Here's an excerpt from my book Will the Real Christianity Please Stand Up. This is a question that most people who embrace a religion ask of themselves and others. There are many conflicting answers out there. I once pulled my house door locked and headed off with a set of keys in my pocket. Unfortunately, the key I thought was for the house did not work. I could not get in. Nobody wants to be in that position on judgment day.
“Jesus plus anything spoils everything” is another trite little phrase that get’s bandied about by some modern evangelicals. Let's see - what is the book-chapter-verse reference for that pithy little epigram? Oh, darn, that’s not in the Bible, either. Gosh, in that case, where did it come from? I'm not familiar with the origin. I heard it for the first time from my manager's mouth a few months ago. Shortly after that I discovered the same message in a YouTube video. The crux of the meaning is that Jesus is all that is needed for salvation. In other words, as has been explained to me by evangelical Christians, there is absolutely nothing that we must or even can do to "be saved." We must only trust that the death of Jesus on the cross was all that was necessary for us to gain eternal life. That sounds pretty cool. I receive the greatest thing in and out of this world, and I don't have to do anything to get it. Sounds like a steal of a deal. You know the cliché about something sounding too good to be true. Does scripture really bear that out? Let's take a look and see what you think.
Who would probably be the best source for this type of information? Hmm. Let me take a wild eyed guess and suggest Jesus might be knowledgeable on this subject since it was His flesh that was shredded, His blood that was shed, and His name that was mocked by the Roman soldiers and the mob. What did He tell us concerning this matter? The following are all requirements that I find within the words of Jesus in the Bible concerning the responsibilities and requirements for salvation.
#1 - Although He died so our sins could be forgiven, He said that He will withhold forgiveness for our transgressions if we fail to forgive those who trespass against us. He also told a parable about a man owing a ton of money to a creditor and having a very small amount owed to himself by a poor man. Get the picture - the rich man in the parable in Matthew 18:21-35 took back his forgiveness of the debt when the creditor threw the poor man in jail for failing to pay what he owed. How much clearer can Jesus make the point? So - obviously we have the requirement to forgive.
#2 - Baptism. In the great commission in Mark 16:16 says that he who believes and is baptized will be saved. How reams of paper have been used to explain the nebulous concept of being born again as Jesus related to Nicodemus and hardly a peep is made concerning this seemingly mandatory requirement of baptism baffles me. Is it possible that being born again happens through the ritual death of self in baptism where a person is buried and rises up from the water as a new creature? Acts 2:37-38 says "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Could that indicate that without baptism we are still walking in our sins despite "accepting Jesus into our hearts?" Just playing the Lord's advocate here.
#3 - Take up your cross and follow Him or you are not worthy of him. See Matthew 10:38. This line item might be worthy of its own chapter.
#4 - Keep the commandments. The epistles of John say that if you say you know God but don't love your fellow man, you're a liar and the truth is not in you. Lots of people quote John 3:16, but how many quote John 15:10? Nobody I know of. That verse seems to potentially be a snag in the theory of unconditional love - another topic we need to explore.
#5 - Persevere to the end - Jesus said six times that he that endures to the end shall be saved. That statement brings up questions about eternal security and the impact of the sinner's prayer.
#6 - Help others - read the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25
So, call me crazy, but I cannot for the life of me see where Jesus (or John in example #4) justifies the statement, "Jesus plus anything spoils everything". From what I see from the Savior's own words, Jesus with nothing else spells trouble. I see a desire by people to be on spiritual welfare. Jesus said do, do, do. Evangelical Christians are trying to convince everyone that their salvation is not based upon what they do. How well is that working? James obviously encountered this same argument back in the first century. He tried to convince people that faith without works is dead. He said his works showed that he had faith. What laborer puts in an eight hour day unless he is expecting to be paid? People who labor for the kingdom are showing they have trust that God will reward them. Those who claim salvation as a free gift with no strings attached are showing their trust in God also. But I have to wonder if that trust is misplaced – if their life doesn’t line up with the six points above.
