Jay Atkins on The Logical Necessity of Salvation by Faith Alone

Christianity is unique among world religions in that it does not require its adherents to earn their own salvation.  Judaism and Islam, the other two Abrahamic religions, each demand strict compliance to law and ritual; Hinduism requires self-purification to rid one’s life of evil; Buddhism mandates renunciation of self; Confucianism dictates a perpetual search for harmony; and so on.  Christianity, on the other hand, requires only faith in the gospel message that we are reconciled to God through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, nothing more.  For many Christians, that message of salvation-through-faith-alone is a tremendous comfort. For others, and for many agnostics and skeptics searching for answers, it is a serious stumbling block to faith.

For them it doesn’t sound comforting. It sounds, at best, counter intuitive and at worst, cruel.  How can faith alone be enough to earn salvation? Everything about our human experience tells us that actions matter. How we behave and how we treat each other counts for something. Salvation through faith alone upends that notion. The idea that a murderer can confess Christ and be saved while a morally upright non-believer is lost to hell for all eternity roils our sense of fair play. The concept of a supposedly good and just God sanctioning such a patently unfair outcome undercuts the very notion that such a god exists.  It is a fair criticism, and it deserves an answer.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that the criticism is valid only if there is a God, and he is who he says he is. If there is no God, the critique is pointless. Absent God there is no transcendental standard of morality against which we can measure proper behavior, nor is there likely a heaven or hell for us to worry about anyway.  But if the God of the Bible does exist, it is precisely those characteristics he is purported to possess that cause us to recoil at the idea of him condemning a “good person” to hell for a mere lack of faith. Nevertheless, scripture is clear on the nature and character of God.  He is fully just, fully loving, fully holy and fully merciful. So how can such a God rationalize sending a good person to hell?

Why Merit Doesn’t Matter

We intuitively believe merit should count for something in the quest for salvation, but is that true?  If a person has lived a good life, tried to do the right thing and never killed anybody, should they get into heaven? Or, conversely, should murderers be kept out? Perhaps so.  But if that is the case, it begs the question of what the precise behavioral standard for entry should be.  Where should God set the benchmark? If behavior counts towards admission, what would be a fair standard for deciding if someone has been good enough to get into heaven?  Consider some options.

God could use the Ten Commandments as the benchmark. It would be a good choice. They are, after all, one of the oldest codes of human behavior on record. And for the ancient Jews, they actually were the standard for entry into heaven.  They were hand delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai for the express purpose of instructing God’s people how to behave in order to be saved. How well would it work if they were still the standard today?  Could anybody live their entire life without breaking a commandment and thus make it into heaven on merit? It’s a tough standard to meet. Forget about the big ones like don’t lie, kill or cheat. Even if we could manage those, there are several “minor” sins to consider.  If you have ever put anything in your life (money, career, love life, material desire) above God, been disrespectful or disobedient to your parents, or been jealous of someone else’s possessions, you have violated the commandments.  A violation, even a small one, means you failed to meet the standard and therefore cannot be granted meritorious entry into heaven.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jay Atkins