A sage piece of advice passed on to me at an early age is the old saying, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Nowhere did I learn this more than in my constant struggle with television advertisements for toys. I would turn on the TV and the coolest toys would pop up. The commercial would show all it could do, laying it on thick about why I should get this toy. After saving up my hard-earned money, I’d readily hand it over for some well-advertised product, only to discover that without all of the flashing lights, smoke, and moving camera angles, the toy wasn’t nearly as great as I had imagined.
I’m sure you could think of plenty of instances where you have found something too good to be true. I think the biggest one, however, happens to also be a true one. What am I talking about? The gift of eternal life.
You see, Bible-believing Christians stand together on one very crucial teaching: that eternal life, or Salvation, is solely given by the grace of God. There is no payment or religious ceremony one can do to merit eternal life. How then can broken, sinful people be made right with God? How can we get to heaven and have eternal salvation? The Bible says we must “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” (Acts 16:31)
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s exactly why so many people throughout history and even today have tried to distort the beautiful simplicity of the gospel. Our sin-stained minds find grace to be too good to be true, and so we add onto it. We say grace plus something else. Grace plus ritual, grace plus money, grace plus organizational membership, grace plus anything… is a false gospel.
It was this matter which triggered Luther to nail his 95 Thesis to the church door. Luther didn’t realize what this act would set in motion; he simply wanted to debate the anti-Biblical sale of indulgences that was becoming rampant in the Roman Church. Indulgences were a way for the Roman Church to make lots of money in a short period of time. Simply put, indulgences meant one could pay money in order that a deceased loved one might leave Purgatory sooner. Johann Tetzel was one of the many men who was granted authority to travel around selling indulgences for the Roman Church. Tetzel quickly became known for his pithy saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”
Luther and others were outraged at the selling of indulgences. Having their minds saturated in the words of Holy Scripture, the Reformers saw indulgences (a way for people to buy salvation) as a completely false practice. The idea is utterly repugnant to the teachings of Christ, and the Reformers proclaimed it.
How can spiritually dead people give themselves life? They cannot–they are dead. What dead people need is to have life supernaturally given to them. According to the Bible, that is exactly what happens when someone becomes a follower of Jesus. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul explains we are completely hopeless apart from Christ. Paul says we are “by nature children of wrath.” However, he doesn’t leave us hopeless. Paul goes on to show how God has stepped in to intervene in the lives of His people. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” And what was the payment we gave for this salvation, this “being alive together with Christ?” Was it something we did? Paul continues, “It is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
Seems too good to be true. The amazing thing is that it is true. Salvation is a gift of grace. Salvation cannot be earned by anyone doing anything. Instead of fighting this truth, the call of God’s Word is to “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” Submit to the fact that you cannot save yourself. Then turn to Christ in repentance and faith, call out to Him, and trust in His amazing grace alone.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