I have no doubt that someone who really loves Jesus is going to alter their behavior to please their Savior, thus culminating in a happy ending come judgment time. However, telling people they don't have to do anything is the perfect way to get them to do nothing. Telling someone that they don't have to obey the commandments to reach Heaven might be very destructive to them and not advantageous to your own fringe benefits in the hereafter. If you question that, perhaps this passage from Matthew 5:18-22 might speak to you: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Bottom line: there is no passage in the Bible that reveals the sinner's prayer as the method to attain salvation. There is nothing that I find in the teachings of Jesus that indicates we are to rely totally upon His death for our salvation and that any attempt to work our way to Heaven would earn us a ticket to Hell. You've seen my list (which is probably not all inclusive) on things Jesus said is required of us.
Am I saying that Jesus died on the cross for nothing? Not even close. He died so that man could be reconciled to God. Without his death, the barrier created by sin was insurmountable. So the scripture that no man enters the kingdom of Heaven except by Jesus is absolutely true in all cases, including Moses, Abraham, and David.
Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10 said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This is one of the cornerstone passages that are used to justify preaching a gospel that says man has no responsibility in the salvation process.
Paul did say one thing here that we must remember. Salvation is not a boasting matter. Walking with Christ means saying goodbye to pride altogether. Humility is an essential ingredient in the recipe of love. Jesus mentioned that we need to obey and that we need to love. In fact we show our love to Him by our obedience. When we stray from that path, we can apply the blood of his sacrifice to be clean once again. Walking the Godly path requires help. Without prayer, the best intentioned man is going to lose his way.
One of the passages of scripture that has gone over my head in the past was the quote in 1 Samuel about obedience being better than sacrifice. I pondered that and always came up with the same thought that obedience was a form of sacrifice. If I obey the commands of Jesus I would have to sacrifice the desires of my flesh. Makes sense to me anyway. But lately the nuance and ambiguity of that statement struck me. The sacrifice mentioned here is not mine but His. What he meant is that it is better to obey instead of sin and then have to reapply the blood of the sacrifice made by Jesus by going to the Lord to ask forgiveness – again. That is saying that our choice of the right path the first time pleases God more than our continual prayers for forgiveness necessitated by our disobedience.
The thing that really accelerates my heart rate and starts the adrenaline flow is hearing someone claim that if I don’t rely totally on Christ and his death on the cross for salvation, then I am going to Hell. In other words, if a man reads through the words of Jesus as I have and comes to the conclusion that man does have some responsibility in the process of salvation and tries to live accordingly, he will be condemned instead of saved because he didn’t have enough faith in Jesus, who spoke the very words that inspired him to live according to God’s guidelines. Sounds kind of paradoxical to me. I believe that if I truly have faith in Christ, I will obey him, forsake my own fiefdom and labor for His kingdom.
Is this a case where “super” faith allows a person to ignore the commands of Jesus? I have to ponder that. From the simple reading of scripture, I find no way that God could be displeased that we tried to obey His commandments.
I'm sorry but I just have a big problem with the concept of a man spending his entire life cultivating the fruits of the Spirit and living the humble life of a servant in the name of Jesus and being rewarded with Hell because he thought those acts were required of him since Jesus said so himself. And on the other hand some wild worldly guy who relies on Christ to provide that salvation and lives the way that pleases himself will be allowed into Heaven because he didn't try to earn his way. I realize that I run the risk of being called a grace killer, a heathen, an infidel, a heretic, and maybe some derogatory terms, too, by making these statements. I've suppressed these thoughts for over thirty years because of that, but now I make my stand. I'd much rather do more than God expected of me than less than he required of me. I know I am swimming upstream against the majority here. Another thing to ponder is that Jesus said that narrow is the way and few there be that find it. If salvation is as simple as asking Jesus into your heart, it seems to me that more than a few will sign up for eternal benefits without temporal responsibility.