn’t it? If I say, “I am a man,” I am stating a present reality.
If I say, “The sky is blue,” do you regard it as a prophetic remark? Something you hope is true? Or is there a blue sky above you when you look up?
Let’s return to our “microscope” over Ephesians 2:8.
Not only is “you are” a present reality, the word “saved” is given in the perfect tense. When someone tells you, “You have won the Grand Prix!”, is it still something you hope you can pull off some day? Obviously not! You just won it! You don’t need to win the Grand Prix so you can say you won the Grand Prix when you’ve already won the Grand Prix!
That’s what Paul is saying about salvation. His statement is more accurately translated, “You have been saved.” It has the force of driving a spike into a rail. It is an action taken that will forever change the future. In reality, you have crossed “Jordan” and are safe. The writer of Hebrews agrees: “You have come [perfect tense] to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22). That’s why Paul can say, “He raised us together and seated us together [with Christ] in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6) when he says, “you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5,8).
The words “you are saved” in Ephesians 2:8, are written in the same way, and with the same force, as Jesus’ momentous words on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Let’s look at Jesus’ words.
What do they mean?
Just before He died, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Are we expected, or obliged, to add to this? Can we? Why would He say such a thing if we were or could? He didn’t say, “I started building a bridge. Now it is up to you to complete it.” He said, “It is finished.”
What is finished? The writer of Hebrews gives us the answer. Upon His death, Christ “obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:11,12). What else do we need?
On the cross He obtained our eternal redemption: our salvation! It is done! It is a fait accompli. This fulfills the words of Isaiah. “He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). It won’t do any good whipping ourselves.
If the sinless God-man, suffering unimaginable pain and agony and giving His life blood for us, is not enough, what can we possibly do beyond that to save ourselves?
One final thought.
If we are true believers, our good works will follow and reveal this (John 8:31; Rev. 14:13; Eph. 2:10; Tit. 3:8,14; Matt. 5:16). But true followers of Jesus will not be saved because they had enough good works to save them or because they had the tenacity and the will power to hang on. They are saved because Jesus Christ, the Savior, has obtained eternal life for them: because He hung on. He hung on the cross. In response to this reality–this anchor secured in heaven (Heb. 6:18-20): that we “have” eternal life (I Pet. 1:3,4)–we will endure until the end, with the help of God (Matt. 24:13; I Pet. 1:5; II Tim. 4:6-8).
We are not “saved by the bell,” like some dogged boxer hanging on the ropes till time runs out in the tenth round. But we are saved by the Savior. We are not saved because we made it to the end of our life without “messing up”: because we got there. But because He prevailed and got there first!
© James Unruh 2016 and beyond