“Self-improvement” and “self-help” are popular concepts today. They would have been totally meaningless to the authors of the Bible. They made no promises at all about learning to be a child of God or working to be the right kind of person. The message of salvation is that there is no improvement — there is transformation.The message is that we are changed — by God — from being sinners into God’s children. We are changed from being alienated from him to being reconciled to him. This isn’t accomplished by reading books or attending seminars or joining a twelve-step program. It occurs by recognizing that we need saving, not just improving.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit.
The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and then he saved me.
Jesus came into the world, proclaiming the kingdom of God — not a kingdom on a map, but the rule of God over those willing to be ruled by him. In other words, salvation was extended to those willing to say to God, “I don’t rule my own life very well. You do it.” According to Jesus, anyone could make this statement, but few do.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.”
“If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.”
Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven. So don’t be surprised at my statement that you must be born again.”
Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, understood the “self-improvement” mentality. He had been brought up to believe that keeping the Jewish Law faithfully was the way to please God. He did keep it faithfully — then concluded it hadn’t made him right in God’s sight. Again and again in his letters Paul reminds his readers that Christ alone is the way to salvation.
No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what his law commands. For the more we know God’s law, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying it.
But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight — not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.
For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.
Paul knew full well that the gospel would meet with skeptics. Do intelligent people really believe that Jesus could be the Son of God, and that his being crucified could somehow make us “right with God”? Actually, many intelligent people do believe this. And many don’t. Paul made it clear that the message couldn’t be judged just by its popularity.
I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy human wisdom and discard their most brilliant ideas.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-19
Those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!
All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
You were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins.
He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did.
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.
The Book of God’s Promises — Copyright, 1999 by J. Stephen Lang. All rights reserved, used with permission.
J. Stephen Lang is the author of more than ten books about the Bible, including the bestselling The Complete Book of Bible Trivia, 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Bible but Never Thought to Ask, The Bible on the Big Screen, Everyday Biblical Literacy, and The Complete Book of Bible Promises. Lang is a regular contributor to Today’s Christian, Discipleship Journal, Christian History and other periodicals. He lives in Seminole, Florida.