One of the great treasures we have is the book, The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas. This incredible man has founded Torchbearers centers around the world. In Estes Park, Colorado, for example, there is Ravencrest. Young men and women from throughout the world attend these schools for the purpose of being discipled by one of the Major’s leadership teams.
In this book, Major Thomas tells the story of how he came to grasp the truth that we are saved by Christ’s life. He says, after describing seven years of doing everything he could to serve Christ, but only becoming utterly exhausted spiritually: " ... I got down on my knees before God, and I just wept in sheer despair. I said, ‘Oh, God, I know that I am saved. I love Jesus Christ. I am perfectly convinced that I am converted. With all my heart I have wanted to serve Thee. I have tried to my uttermost and I am a hopeless failure!’ ..." That night things happened.
"I can honestly say that I had never once heard from the lips of men the message that came to me then … but God that night simply focused upon me the Bible message of Christ Who is our Life … The Lord seemed to make plain to me that night, through my tears of bitterness: ‘You see, for seven years, with utmost sincerity, you have been trying to live for Me, on My behalf, the life that I have been waiting for seven years to live through you.’
"I got up the next morning to an entirely different Christian life, but I want to emphasize this: I had not received one iota more than I had already had for seven years!"
I suppose it is possible that Christians would have noticed, sooner or later, that we aren’t saved by Christ’s death; but this book certainly makes clear to all of us what Romans 5:10 states so plainly, i.e. "… we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
I believe that this is one of the truths of Scripture that escaped me through much of my life. If you had given me (or other Christians) a quiz, asking what we were trusting in for our salvation, I’m quite sure our answers would have been any of the following: our belief, our faith, Christ’s death for us, the blood of Christ, the fact that we’re forgiven, etc. Others, who followed church traditions rather than the Scriptures, might have added baptism, church membership, or even living a life of love and concern for others. Let us look briefly at each of these answers.
Certainly believing is necessary for salvation; however, believing alone is not sufficient for salvation. As James indicated (James 2:19), the devil believes, and he trembles! The Scripture does say, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31); however, God never intended for us to trust in our believing for salvation, but rather in the Lord Jesus Christ! Believing is an activity of the mind, but salvation takes place in the spirit. So no matter how sincerely we believe, believing alone will never save us.
Faith is also a necessary ingredient of salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith…" (Ephesians 2:8). However, faith alone is not sufficient for salvation. If we believe we were born dead (separated from God), and that Christ died for us in order to remove our sins (reconciliation), so that He could give His life to us (salvation), then it certainly makes sense to ask Him to give us His life. That very decision is an act of faith. But faith, in this sense, is an activity of the will, just as believing is a function of the mind. So no matter how much faith we have, faith will never save us.
There are many who claim that they are trusting in Christ’s death on their behalf for salvation. Certainly without Christ’s substitutionary death for us, we could not have been saved. This final sacrifice was necessary to divert the wrath of God from us to the innocent Lamb who was made sin for us. Furthermore, as Romans 5:10 reads, "We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." We were reconciled because the source of our enmity with God was removed, i.e. our sins. Thus Christ’s death on the cross reconciled us to God according to the Scripture; but that in itself is not what saves us.
There are still others who are trusting exclusively in the blood of Christ to save them. Many songs reinforce the idea that we are saved by the blood. It is true that the blood cleansed us from our sins, redeemed us, and gained our access to the Father. But while the blood of Christ has tremendous significance in the process of salvation, it is not ultimately what saves us.
There are many fine Christians who trust in confession and forgiveness for their salvation. They worry that they will not enter Heaven if they do not have all their sins confessed up to date. They believe in a cleansing based on a sin-by-sin confession. Thus for example, if someone commits suicide, he cannot possibly enter Heaven, because there is no time for confession after the suicide mission is completed. So they are really trusting in an up-to-date confession and forgiveness for salvation, which of course then depends partly on works, i.e. the work of confession. I have written on the common misunderstanding of 1 John 1:9, which leads to such erroneous thinking. (See Chapters 13 and 14 in The Shackling of Grace by Lee LeFebre)
The other things people mistakenly trust in for salvation - baptism, church membership, and works of various kinds - probably need not be discussed with the audience who reads this article.
But Romans 5:10 makes clear that none of these responses is what we should be trusting in for our salvation. Paul says, "We shall be saved by His life." I am quite certain that, on the quiz I mentioned earlier, I would not have been able to say that it is His life that saves me—at that point, I had not yet read any books such as The Saving Life of Christ.
What was our basic birth defect at salvation? Ephesians 2:1 reads, "(We) were dead in trespasses and sins." What do dead people need more than anything else? Life, of course! Thus when Christ died in our place and shed His blood for our sins, He removed the only obstacles keeping us from partaking of divine life. In other words, He had to give His life for us before He could give His life to us! The death of Christ was not an end in itself; it was a means to an end. After all, wasn’t it He who said, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10)?
I fully realize that many Christians are taught today that Christ gave His life for us in order that we could be forgiven and go to Heaven when we die. Although that is true, it will not create the excitement and joy that come from experiencing His life. So many gospel messages are impotent today, at least in part, because of this incomplete presentation of salvation. Jesus did not say, "I have come that you might have forgiveness and have it abundantly." Oh, no! He wanted to be united to us; to be intimate with us; to be one with us. That is why He said, "I have come that they may have life…"!
Let us never forget this truth: "We shall be saved by His life."